Like LeBron James in Cleveland, Dany Heatley's receiving a not-so-warm welcome back to Ottawa. (Courtesy of Ottawa Sun)
By Stu Hackel
Call out the rabble-rousers, Dany's back.
He left town as the most reviled Senator since Alexei Yashin, but Dany Heatley returns to Ottawa tonight for the first time as a member of the San Jose Sharks. And the local media is doing its part to make this as uncomfortable as possible for the former star.
Let's start with The Ottawa Sun, whose Don Brennan writes of Heatley and the fans Brennan hopes will boo him, "He’s a selfish suckhole who quit on them, his teammates and an organization that was paying him $10 million US a season to be the one-dimensional player he is -- and he did it just when the Senators were delivering hope of again rounding into a contender."
And that's just for starters. The paper sent one of its reporters into the streets to make an ass of himself agitating the locals while wearing the cardboard Heatley mask the paper inserted in today's issue (video). In the video, "Heatley" gets "chased" from a local pub that is going to devote a couple of hours pregame to a sort of hate rally that culminates in bedsheet banners with some very unkind things written on them being brought to the game. All in good fun, sort of.
The readers poll on the Sun's website in the nation's capital has been devoted today to the question, "Does Dany Heatley deserve to be booed?" and two-thirds of respondents say "yes."
Only 58 percent of Ottawa Citizen readers say in that paper's poll that they will boo Heatley. Does that indicate Citizen readers are pacifits by comparison? That paper's Wayne Scanlan has a more even-handed view of the end of the Heatley era in Ottawa.
Not to be outdone, the listener's poll on Ottawa radio station Team 1200 asks "16 months later, how do you feel about Dany Heatley and the trade?" and Number 1 with almost 30 percent at this writing is: "I hate him." (By contrast, the "I still hate Yashin more" choice is in last place with under eight percent.)
Heatley, who spoke with the media after the morning skate, says he's moved on, that he's very happy in San Jose, although he loved Ottawa and expects fans to boo him, but he continues to maintain that he didn't like his role on the club. He feels some elements in the media made his departure too personal and has no regrets that he essentially forced GM Bryan Murray to trade him to the Sharks for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a draft pick that was later traded after Heatley vetoed a trade to the Oilers that would have returned much more.
Some wounds don't heal easily, and obviously a segment of the Senators' fanbase feels badly wounded. Or perhaps they just need something to laugh about because the Senators aren't much fun right now. There's hope among the fans and media that Chris Neil will lay into Heatley as the Sens fans' avenger. One supposes things could take an ugly turn with the fans taking out their dissatisfaction with the Sens' performance on the renegade Heatley, but that seems unlikely.
Heatley's departure isn't the only reason this team is playing poorly this season. He may serve as a convenient scapegoat to some or just a diversion from this ugly fact that confronts the Senators and their fans: Inconsistent at best so far, this team is already at serious risk of a lost season if it continues its uneven efforts and drifts further south in the standings.