How Much Does Heatley's Debut in Edmonton as a Shark Really Matter?

(I felt so strongly about writing this piece, and how big this game is for the Oilers, that I posted it twice on two sites I write for... this and

On Friday night at Rexall Place, Oiler fans will jam-pack the building with fans who have one thing on their mind. Thousands of people who watched the summer roll by and couldn't help but hear about the Oilers and their inability to land one of the NHL's best snipers, are prepared to make it known that Dany Heatley's antics weren't greatly appreciated.

Every time Heatley touches the puck, fans will yell. When he enters the ice surface, fans will boo. When his name is announced should he score a goal, fans will lose their lunch. However, in the grande scheme of things, I wonder... does it really matter?

In reality, Dany Heatley is old news. The Oilers tried to make a move to improve their first line and the superstar status of their team. It didn't work and the Oilers looked foolish waiting as long as they did, literally begging one player to come change the fortune of a 23 player hockey team. The end result is that Edmonton Oiler fans are still watching Dustin Penner, Ladislav Smid and Andrew Cogliano in Oiler uniforms.

It's easy to understand why Oiler fans feel snubbed. I too, am no longer a Dany Heatley fan (to be honest I never was one since the accident that killed then fellow Atlanta Thrasher Dan Snyder. Something about Heatley's lack of punishment still irks me).

But, for the same reasons I see no point in losing sleep over the success of Chris Pronger, the double-signing of Michael Nylander -- heck, even the failure to lure Marian Hossa, I find any attempt to make one players experience more important than the result of the game itself, a waste of time and energy.

But, I am not an NHL hockey player. If I were, and I played for the Edmonton Oilers, I might suspect there are plenty of reasons for me to have motivation. Heatley in my building, the last game at home before a lengthy road trip, to beat a team that is clearly head-and-shoulders better than we are, or, for three players who had their names in the NHL headlines for weeks as unwanted assets that stayed put. Specifically, I'd find motivation for Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid and Dustin Penner. If I'm an Edmonton Oiler, there is a lot on the line in terms of pride and respect and somebody must pay.

So when I ask, when Heatley makes his debut in Edmonton as a San Jose Shark, does it matter? Hell yes. For three players, all of whom will be in the lineup, Heatley's presence against the Edmonton Oilers makes all the difference in the world.

Hockey players are a prideful group. The Edmonton Oilers, despite not possessing the most skill or talent to win on a nightly basis, are a team that care a great deal for each other. As good friends and close teammates, Friday night, they have reputations to fight for and allies who need vindication.

Cogliano didn't take being traded well and his lack of point production this season undoubtedly has something to do with it. Cogliano is close to many players not missing action on Friday. Those players have a friend to defend.

Dustin Penner was ridden hard by MacTavish. He was counted out and was a throw-in as part of a trade that would have brought Heatley to Edmonton. Unlike Cogliano, who is having troubles adjusting, Penner has something to prove and is lashing out in a positive way.

He's not just the guy that pulls pranks on the Oilers roster during road games or team-building exercises (although he's known for it). He's a guy that has plenty of friends on the Oilers squad and is currently the Oilers best player. Penner along side close teammates and friends will be gunning to show everyone, he's not just a throw-in and that Heatley can stay in San Jose than come to a team he didn't want to play for.

Ladislav Smid is quickly becoming one of Edmonton's better shut-down defencemen. If there was ever a time to have a good game, sticking it in the face of a player you were going to be traded for, this is it.

Dany Heatley coming to Rexall and Edmonton means a lot for the Oilers, or at least it better. If it doesn't, one has to wonder what could possibly pump this team up. They're struggling and they need an excuse to win when they shouldn't. This is that game. It's the tide-turner of the season.

Fans will make noise against the player that treated the city like garbage. My hope, is that fans make more noise for the players that are still here. That they use their energy to root on the three players who are actually a part of this team, and players who will care about the reaction of the fans far more than Dany Heatley does.


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