I'm sure some of you are already authoring your caustic replies. Please hold off at least until you've read the whole thing. After that, I am prepared to be flamed. At least I have your attention.
I have been thinking a lot about this situation, as it is hard to avoid it when you are scanning all the hockey sites for news of the Leafs' next move. So anyway, hear me out.
I will not defend the manner in which Dany Heatley has gone about asking for, and subsequently blocking, a trade. My defense is based on the fact that he's quite within his rights to ask to be traded. He is also within his rights to veto a trade. I don't think that anyone has suggested (until the Sens recently floated the idea of a grievance) otherwise. The buckets of vitriol (special bucket-size for Ottawa Sens-related hate) that have been spilled are mostly about the way he's done it. But he is allowed to do it. So that's the first thing. He is within his rights.
Second thing: I wonder if it were another player (i.e. not a guy who killed someone while driving recklessly, not about a hated Sen) if hockey fans (and sports writers) would care so much. Ottawa fans were willing to put aside the fact that Heatley is a killer (not the good, metaphorical Doug Gilmour kind, but the bad, literal kind), for several seasons now. Todd Bertuzzi is not booed by his home fans. Hockey fans are a forgiving bunch. Or maybe just a fickle bunch of homers. So while Heatley is a member of the Sens (hated by many) it is easy to hate. But as a member of Team Canada (DGB's take notwithstanding) not much has been said. Despite murmurs prior to the release of the list, I have yet to see a comment on the fact that Heatley is indeed on the invite list for Team Canada. Where is the hate? Hockey fans (outside of Ottawa) would love to see Heatley either on the side-lines, or ruining someone else's dressing room during the NHL's regular season, but when it comes to the Olympics, the laser-like shot slices that hate away pretty fast. Justification/rationalization: hey, it's a short tournament and there will be leaders in the room that will prevent his douche-baggery from becoming a problem. So that's the second thing: despite its seeming omnipresence, this hate is selective.
Are there any fans out there who actually hate players on their own team (aside from the Montreal Canadiens fans who have a bit of a problem with that, and the fans of any team that must suffer Aki Berg on the blue line)? Not really. Leaf fans hated Komisarek. Now we love him. Cammalleri was going to be the next great Leaf. Now we hate him.
Let's pretend for a second that Dany Heatley is not making millions of dollars to play a game for a living. I know that's essential to the fan-player relationship psychosis and all, but endulge me. Any regular person with the relative skills of a Dany Heatley (someone who is in the top class in his or her field) could easily quit and find another job somewhere else. He or she might have to negotiate out of a contract, but no employer is going to keep someone against their will. There might be a non-compete clause (something a hockey player never has to worry about), but the employee would probably get a good package to make up for it. So if you don't like your job and you are really good at what you do, you have pretty good freedom of movement to go where you want, do what you want. Hockey players don't have that freedom. Yes, they are well-paid (over-paid) to make up for it, but they are somewhat restricted in their movements (even if in this case, Heatley himself was complicit in adding a NMC to his contract). Point three: hockey players don't have the same freedoms of employment as most workers, do. Big but wrt the millions of dollars they make to play a game granted.
Point four: the media. Another double-edged blade that hockey players must contend with is the media spotlight. It is because of the wide-spread popularity of the sport that they are able to make millions playing a game (notice how I have mentioned this several times--I know he is a lucky bastard; they all are). Because of this, players have a responsibility to, at the very least, be aware that their actions are public actions. So certainly Heatley (and his agent--let's not forget this. Most athletes do not make big contract decisions etc on their own. The fact that agents discourage players from home-town discounts is a testament to their power. My friend is an agent (not of hockey players) and he is the guy who holds the hammer in his sport, hands down)...sorry long digression...certainly Heatley (+agent) was aware that going public with the trade demand would have consequences. But he also knew that despite his NMC he would be restricted in where he could go either way. If he lets things unfold behind closed doors, he loses some leaverage. He might have thought (wrongly) that he'd have more public sympathy. Despite what GMs say, they are in the entertainment business and the fan's voice must be pretty loud in their ear. Certainly they can easily fall back on an "I know what's good for you fans" argument, but GMs who say they don't pay attention to the fans are either lying or out of touch with the reality of sport. There may not be a direct, day-to-day impact, but overall, the fans want a winning team and the GMs have to provide it (Pensionplan conspiracies aside). So his going public may have been less a dick-move and more a poorly calculated strategy.
Finally, I think that people often forget that hockey players are people. People can be venegful and mean, and maybe Heatley does just want to screw the Ottawa Senators as much as he can. But maybe he just wants to play hockey somewhere he can be happy. I don't think it is too much to ask. I still think he has mishandled the situation, but I think that hockey fans might consider the full picture, especially the part where no one made a peep about Heatley's inclusion in the Team Canada training camp list.
So there you go. Fire away. I'm sure all your responses will be as true and valid as the feeling behind them.