Team Canada's Heatley headache, Balsillie pours gas on feud
Under pressure to win gold, Canada dreads malcontent Dany Heatley's distraction
Canada must tell Heatley to talk publicly about his trade demand or stay home
Jim Balsillie has a case against the NHL, but hurt it with inflammatory remarks
It's a bit of a self-serving gesture, but totally understandable.
Heatley, who has demanded a trade but has yet to answer questions about why, is normally a major component of Canada's international teams. When Canada rings the bell, Heatley has always answered. It's no surprise that they want him on their 2010 team that will be under enormous pressure, what with the Games being held on Canadian ice in Vancouver B.C. It's also easy to see why they would want Heatley to answer media questions at the start of their evaluation camp that opens Monday Aug. 24 in his home town of Calgary.
After all, this is Canada we're talking about, a place where all-things revolve around hockey, and in an Olympic year the revolutions come at a pace only slightly more dizzying than a Tilt-A-Whirl.
The plan is to put Heatley front and center just before the invitees hit the ice. The classic one-and-done -- a la Patrick Kane and his legal troubles prior to the start of the U.S. camp -- and everyone moves on to other things. Heatley speaks once and then slips into a background generated by a who's who of prominent Canadian hockey stars. Hockey Canada gets to move the story off the front page and the rest of the week is spent having the media hordes do the stories that Hockey Canada and the Vancouver Olympic hockey organization want: a steady drumbeat of "how great thou art."
Only problem here is that it's questionable that Heatley will cooperate. He's steadfastly refused to answer questions from media in Ottawa and, to the best of any reporter's knowledge, also hasn't explained himself to the people he wants to be his ex-teammates. Neither group is happy with that.
Heatley also skipped the wedding of Ottawa teammate and supposed best friend, Jason Spezza, the man who usually sets him up for sometimes league-leading scoring campaigns. Apparently dodging the media and not having to explain himself to Ottawa hockey patrons -- not to mention the folks in Edmonton where he killed a proposed trade by exercising the no-movement clause in his nearly $45 million contract -- rates higher on Heatley's "All About Me" scale than showing up for one of the biggest moments in his friend's life.
And to complete the no-show hat trick, Heatley on Tuesday backed out of a high-profile hockey conference in Toronto that he had committed to weeks in advance.
So what's Hockey Canada to do?
I say squeeze him.
It's just this simple: either Heatley does what Hockey Canada wants and addresses an issue that will no doubt dominate this little convocation to the exclusion of all else or they tell him to stay home. Stay home for the camp and stay home when the rest of the team breaks the NHL season and heads to the Games in February.
Radical, probably, especially given that Hockey Canada wants its best players in the program and usually in the worst way (see classic snubs by the litany of Canadian hockey stars who declined to answer the call to represent the country in the World Championships but still got that precious invite to the Olympic program; do the names Mario Lemieux and Ray Bourque come to mind?).
It's also practical. More so than you might think.
For starters, it's not like Heatley is the difference between winning and losing. He was on the 2006 team in Turin and was barely noticed as Canada bowed out in the quarterfinal, going home without a medal. Lots of people can share the blame in that embarrassing performance, but Heatley, whose role is always to score goals, managed exactly one in five games. Throw in his two assists and he contributed along the lines of making one 30-foot jump shot in basketball.
In the 2004 World Cup Tournament, the only other time he was involved in a best-on-best encounter as a pro, Heatley had a goal and an assist in an even longer series. Surely Hockey Canada can find a team player who will equal or better those marks. And while the organization would surely have to deal with a public outcry that rivaled the decision to leave Wayne Gretzky on the bench during a gold-medal shootout in Nagano in 1998, the country and Hockey Canada can survive it.
And if you think about it long enough, there's even an upside. The big one would be sending a message as to exactly who's in charge.
If Canada learned anything (along with Team USA) at the Turin Games it's that the team that has talent AND comes together as a team in a very short period of time is much more likely to score a medal than a group of All-Stars looking for individual glory and the economic benefits that come with being a singular hero to a hockey-loving nation.
Having a team that comes to the Games with a team approach is the hallmark of success that led to Sweden and Finland playing in the gold medal game in Turin while Canada, the U.S., Russia and some of the other perceived hockey superpowers had already left for home. Canadians have long clung to the concept that team hockey is what defines their programs, and at the amateur levels of international competition, that's been proven countless times. Playing with pros, however, it has been -- with 2002 being a noteworthy exception -- something altogether different.
It would take a certain amount of courage for Heatley to face the unanswered questions regarding his trade demands from what will surely be a media horde in Calgary. But one could reasonably argue that doing so would not only benefit Hockey Canada, it would help Heatley as well.
Hockey Canada makes clear that it calls the shots on this program and wants players that will do things its way and not the "me way" that has seem to have taken root. Heatley's reputation as one of the greats of the game has been badly damaged by his forced trade out of Atlanta in 2005 and now his attempt force his way out of Ottawa. The perception of him throughout most of Canada is of a selfish individual who avoids difficult situations on and off the ice and hides behind the actions of his agents and the physical strengths of teammates. That's not a good fit for an Olympic hockey program that faces a must-win situation while carrying the hopes of a hockey-obsessed nation.
Stepping forward and doing his part to clarify a mess of his own making would go a long way toward easing the perception that Heatley is one of those players who puts himself above his team. It might even signal to Hockey Canada that he is a player who really can perform under pressure.
No small thing for a nation that can't accept anything less than a gold-medal performance from a team committed to playing as one.
Balsillie drops a bomb
Vilified by the majority of NHL owners as "unfit" to join their ranks because of a "deficit of character", Jim Balsillie, prominent Canadian who is attempting to buy the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, has fired back. In court documents filed in Phoenix, Balsillie took aim at one of the league's many Achilles heels, noting that "the NHL has long tolerated indicted and even convicted criminals among its ranks."
It's difficult, in fact largely impossible, to argue that Balsillie's statement is not true, but it certainly widens the gulf between the maker of the BlackBerry internet/phone device and the NHL. Balsillie took aim at a number of past and current owners in his statement, naming the Ottawa Senators' Eugene Melnyk and the New York Rangers' Jim Dolan and he even took a crack at prospective Coyotes buyer Jerry Reinsdorf.
This was never a "play nice" dispute, but Balsillie's broadside raises the bar in terms of cross-court attacks and there's likely more to come from both sides. Ugly doesn't begin to define where this battle is going. Expect long knives to be drawn soon.
Kane catches a break
While the big news on Wednesday was that Patrick Kane had the most serious charge, a felony assault, dropped in his ongoing battle to clear himself after an Aug. 9 incident with a Buffalo cab driver, the most overlooked item in the ruling is that there could still be plea bargaining that will eliminate even the remaining misdemeanor charges of third degree assault and theft of services.
Kane and his cousin, James, were due back in court Thursday (Aug.20) to answer those charges in an arraignment, but it's possible the two competing attorneys could have the case reduced to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
That would result in no jail time and something less than an official conviction and if that comes about, even the record of the arrest would eventually be sealed or dismissed.
Erie County's District Attorney stated that it's very unlikely the two young men would see any jail time even if convicted of the misdemeanors, and though he declined to address the case specifically, did note that it is within the realm of his department to negotiate a plea arrangement that would bypass a trial as long as all parties were satisfied.
The perceived injured party in this case, cab driver Jan Radecki, has said through his attorney that he does not want the Kanes to see jail or even have a record, and would be satisfied with a public apology. That opens the door to an ACD particularly if the Kanes agree to the apology and, likely, some community service.
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