COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS POWER POLL DEPTH CHARTS CURRENT ODDS
By Dan Di Sciullo
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There was a time when Dany Heatley was thought to be a franchise player in the making, the type of rare talent that a team holds onto forever.
However, at the age of 30, Heatley recently found himself involved in the third trade of his NHL career, getting shipped from San Jose to Minnesota in a straight-up deal for fellow winger Martin Havlat.
The July 3rd swap came with much less fanfare than Heatley's other trades. That's partially because this one had to share headlines with the start of the NHL's busy free agent season, but it also has something to do with how Heatley came to leave his first two NHL cities.
Heatley's career seems destined to be defined by the tragic events of September 29, 2003, when the then Atlanta Thrashers star crashed his speeding Ferrari into a brick and wrought iron fence. The accident resulted in the tragic death of Heatley's friend and teammate Dan Snyder and ultimately resulted in Heatley being traded away from Atlanta.
Before the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season had ended, a grief stricken Heatley asked Thrashers management to trade him. His Thrasher teammates were willing to forgive him for his role in Snyder's death, but it's easily understood how Heatley felt he couldn't continue playing in Atlanta.
For their part, it's pretty clear the Thrashers would have preferred to keep Heatley in Atlanta, and maybe the city would still have a hockey team if that fateful night in September never occurred.
After all, Heatley was only 22 years of age at the time of the crash and had already compiled 156 points in 159 games for the club that selected him with the second overall pick of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. However, with their hands tied, the Thrashers ultimately acquiesced to Heatley's trade demands and dealt him to Ottawa prior to the 2005-06 season.
The change of scenery did wonders for Heatley, who eventually joined Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza to form one of the league's most potent lines.
However, after posting back-to-back 50-goal, 100-plus point campaigns and helping the Senators reach the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals in his first two seasons in Ottawa, things started to sour once again. Following a 72-point output in 2008-09, Heatley again asked to be traded, but unlike the unfortunate circumstances that led him to leave Atlanta, this time the star winger had simply become disgruntled. He not only succeeded in alienating fans in Ottawa, but also in Edmonton after exercising his no-trade clause to shoot down a trade to the Oilers.
Heatley wound up getting dealt to San Jose before the 2009-10 season and received mixed reviews for his two-year stint in Silicon Valley. He notched 82 points (39 goals, 43 assists) in his first season with the Sharks, but dipped to 64 points on 26 goals and 38 assists in 80 games last year. Heatley also managed just five goals in 32 career playoff games for San Jose.
His 2010-11 output marked Heatley's lowest point total since he played in just 31 games for Atlanta in 2003-04, and the Sharks decided it was time to cut their losses. San Jose had a window to deal Heatley, who listed Minnesota as one of 10 teams he would accept a trade to as part of his modified no-trade clause, and the Sharks pulled the trigger.
In trading Heatley for Havlat, San Jose saved themselves $2.5 million in cap space, while picking up a player who had just two points less than Heatley last season.
But Heatley, who comes with a $7.5 million annual cap hit through 2013-14, knows a thing or two about starting over in a new town and seems ready to get down to business in St. Paul. Meanwhile, the Wild are banking that Heatley's new address can help him regain the scoring touch he displayed during his first two years in Ottawa.
"I think anytime you get traded it's a fresh start," Heatley told reporters in a conference call earlier this week. "I think we've talked about the city, it's a great city to play hockey in, great fans, obviously great organization. I'm excited to play with a lot of those guys in that room and excited to get going."
However, Heatley's latest attempt at rebirth will not come without a great deal of pressure. For the first time in his NHL career, Heatley will unquestionably be his team's top offensive player. He shared the spotlight with Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta, had Spezza and Alfredsson to lessen the load during his time with the Senators and then skated with the likes of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose.
In Heatley, the Wild believe they've found a scoring replacement for departed winger Marian Gaborik, who set the franchise records in goals, assists and points before signing a lucrative free-agent deal to join the New York Rangers in the summer of 2009.
When asked if he wanted to be the go-to offensive weapon for the Wild, Heatley gave the right answer, "I do. I think as a goal scorer and a player, you want to be that guy."
It could wind up being a perfect match for Heatley and the Wild, who desperately want to reward their loyal fans with something to cheer about. Lord knows there hasn't been much for Wild fans to scream about recently, as Minnesota has missed the playoffs in three straight years and hasn't won a postseason series since 2002-03 -- the expansion club's third season in the league.
Heatley will be given every chance to succeed in St. Paul, which has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of another star player since the departure of Gaborik.
The upcoming years with the Wild will also be crucial to Heatley's legacy as an NHL player. If he can reverse the trend that has caused him to wear out his welcome with his previous NHL teams, Heatley could finally find a permanent home in Minnesota. If not, then his next "fresh start" could be his last.