The new Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated a lowering of the salary cap. The maximum for the 2012/13 season is $70 million. That is anticipated to drop to around $64 million for the 2013/14 season. As a result, the NHL entitles teams to a pair of compliance buyouts. These can be used as a way to ensure that a franchise is able to get in under the cap. The Minnesota Wild may well consider using one of their compliance buyout on winger Dany Heatley and the final year of his contract worth $7.5 million.
Dany Heatley: The Facts
This article is not being written as a critique of Dany Heatley. Arguments that devalue Heatley as an excellent scoring winger in the NHL ignore the facts. This is a player who scored 41 goals and 89 points in 77 games while with the Atlanta Thrashers and playing in the pre-2004/05 season long lockout.
Heatley then notched consecutive 50-goal seasons while with the Ottawa Senators. His production dropped off slightly in the following three seasons, but not particularly terribly as he had seasons of 41, 39 and 39 goals.
Detractors are quick to point to the fact that he scored just five goals in 32 playoff games during a pair of postseason runs from the San Jose Sharks. However, they ignore his seven goals and 22 points in 20 games during the Ottawa Senators run to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.
He scored just 26 goals in his final season with the Sharks, which made him expendable when San Jose were looking to make cap room. In July 2011 he was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Martin Havlat. He may have put up the lowest point total of his career for the second straight (barring a 31-game limited season), but he did lead an offense-starved line-up with 24 goals and 53 points.
Dany Heatley is unquestionably a skilled offensive player and at 32 years old, he should have plenty of high quality hockey left in the tank.
Minnesota Wild 2013/14 Cap Picture
According to capgeek.com, the Minnesota Wild are pretty much right up against the salary cap for the 2012/13 season spending $68.8 million on their current roster. The current numbers suggest that they have $52.5 million invested in 17 players already for next season. That list includes 11 forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender. Cap Geek suggests that Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher has a reasonably handy $11 million to play with.
However, he also has the challenge of signing or replacing the team’s top goaltender in Niklas Backstrom, a pair of young blue liners in Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon who have growing roles, and a trio of pretty important forwards in Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck.
Fletcher’s challenge is suddenly more difficult. Even if Bouchard and Clutterbuck have a cut and raise that balances out to keep their cap hit the same, Spurgeon and Falk take small raises, Backstrom takes a cut and Cullen is let go, that’s probably all of the cap space gone and probably more than a little more. Fletcher would be relying on young player development to help the team replace the loss of Cullen and improve. This roster has only managed a 6-6-2 record through the opening 14 games of the season after all.
Why Dany Heatley Could Be The Odd Man Out
It seems likely that Fletcher will not be particularly keen to let Niklas Backstrom go. Josh Harding has some health concerns (he was placed on injured reserve today), while neither of Darcy Kuemper or Matt Hackett have received the sort of priming that they would need to take on the starter role. It seems likely that the 35-year old Backstrom, who has spent his entire career with Minnesota, could at least be talked into taking a pay cut from the current $6 million that he is making in 2012/13.
It also seems likely that Spurgeon and Falk will be maintained as they are the team’s more promising blue liners after the current top trio of Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert and Jonas Brodin.
Trades could be made, but the Wild don’t have many big contracts next season beyond the ‘big three’ forwards Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, and top defenseman Suter.
The reality is that Heatley signed his $7.5 million per year contract when he scoring a lot of goals playing with Jason Spezza. He earned it while playing with Joe Thornton. The Wild do not have a top level playmaker to play alongside Heatley.
The 32-year old has played a lot better and has look more energized on the top line playing alongside Koivu and Parise, but he has looked equally absent and unable to create his own offense on other lines. He has just eight points through 14 games, which just isn’t the type of production that is needed from a forward making $7.5 million.
The Minnesota Wild have two other forwards making more than $6.75 million per season. Koivu is the team captain and a pretty handy playmaker, but for some reason he and Heatley just haven’t gelled. The other problem is that Koivu has gelled brilliantly with Parise.
Parise has been everything that Minnesota fans hoped for. He is leading the team in goals and points while averaging nearly five shots per game. He has shown tremendous passion playing for his home city and has endeared himself to the Wild fan base already.
If Heatley is struggling to generate offense separate from the team’s other two expensive forwards who also happen to have chemistry. Then Fletcher may feel that the balance of his line-up and forward group is enhanced by using a compliance buyout on a player who will always struggle to live up to his very large contract.
In addition, winger is definitely the position that Minnesota are best placed to replace the loss of scoring forwards. Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Johan Larsson are all knocking on the door for NHL places and potentially demanding top nine minutes sooner rather than later.
A lot will depend on this season. Heatley is an essential part of this roster if they hope to make the postseason. He could be vital to a successful power-play. With just one season left on his deal, a strong or solid campaign could convince Fletcher not to use a buyout on Heatley. Instead, he might choose to make cuts elsewhere while relying on the team’s prospect depth. That will give him better negotiating power if he chooses to re-sign a 33-year old Dany Heatley at the end of the forward’s contract.