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Bonvie's in a battle he can't win
By DAN BARNES -- Edmonton Sun, Mon. Sept. 14, 1998.
Throw Dennis Bonvie up against any heavyweight in the NHL and he'll come out smiling; win, lose or draw. But long before he tossed them with Drake Berehowsky yesterday, he knew he was in a fight he can't win at his sixth Oiler camp. And he's made it clear he wants out. Two days ago he asked GM Glen Sather to deal him.
And Sather's response? "I don't have a problem trying to accommodate anybody we can't use." But there's the rub. The Oilers can and have used Bonvie effectively for five years in Cape Breton and Hamilton. Most seasons he was given limited opportunity in Edmonton and proved each time he wasn't ready for a regular NHL role.
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Last year the Oilers finally decided Bonvie could no longer help them in Edmonton at all, yet they won't deal him to another NHL team if they suspect he'll just wind up in some other AHL city and come to Hamilton to wreak havoc four or five times a year. Is that fair to him? Absolutely not. Is it good business practice? You bet. The guy sells tickets and plays a good game in Hamilton. "There's never been a mindset where we can't trade him because he's going to come back and haunt us," said Hamilton GM Scott Howson. "At the same time, nobody likes to trade toughness. It's like goal scoring. They are guys who can come back and create an atmosphere in your building. It's not like trading a checker who plays and you don't even notice him." Bonvie always gets noticed. His pre-season last year won him a $350,000 (Cdn) one-way deal. He figured he'd arrived. But he lost his spot in the Oilers lineup and then cleared waivers last fall and was never heard from again. Today, the money isn't at issue. He wants a fresh start with an organization that hasn't already decided he can't help them anywhere but in the minors. "If I go someplace else and I can't play, I'll be the first to accept it. I'll go back down and be happy. Because I wasn't good enough. How can they say I'm a career minor-leaguer? I've only been on one team. Don't say it when I've played on one team and teams have said they're interested but they can't get me from Slats." Bonvie said that Philly and Colorado made substantive offers. But how long do you think it would have taken for Sather to say yes if the Avs had offered either Josef Marha or Aaron Miller in exchange for Bonvie as he suggests? The deal would have been done in a heartbeat. Sather said he's had minor-league offers for Bonvie but they're happy with him as a Bulldog and swapping him for another minor-leaguer makes no sense. That's Bonvie's problem. "It's a catch-22. You want to go down and play well, but you don't want to be the minor-league club's franchise player because we're all still trying to get up here," said Steve Passmore, second to Bonvie in years of service with the Oilers' AHL affiliate. "You've got to be so valuable down there that they need you up here." He can't win this one. Through it all Bonvie is trying not to sound bitter. He doesn't want to burn bridges or incur the wrath of Sather, but this is out of his control and he's frustrated. If he were intent on finding people to blame for his frustrating lot in life, he could start with his parents. If the blessed union that created their Dennis had occurred just 24 days earlier in 1973, all would be right in his world.
He would have turned 25 a day before the free-agent deadline of July 1 and because he has more than three years of pro experience but less than 80 games in the NHL, he'd be an unrestricted free agent. And in all likelihood, some other NHL team looking for a kid who loves nothing better than a good fight would have signed him and he'd be at their training camp. Now that's tough luck. "I've never cheated the system. I've given all I've got and if it's not good enough here, move me somewhere else."