Heatley is Still Here...Now What?

So this likely threw a wrench into the best laid plans for Chuck Fletcher; an untimely injury to Dany Heatley, he of the 7.5 million dollar Annual Average Value. Heatley missed the rest of the season with shoulder surgery, and couldn't be subsequently be set free onto the open Free Agent market by way of an Amnesty Buyout because he hadn't been cleared to play by The Wild Medical Staff. So now, with the cap going down, there were casualties- Tom Gilbert was bought out instead, Devin Setoguchi traded to Winnipeg, and a handful of UFA's weren't retained, including Matt Cullen (although I had my doubts that he was even going to be brought back)- and here we are with Dany Heatley.

He has one year left on his deal, and its an absurd number to even fathom trading away; god knows what sort of junk Minnesota would get in return (I'm sure San Jose is wondering what they got themselves into trading Heatley for Martin Havlat, who was also a prime buyout candidate until hip surgery 86'd that idea.) And since the only two arbitration-eligible players Minnesota had (Justin Falk and Cal Clutterbuck) were traded before they could file, the second buyout window was never an option.

So now what?

You treat Dany Heatley with kid gloves.
Often times when a young player gets his feet wet in the National Hockey League, you hear the cliche that the Coaching Staff wants to put him "in the best positions to succeed." Usually that entails playing sheltered minutes against another team's bottom-6, and with some power play time thrown in as well; it makes sense in that you aren't forcing a player who is adjusting the pace of play of a higher level to immediately process the game faster against the top checkers in the other sweaters; the added time and space of the power play allows the player some leeway. It's about gaining confidence and spoonfeeding the kid until he gets it, and then you give him more playing time and responsibility until he's a key cog- but until then, he's a bit player with the heavy lifting being done by other players.

As much as we like to rag on Heatley- he's got a bloated contract, he's lost a couple three steps, he's this or that, there's still some things there that can help Minnesota. He was on pace for 20+ goals over an 82 game season again last year; will he ever score 50 again? Hell no- but for a team that could use every iota of production it can from any and every one, then it isn't the worst thing to have a Dany Heatley on the team.

We know he isn't going to thrive in 5 on 5 situations, especially in the skating-based contests; Heatley won't be a threat off of the rush. How do you combat that? By managing where Heatley begins his shifts. He started in the O zone just 49% of the time- now for some context he did find himself sliding down the lineup chart when he wasn't producing, the Cullen-Setoguchi-Zucker line started clicking, and the addition of Jason Pominville meant another shift in the lineup, where he basically became a regular on the Checking line- but when you take into consideration Mike Yeo's propensity for Zone Matching (in essence putting certain lines in the best positions to succeed or defend based on which zone the puck is in, or the faceoff) and you see how he used The Top Line and how they started in the O zone roughly 63% of the time, you could see the potential how Yeo can utilize an aging and slowish player like Heatley most effectively- having someone else do the dirty work and get Heater into the zone late to capitalize on the gained possession.

There has to be some understanding there- Heatley has to know that his role has changed, if not has become somewhat limited; but in the end it is meant for Heatley to ultimately just be a scorer, and if another team wasn't hip to how he was used and focused more on the results, then it may end up being another contract for Heatley. You can feed him more ice time in garbage situations to ease the workload for some of the other principals, but it also be that his time in close situations may become a tad more limited- but having a noted scorer with fresh legs on the bench may be an ace up Yeo's sleeve at times.

Much like you hear about some defensemen being "power play specialists", the same would apply to Dany Heatley; yes, the contract is gaudy, and he's been pushed out of what is an every situation Top-6 role, but there's still some tread on the tire.

Its just about how he is used so the most mileage out of his ability is gained.

1 comment:

  1. Getting a little sick of people focusing on what a poor value Heatley represents instead of the fact that even in the broken twilight years of his career he's going to outscore more than half our roster no matter where he plays in the lineup. Sheltering him is going to help everyone--i agree. The team, Heatley, and the fans whose blood pressure creeps into danger territory if he get's more minutes than [whomever].