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Can Heatley make a winner of San Jose?

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After spending the last few offseasons trying to come up with explanations for early playoff exits, the San Jose Sharks think they've finally found somebody who can actually fix the problem.

That player is Dany Heatley, who saw his summer of discontent end when the Ottawa Senators eventually found a home for the disgruntled winger after he had requested a trade.

San Jose had to part with former 50-goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo, fellow winger Milan Michalek and a second-round draft pick in order to land Heatley and a fifth-round selection.

In Heatley, the Sharks found themselves a steady and prolific scorer who has compiled 543 points (260 goals, 283 assists) in just 507 career games. He is, however, coming off a "down" year in 2008-09, as he managed 39 goals and 72 points in 82 games with the Senators.

The Sharks needed to cut their losses with Cheechoo, whose production has dropped off considerably since his 56-goal campaign with San Jose in 2005-06. The former Rocket Richard Trophy winner saw his goal total dip in each of his next three seasons, culminating in a dreadful 2008-09 campaign that saw him deliver just 12 goals in 66 games.

And that's what this trade is really about. The Sharks realized that Cheechoo will likely never again reach the heights of 2005-06. In fact, Michalek, who is just 24 years old and is coming off a 23-goal campaign, seems more likely to deliver on that promise at this stage.

In the end, the club decided it needed to find another sniper capable of delivering the type of production that Cheechoo once did, and the Sharks belive they found their man in Heatley.

In all likelihood, the Sharks will put Heatley on the top line with Joe Thornton, one of the NHL's best playmakers who helped Cheechoo reach his apex over three years ago. There is little doubt that Thornton and Heatley can develop chemistry this season. After all, both players have produced consistently throughout their careers, and it would be shocking if bringing them together would somehow have a negative effect on their offensive output.

Still, a big regular season from Heatley and Thornton will not be enough. The Sharks of recent years have had no problem delivering the goods over the course of the 82-game schedule, but the team has had little success in the postseason since making it to the Western Conference finals in 2004.

Of course, the biggest disappointment came last spring when the Sharks entered the playoffs as the Presidents' Trophy winners only to be ousted by eighth- seeded Anaheim in the opening round. If San Jose wants to erase the memory of recent playoff failures, then Heatley must prove to be "the" missing piece and not simply another addition to the roster.

Heatley has never had that type of pressure placed on himself alone. There was considerable pressure to win in Ottawa, but it was shared somewhat equally between Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who made up a top-line that boasted a star at every position.

The Sharks expect huge things from Heatley this season and he may be capable of delivering on many accounts. Then again, after a series of embarrassing playoff flameouts a Stanley Cup is really the one and only thing San Jose expects.

It doesn't seem possible that Heatley could hurt in that chase for the Cup, but whether or not he is the missing piece in the Sharks championship quest is another story altogether.

FLEURY COMEBACK BEGINS

Last year, Claude Lemieux shocked the hockey world by successfully making a comeback to the NHL, despite the fact that the then 43-year-old hadn't played in the league in six years.

Now, Theo Fleury wants to give the NHL another shot. The 41-year-old has accepted an invitation to join the training camp of the Calgary Flames and will skate for his old club tonight in an exhibition game against the New York Islanders.

Unlike Lemieux, Fleury had to ask for reinstatement from the NHL and the NHL Players' Association since he was suspended indefinitely following the 2002-03 season with Chicago for violating the NHL's substance abuse policy. He was granted permission to return, and now the sober Fleury has a chance at redemption for the way his career came to a halt over six years ago.

Fleury recorded 455 goals and 1,088 points in 1,084 NHL games and, at 5-6, 180 pounds, he was always one of the most exciting players in the league to watch.

Lemieux made it back for 18 games with the Sharks last year before calling it quits again. Hopefully, Fleury can at least hold on for that long because it would be fun to see him skate once again and after a long road to recovery, he deserves a second chance.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo