The Heatley Saga

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    The Edmonton Oilers are said to be meeting face-to-face with disgruntled Ottawa Senators forward Dany Heatley tonight in a last-ditch attempt to convince him to accept their trade offer.

    Update: Heatley putting trade on hold – again.

    After speaking with sources on the matter, here is what I have been led to believe transpired in regard to Tuesday night’s deal, which via a strange sequence of events morphed into a greater embarrassment for the parties involved than anyone could have anticipated.

    Synopsis

    June 10, 2009:  Dany Heatley demands a trade from the Ottawa Senators, citing philosophical differences with the coaching staff.  Heatley had recently signed a contract extension through the 2013-14 season, carrying a $7.5 million cap hit and a full no movement clause.

    June 30, 2009:  Heatley is traded to Edmonton, but declines to waive his NMC and instead insists he wants to take some time to decide.

    July 1st, 2009:  With no other interested suitors to be found, Heatley and the Edmonton brass were reported to be meeting to discuss the deal.

    The Strange Sequence

    (1) Trade Talks
    Senators GM Bryan Murray began trade talks with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, and Rangers GM Glen Sather, who were apparently the only two GMs remotely interested in acquiring Ottawa’s malcontented star.   The negotiations came with one exclusive condition:  whoever team acquired Heatley would also have to assume his signing bonus.

    (2) The Signing Bonus
    Heatley has a $4 million signing bonus which must be paid as of July 1st (11:59pm Wednesday is the deadline).   Murray is understandably loathe to be on the hook for this money, as Heatley has demanded a trade and the Senators would effectively be paying a bonus to a player who forced his way out of town.

    (3) A Matter of Principle
    Before diving fully into the trade negotiations, Murray informed Heatley that both Edmonton and New York were serious about making a deal, and that he felt confident a trade would be consummated within the next two days.   According to sources, Heatley agreed in principle to being traded, and left Murray under the impression that if a deal were to be made he would be willing to waive the NMC.

    (4) Epic Fail
    Apparently neither Tambellini nor his staff read the fine print of the signing bonus arrangement, and were operating under the assumption that the deal had to be completed by July 1st, not on July 1st.  In their estimation, the deadline was June 30 (Tuesday) at 11:59pm, a full day earlier than the actual deadline.

    (5) The Power Play
    Murray and his staff realized during the course of negotiations that Tambellini and his staff were mistaken about the deadline.   Murray, recognizing that this could lead Tambellini to rush into a deal, thus increasing the likelihood of an overpayment, said nothing.   The thinking was:  this is the other guy’s mistake, next time he will learn to do his homework first.

    (6) Consensus Reached
    After hours of negotiation, Sather was not close to reaching a deal with Murray.  However, Tambellini was.  With the clock ticking ever closer to 11:59pm Tuesday, Tambellini offered Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Ladislav Smid in exchange for Heatley.   Murray accepted.

    (7) Going Live
    With Tambellini pushing for the deal to get done by 11:59pm, and confident that Heatley was willing to waive his NMC, Murray informed the league office that a deal had been agreed upon, and all that was left was for Heatley to officially waive, which he had agreed in principle to do.   League sources, convinced the deal was done, began to leak the information, and within minutes it was posted on NHL.com.

    (8) Backing Out
    Murray contacted Heatley and his agent to inform them that a trade was set to go down, and that he needed Heatley to waive the NMC to make it official.   Heatley was now faced with two choices: (a) accept a trade he had been demanding for over three weeks; or (b) wait until the (actual) deadline of 11:59 pm Wednesday to see if the New York Rangers – who were strongly rumoured to be his preferred destination – could hammer out a deal with the Sens.  He chose the latter, and refused to waive.

    (9) All Hell Breaks Loose
    Word of Heatley backing out of the deal spread like wildfire.   Message boards filled with comments from angry fans, most of whom already had little to no sympathy for Heatley’s trade request.   With the deal already having gone public, conspiracy theories centred around New York quickly gained momentum.  News agencies and blogs reporting the deal were stuck trying to sort out what exactly had just happened with only speculation to go on.   League officials were upset at the deal being submitted based on an agreement in principle (verbal agreements are non-binding in terms of player transactions, and Heatley’s agent knew it).   General Managers around the league were livid – not at Murray’s actions; the deadline error was Tambellini’s fault and there was technically nothing wrong with Murray using that to his advantage to make the best deal he could. Rather, the GMs were incensed by what they perceived to be Heatley’s willingness to pull out of what appeared to be an agreed-upon trade … after he had been demanding to be traded for the past three weeks.

    (10) New York
    Sather, who had earlier moved Scott Gomez to clear cap space for a possible Heatley trade, entered free agency on July 1st with Murray still knocking at his door.   Wanting nothing to do with the negative press surrounding Heatley, especially in the wake of the rumour that the whole fiasco was caused by his desire to play in New York, Sather chose to go a different direction and sign the oft-injured Marian Gaborik to fill the space that he had created for Heatley.

    (11) Cornered
    In making the decision to decline the trade to Edmonton, Heatley had thought that he would paint Bryan Murray into a corner:  either trade him to New York, or pay the $4 million signing bonus himself.   Instead, Heatley unintentionally painted himself into a corner.   A cardinal rule in any sports league is once you have agreed to a trade, and the deal is in play, you do not put your team on the spot by backing out.  What Heatley did was leave his loyalty, professionalism and ethics open to question, and GMs all around the league – including Sather – were now questioning them openly.

    (12) Last Chance For Romance
    With Sather exiting gracefully from the fray, Heatley is now left with another pair of options: (a) accept the trade to Edmonton — which is remarkably somehow still on the table, or (b) refuse the trade in the hopes that another trade can be made at a later date.   Murray is said to be examining the signing bonus line by line to find any loopholes or opt-out options, should Heatley decide (again) not to go to Edmonton.   Oilers’ brass are said to be meeting with Heatley tonight in an attempt to convince him to accept the trade.

    And … Heatley again refused to waive his NMC to complete the deal, saying he did not want to accept a trade on the Senators’ timetable.

    Aftermath

    What is the next twist in this strange and bizarre saga?

    No deal has been reached, which means Murray is going to have to scramble if he is to find a way out of the bonus.

    Odds are he ends up paying Heatley, at which point Heatley gladly accepts the trade.  Even though he would have gotten the bonus anyway had he accepted the deal earlier, Edmonton would have been paying it, not Ottawa.   Word around the campfire is Heatley wants to ensure – for whatever reason (pick one: I earned it in Ottawa, Murray didn’t try hard enough to deal me, I am sure there were offers I was not told about) – that it is the Senators who pay that bonus.

    Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more twists to this … Heatley found another.  Stay tuned, this thing’s only just beginning.

    UPDATE

    From a source:

    “Heatley and Barry just got bit in the ass. Daly has sided with the Senators in that they can file a grievance against both. It would allow Edm to pay the $4m back to the Sens.  The league will be sending all teams the grievance info and all the info on the Heatley situation so this doesn’t happen again in the future.”

    More updates will be added if I hear anything else.  This is fascinating.

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