First of all, to label Dany Heatley as the Most Hated Man in Hockey is a stretch.
What, did Todd Bertuzzi and Sean Avery retire?
On the contrary, in fact, that surly slug Bertuzzi was just inexplicably signed by the Detroit Red Wings while the one-man freak show that is Avery is set to return for another run on Broadway. So let's at least agree Heatley has some competition in the hate department.
Of course, Heatley's new-found reputation as the selfish princess of pucks was come by honestly; first demanding a trade from the Ottawa Senators, then squashing a deal with the Edmonton Oilers. Really, when you spend the summer incurring the wrath of two hockey mad Canadian cities -- one in the east, another in the west -- there's not a lot of time left for golf and such.
But should this mean, as many offended critics maintain, that Heatley should be denied a shot at the Canadian Olympic team?
Look, this isn't Bertuzzi in Turin, where the past-his-prime power forward dragged his dark cloud to Italy, his baggage including the ugly Steve Moore incident still running in slow motion through a nation's collective head.
In fact, the lumbering Bertuzzi symbolized everything that was wrong-headed about an old, slow team that finished an embarrassing seventh. Bertuzzi reeked of bad karma and Wayne Gretzky's insistence of having damaged goods wearing the Maple Leaf represented just another of the Great One's mistakes when it comes to character judgements. Hello, Bruce McNall.
Yes, Heatley's past is scarred by his personal role in tragedy, too. But the family of Dan Snyder has forgiven Heatley for their son's death, so who am I to judge.
Besides, all that Team Canada architect Steve Yzerman has said is that Heatley deserves to be one of 46 players invited to an orientation camp that begins Monday in Calgary. And after representing Canada at six world championships, an Olympic Games, a World Cup of Hockey and two world junior championships -- and amassing 67 points in 64 international games in the process -- Heatley has earned the opportunity.
Is it reasonable to think less of a player who the Senators gave safe harbour and a six-year, $45-million contract in 2007-- only to demand a trade, then nix the Oilers' offer? Absolutely. Is it understandable that Senators and Oilers fans feel snubbed or cheated? You bet.
Even Friday, after Heatley finally broke his summer-long silence to speak on a media conference call from Kelowna, little was said to change the ill winds of public opinion.
Heatley cited his "diminished role" with the Senators as the trigger for the trade demand. Then he insinuated that it was the club's decision, not his, to make the messy matter public. Finally, Heatley reiterated his nixing of the Oilers deal was nothing personal.
"I've always wanted more than one option," he said, "so I could make the right decision."
As for his battered reputation, Heatley concluded, "I think everyone I've played with or for knows I'm a team guy and knows I'm a good teammate. I don't worry about that. I don't worry about the questions about my character.
"I know hockey fans in Canada are passionate," he added. "I love that about Canadian hockey fans. I love playing for Canada... It has everything to do with options. That's the bottom line."
Yzerman and Team Canada have options, too. They could have chosen to snub Heatley and, frankly, a vast constituency of Canadian hockey fans would have wanted it that way. But the fact remains that Heatley has never said "No" to his country. He's never demanded a trade from Team Canada. (Hey, he was born in Germany. It could happen.) So how could Yzerman have denied Heatley the opportunity to suit up in Vancouver?
Sorry, Ottawa and Edmonton, but this isn't about you. It's about us, And come February 2010, Team Canada is going to need all the help it can get. Seventh place, remember?
Don't forget, Heatley has to prove his worth first. He was never a lock to make the final cut to begin with. And if his already complicated and messy situation isn't resolved -- or becomes even worse -- that will become a factor that Yzerman will have to weigh against the two-time 50-goal scorer.
It's true that Heatley hasn't done himself any favours. There's little worse than garnering a reputation as a me-first prima donna, which is the bed Heatley has made for himself.
But the Most Hated Man in Hockey? Not so fast. Not when it comes to the Olympics.
If you want to despise the man for his perceived slights against the Oilers and Senators, fine. But Heatley has always shown up for his country.
So his country should at least give him a chance.