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The Heatley trade: All in all, Sens made the best deal they could

Sometimes, dreams do come true.

After one final, failed push on Friday to win back the affections of Dany Heatley, the Ottawa Senators dealt the sulking winger to the San Jose Sharks for Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo. A pair of draft picks also switched hands in a swap that both clubs desperately needed to make.

The two teams had discussed options for a Heatley deal since June, when the Senators turned down an offer said to have involved Cheechoo, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (since traded to Vancouver) and a first-round draft pick.

"It's a deal that we talked about throughout the summer," said Ottawa GM Bryan Murray shortly after the trade was confirmed. "Michalek came into the deal fairly late. We felt like we got a quality guy who can play on our top line. We were put in a position where we felt there was no choice but to make this trade."

If you read into those words that Murray is something less than excited with his end of the bargain, you're probably right.

This wasn't the best deal. It was the best deal to be made under the circumstances. Murray's hands were tied the minute Heatley's demands became public during the Stanley Cup Final, and the ropes only tightened after an August news conference that defined the wide chasm between the two sides in spirit, if not in context. But it was only after meeting with the player on Friday that Murray knew there was no hope of reconciliation. Rather than have Heatley playing little black rain cloud as team opened camp, Murray took what he could get.

It's debatable whether this package benefits the Senators more than the Edmonton offer vetoed earlier in the summer by Heatley that would have sent Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid to Ottawa. But the end result is the same: Murray got two dimes and a nickel for his quarter.

By virtue of his Rocket Richard Trophy, Cheechoo is the biggest name coming to Ottawa, but the 29-year-old is a shadow of the player that scored 56 goals back in 2005-06. Since then his goal totals have plummeted from 37 to 23 to just 12 in an injury-riddled 2008-09 campaign -- not exactly a trend that suggests he'll make Sens fans forget Heatley's timely lamp-lighting any time soon. At $3.5 million for each of the next two years, Ottawa hopes it bought some scoring depth. More likely, the Sens added an overpriced third line plumber.

Michalek is a useful player, but less impactful a centerpiece than Murray likely hoped this deal would yield. He's proven to be a reliable secondary scorer, netting at least 23 goals each of the past three seasons. Playing a larger role in Ottawa, he could become a 30-goal man if he develops chemistry with Jason Spezza, makes the most of that big 6-foot-2, 225-pound body ... and remembers to keep his head up more often than not.

No one will suggest the Senators are a more talented team for having made this trade, but at least they can move forward with a group that was bolstered over the summer with the additions of Alexei Kovalev and Pascal LeClaire.

From San Jose's perspective, Heatley qualifies as the dressing room shakeup promised by GM Doug Wilson in the aftermath of last spring's first round flop. A top-10 scorer every season since the lockout, Heatley is the shoot-first winger ideally suited for the pass-first instincts of Joe Thornton. (And don't think Jumbo Joe doesn't recognize the short-term ramifications of this acquisition. If he develops quick chemistry with Heatley, a player almost certain to make Team Canada, his own chances of earning an Olympic invite improve significantly). But more than just a new face, he's a gamebreaker with plenty of experience on the big stage. Though he was criticized for disappearing in Ottawa's loss to the Ducks in the 2007 Final, the Sens wouldn't have made it that far without the six goals and 21 points he scored through the first three rounds.

At the same time though, his arrival poses a clear challenge to San Jose's depth on the wings and the blueline. This deal, after all, cost them more than just Cheechoo and Michalek. Remember, the trade that sent Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver for a pair of prospects was consummated specifically to create the space to accommodate Heatley and his $7.5 million cap hit over each of the next five years. That means youngsters like Derek Joslin, Jamie McGinn and Jed Ortmeyer will be thrust into prominent, full-time roles with little support if they fail.

And it won't be a cake walk for Heatley, either. Todd MacLellan isn't any more likely to issue him a Get Out Of Backchecking Free card than was Ottawa coach Cory Clouston. If anything, the pressure on the Sharks to finally deliver on longstanding springtime expectations may see them focus more heavily on defensive responsibilities.

But at least Heatley won't have to worry about being kicked off the first power play unit. If nothing else, that makes him the clear winner in this deal.

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