Dany Heatley returns to Ottawa: Why it won’t be the hate-fest you expected

While LeBron James and his “homecoming” to Cleveland is going to get more than its fair share of attention today, there’s another homecoming of sorts with a huge potential for ugliness in the NHL tonight. Over a year ago, Dany Heatley made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want to be an Ottawa Senator anymore and demanded a trade out of Canada’s capital city. The Senators tried to move him to Edmonton only to have Heatley nix the deal. San Jose came calling with a package of players centering around Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo and with that, Heatley was off to California.

With the NHL schedule being as goofy as it is, it’s only now a full season later that Heatley is making his less-than triumphant return to Ottawa and if you think the Senators fans have forgotten about how Heatley demanded his way out of town, you’re lying to yourself. The fans are going to boo, they’re going to say a lot of things, and they’re going to be on him every time he touches the puck and Heatley knows it’s coming.

“As (the Ottawa game has) gotten closer, I know it’s been coming,” Heatley told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’ve gone into rinks like that before and I expect much of the same as Edmonton or Atlanta the first time.”

Told he was going to be booed, Heatley said it won’t bother him: “That’s fine. One boo or however many boos, it’s all the same to me.”

If you’re expecting things to be similar to the way LeBron James is going to be treated in Cleveland, however, you might want to slow things down a bit. The harshest stuff that Heatley will likely see comes from Ottawa Sun newspaper. No, not from their writers Don Brennan or Bruce Garrioch, but from the guys bored enough to do crude work on a Heatley photograph for the front page of the paper.

Being a guy that’s done many crude Photoshops himself, even this one doesn’t really do the trick for me, this probably took all of about two minutes to do. If you’re going to go, go big.

That stuff aside, Erin Nicks, a former Sun writer in her own right, had this to say today on Puck Daddy as to why Heatley’s return won’t be as vicious as you’d hope for in this situation and it’s because of the fans.

Sure, there will be booing at the game, and there’s something called the “Heatley Hate Fest” taking place at a downtown pub this afternoon. But try as they might, Sens fans remain a largely placid bunch, even when they’re ticked off about something.

Speaking from experience, I attended Alexei Yashin’s first game back in the capital as an Islander, and while there was venom to be had, it was still tempered by Ottawans’ typically quiet nature.

Recent history always rings louder, but over the course of the modern club’s history, the Alexei Yashin drama does — and always will — trump anything involving Dany Heatley.

Well if they didn’t bury Yashin, then Heatley’s got it made tonight, even in the face of not having a regret about how he handled things and the way he got out of town. As for how other Ottawa players are going to do things on the ice, about the only guy Heatley’s concerned about is caged animal and occasional enforcer Chris Neil getting a shot at him.

Senators fans should be more concerned about other things though. Their team is coming off a bad loss to the Oilers and Heatley is riding into town on a bit of a hot streak with five goals in his last four games. If the Sens loss to Edmonton is indicative of future troubles, Heatley’s return to Ottawa could turn out to be especially infuriating. Perhaps that’s why there’s still over 1,000 tickets available for tonight’s game.

While this homecoming won’t be as hate-filled as the one going on in Cleveland, this one lends itself to a bit more curious intrigue only because it’s been so long and time does heal all wounds. Ottawa has had a chance to get a full year under their belt and the Senators did well in making the playoffs last year.

Heatley’s departure from Ottawa didn’t leave the place to be a smoldering crater filled with failure the way James’ classless and disgusting ego-driven exit from Cleveland did. Still, these sorts of events make for the best drama and how things play out on the ice tonight will be fun to watch.

Marleau says he wants to return to Sharks, but it might not be so easy

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It seemed strangely fitting that Patrick Marleau scored the final goal of the San Jose Sharks’ season as the Edmonton Oilers eliminated them in Game 6.

Monday presented questions about what that goal means.

For one thing, it definitely doesn’t sound like Marleau expects that to be his final goal in the NHL, as he believes he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more,” according to NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz.

“I still think I can contribute and play,” Marleau said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

The 37-year-old made a strong argument that he can still light up the lamp in 2016-17. He scored 27 goals and 46 points during the regular season and ended his playoff run with three goals and an assist (all in the final three contests vs. Edmonton).

Marleau was especially effective once the new year rolled around, collecting 29 points in his last 41 games.

Before we get to the more unpleasant stuff, let’s watch that last goal:

So … yeah, that’s a pretty convincing case that he can at least still play now.

The bigger question is: if Marleau really wants term, are the Sharks willing to give him what he’s looking for?

Marleau admitted that discussions on an extension haven’t even happened yet. When you consider the upcoming challenges for San Jose, you wonder if this is it for a player who’s suited up for a whopping 1,493 regular season games with the franchise (even after there were significant trade rumors over the years).

Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s outstanding value $4.25 million cap hit evaporates after 2017-18, and the same can be said for Martin Jones‘ $3 million mark. One could imagine the Sharks approaching Marleau with a very appealing one-year offer, but it would be a big leap to imagine the franchise going for a guy who’s approaching 40 instead of a solid starting goalie and one of the best pure defensemen in the NHL.

So, really, the question isn’t “Will Marleau really play for five more years?” Instead, it might be “Does Marleau value playing for the Sharks enough to take a shorter deal or does he want that term right now?”

What is Alex Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal?

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Alex Galchenyuk is already a good player.

The question for the Montreal Canadiens is, can he be great?

Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick in 2012, is coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals and 27 assists in 61 games. However, it wasn’t as good as last year’s 30-goal campaign, and he didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs.

“Hopefully he took a step back this year so he can take two forward next year,” GM Marc Bergevin said Monday at the Canadiens’ season-ending press conference.

Three assists were all Galchenyuk could manage in six games against the Rangers. More importantly, after more than 300 NHL games of experience, the 23-year-old is still not an everyday center, on a team where center depth is by far the biggest concern.

Habs defenseman Shea Weber thinks Galchenyuk still has a ton of potential.

“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” Weber said, per NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, “but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, he’s going to get it.”

Of course, not all young guys do get it. And at times, there have been questions about Galchenyuk’s competitiveness.

To play center in the NHL, you have to compete all over the ice.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you have to be all over the ice, and you’ve got to be able to skate. As a centerman, you have to be good at both ends of the ice, and you have to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”

The kicker in all this is that Galchenyuk can become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already signed one bridge deal, and he’s at the age now where many young stars sign for big money and a long term.

So, does he want to sign long term in Montreal?

He ducked the question today.

“My season just ended a couple of days ago,” Galchenyuk told reporters. “I honestly didn’t give it too much of a thought yet.”

Kunitz cleared for contact, available for start of Caps series

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The Pens may get back one of their most veteran skaters for their second-round series against Washington.

Chris Kunitz, who missed the last five regular season games and all of Pittsburgh’s Round 1 win over Columbus, has been cleared for contact (per the Tribune-Review) and could return from his lower-body ailment for Thursday’s opener at Verizon.

Kunitz, 37, finished the year with nine goals and 29 points in 71 games, averaging 15:31 TOI per night. It was a down season offensively, but the Pens are hopeful he can reclaim some of the form shown last spring, when he racked up 12 points in 24 games en route to the title.

A three-time Cup winner, Kunitz skated on the fourth line at today’s practice with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl.

In other health news, the Pens also declared d-man Chad Ruhwedel a game-time decision for Thursday, after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury. Carl Hagelin, out with a lower-body ailment, has continued skating and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team is hopeful Hagelin can play at some point against Washington.

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.