What might have been for Sens

 

 
 
 

OTTAWA-It was late June of last year, and Dustin Penner had just landed in Long Beach, California.

He switched on his cellphone and confronted a flood of text messages, all with the same “Welcome to Ottawa” theme.

Huh?

“I looked at the calendar right away and it wasn’t April 1st,” recalls Penner, sitting in the visitors’ dressing room at Scotiabank Place after the Edmonton Oilers’ morning skate.

“One (of the messages) was from my agent, so I knew there was some legitimacy behind it.”

The messages, of course, stemmed from a report (published while Penner was airborne) that Penner, Andrew Cogliano and defenceman Ladislav Smid were being traded from Edmonton to the Senators for Dany Heatley, on the condition that Heatley approved the deal.

All that was missing was Heatley’s blessing on the trade, which did not come.

Heatley reported to the Senators camp that September, but when general manager Bryan Murray saw that Heatley still wanted out of town, within a day he completed a trade with the San Jose Sharks for forwards Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo plus a swap of 2010 draft picks (Ottawa’s fifth-round pick in exchange for the Sharks’ second-round pick.

The Senators later dealt that pick to the New York Islanders for defenceman Andy Sutton, now an Anaheim Duck).

With the Oilers in town for a rare visit, three days before Heatley and the Sharks are here, the time is right to imagine what might have been.

Would the Senators be better off today with Penner, Cogliano and Smid, rather than Michalek? (Because he is all that is left of the three acquisitions for Heatley).

Absolutely.

See SCANLAN on PAGE B3

For starters, the Oiler option involved three players still in the league today.

Though he was willing, Cheechoo scored just five goals in 61 Ottawa games and couldn’t keep up to the NHL pace let alone regain the form that made him a 56-goal scorer. Late in the season, Cheechoo was demoted to Binghamton and had his contract bought out by the Senators in June. He is now plying his trade in the AHL after signing a professional tryout agreement (PTO) last month with the Worcester Sharks.

Michalek had a decent 2010-11 season with 22 goals and 12 assists, but suffered a knee injury in late March that required surgery. Still looking to regain the speed that made him a breakaway threat last season, Michalek has five goals and five assists in 20 games.

Heatley scored 39 goals for the Sharks last season, and has 24 points including 11 goals this season. His hand forced, Murray was never going to get full value for a two-time 50-goal scorer such as Heatley, especially when Heatley had a no movement clause in the contract Murray signed him to in the fall of 2007.

But would Murray love a do-over, to get Penner, Cogliano and Smid?

Have to think so.

Penner, 28, a horse when he’s going (and a big target for critics when he’s not), was a 32-goal man last season, with 31 assists for 63 points while playing all 82 games for Edmonton. This season, on the last-place Oilers he has seven goals and 14 points, while playing alongside Cogliano (three goals, four assists) and Gilbert Brule (four goals, one assist), not exactly the calibre of linemates Penner had in Anaheim during the 2007 Stanley Cup run — Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry).

Smid, 24, is still developing as a defenceman, playing 19 minutes per game. Cogliano, just 23, scored a big third-period goal against Ottawa, with Penner getting the second assist, then set up Brule’s insurance goal.

Three players the Senators would have, instead of Michalek, an honest player with a history of knee trouble at age 25.

In the spring of 2004, Murray was in his final weeks as GM of the Ducks when the 6-4, 240-pound Penner was signed as a free agent out of the University of Maine. While Penner spent the next two seasons developing in the AHL, Murray was in Ottawa, having moved closer to home to become head coach of the Senators.

When the Ducks played the Senators in the ’07 final, the Getzlaf-Perry-Penner line was the dominant offensive force in the series, chairmen of the boards. You know Murray would have loved to get one of the three here as Heatley walked out the door.

Heatley said at the time he had nothing against Edmonton, but was looking for more “options” in a trade. He pounced on the Sharks deal when it was offered and has not looked back.

Ditto for Penner, who barely got a chance to wonder what it might have been like to play alongside Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson with the Senators.

“Who knows what would have happened if it had gone through,” Penner says. “It’s not something I worry or think about now.”

As for the youthful Oilers of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi etc. Penner says that bright future may not be as distant as conventional forecasts.

“I know you guys (media), all you care about is wins and losses, but you can see the progress of all these young guys. … I think we’re closer than a lot of people think. And it’s up to us to get there.”

wscanlan@ottawacitizen.com

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice