Eighteen years ago, the Ottawa Senators and Atlanta Thrashers shocked the hockey world in a superstar for superstar (plus Greg de Vries) trade. Let’s take a look back at the players involved, the trade itself, and the aftermath.
Marian Hossa as a Senator
Drafted 12th overall in 1997, some were disappointed that the Senators opted for Marian Hossa over Ottawa 67’s goal scorer Matt Zultek (Zultek would never play an NHL game). Hossa quickly won everyone over though.
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He finished second in Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year and followed that up by scoring 29, 32 and 31 goals in his next three seasons. He hit stardom in 2002-03, scoring 45 goals which ranked him fourth in the NHL. The next season he scored a career-high 82 points, fifth in the NHL.
Dany Heatley as a Thrasher
Drafted 2nd overall in 2000, Dany Heatley was given the difficult task, with the help of Ilya Kovalchuk, to try to bring the young Atlanta Thrashers to relevance. He did his part as a rookie, scoring 26 goals and 67 points on his way to the Calder Trophy.
He followed that up with 41 goals and 89 points, as well as a memorable four-goal All-Star Game. Heartbreakingly, the following September saw Heatley’s friend and teammate Dan Snyder die in a car crash with Heatley driving. This tragedy was a big reason why he would request a trade to try to start fresh somewhere else.
On August 23rd, 2005, the Senators sent Hossa and veteran defenseman Greg de Vries to the Thrashers for Heatley.
Why the Thrashers Made the Trade
Thrashers’ general manager Don Waddell was honouring Heatley’s request to be traded. He was not going to trade Heatley for cheap though and was able to pick up an All-Star winger who had just signed a three-year deal worth $6 million per season.
Why the Senators Made the Trade
It’s reasonable to think that Senators’ general manager John Muckler felt he was receiving the better player if Heatley’s growth continued and he was able to maximize his talent. Also, the Senators had experienced their share of playoff failures and were looking to shake up their roster a bit. Hossa joined the likes of Patrick Lalime and Jacques Martin as core pieces being removed from an early 2000s Senators group that couldn’t get the job done in the playoffs.
Marian Hossa as a Thrasher
Hossa joined a bad Thrashers team that had never made the playoffs in their five seasons. His first season saw him score a career-high 92 points and helped the team to a franchise-best 41 wins. His second season was even better. He scored 100 points as the Thrashers made the playoffs for the first time in their history. His 100 points were 20 more than his next closest teammate and were the sixth most in the league. Over those two seasons, Hossa was involved in over 36% of his team’s goals.
His third season was the last year of his contract. His production dropped to 56 points in 60 games, the team was outside the playoff picture, and Hossa and Waddell were not able to agree to a contract extension.
Hossa Leaves the Thrashers
On February 26th, 2008, Hossa was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with Pascal Dupuis, for Angelo Esposito, Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong and a first-round pick in the 2008 Draft, used to select Daultan Leveille. Neither Esposito nor Leveille played a single NHL game. Christensen played just 57 games as a Thrasher, scoring 23 points. Armstrong was the most successful piece coming to the Thrashers. He managed to play 179 games with the team, scoring 80 points, including a career-best 22 goals in 2008-09.
Dany Heatley as a Senator
Heatley joined a team with Stanley Cup aspirations that had made the playoffs eight seasons in a row. In his first season as a Senator, he scored a career-high and franchise-best 50 goals and 103 points and helped the Sens to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. His point total was tied for the fourth-most in the NHL. The next season he once again scored 50 goals, and again finished fourth in the NHL in points, this time with 105.
Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson were seen by many as the best line in hockey during this time. They each scored a playoff-best 22 points as the Sens reached their first Stanley Cup Final, coming up short against the Anaheim Ducks. Over those two seasons, Heatley was involved in over 34% of Senators’ goals.
Despite missing 11 games, Heatley managed to score 41 goals and 82 points in his third season with the Senators. In the early stages of this season, he signed a six-year, $45 million contract. That contract made him the fifth-highest paid player in the NHL the following season. It was that next season that the Senators missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. Heatley scored 39 goals and 72 points in 82 games. That offseason, he decided it was time for a change.
Heatley Leaves the Senators
In the summer of 2009, Heatley used his no-trade clause to nix a deal that would have sent him to the Edmonton Oilers for Ladislav Smid, Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner. Instead, he was traded to the San Jose Sharks, with a fifth-round pick in exchange for Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and a second-round pick. That second-round pick was later traded to the New York Islanders for Andy Sutton.
Cheechoo played just one season as a Senator, scoring 14 points in 61 games. Sutton would play just 24 total games as a Senator. Michalek was the most valuable part of the return. He played parts of seven seasons with the Senators, scoring 224 points in 412 games. He scored a career-high 35 goals in 2011-12. Unfortunately, injuries were an issue as he missed significant time in four of his first six seasons with the Senators, before being part of the Dion Phaneuf trade during his seventh season with the Senators.
Winner of the Trade
It’s difficult to choose a decisive winner in the Hossa for Heatley trade. Heatley managed to have the two most productive point-getting and goal-scoring seasons in franchise history. He helped the Sens have two incredibly successful seasons, and played a huge role in making it to their one and only Stanley Cup Final appearance. On the flip side, Hossa was dealt a far tougher challenge, going to a mediocre Thrashers’ team. He still holds the franchise records for points in a season, and he helped them to their first and only playoff appearance while in Atlanta.
Since Hossa was such a great player and the Senators were a top-end team, it’s likely they would have enjoyed plenty of success had they kept him. However, it is hard to imagine the team being much better than they were; the Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson line was unbelievable and no player in the NHL scored more goals than Heatley from 2005-06 to 2006-07. In Hossa’s favour, he was the superior two-way player, and he was able to continue playing at a high level for much longer.
The End of Hossa and Heatley’s Careers
The two players finished their careers quite differently. After leaving the Thrashers, Hossa would go on to score 496 more regular-season points, 114 playoff points, make the Stanley Cup Final five times, with three Stanley Cups, and just recently was announced as a Hall of Fame player.
After leaving the Senators, Heatley scored just 248 regular-season points, 28 playoff points, and never made it past the Conference Finals. While Heatley enjoyed more team success with the Senators than Hossa did with the Thrashers, it’s clear that Hossa was able to get the last laugh.
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