Why Dany Heatley Belongs on Minnesota’s Top Line

Dany Heatley Wild

Dany Heatley (Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

In the Old West, a renowned but aging gunslinger usually ended his career with a bullet in a ditch.  In the new West, he’s paid $7.5 million this year and next.

Times indeed have changed.  The challenge for Dany Heatley, once one of most feared goal scorers in the world, is a nightly duel between body and will to lumber from one zone to another.

This struggle getting up and down the ice has made Heatley a defensive liability on every line he’s been on this season, especially his current grouping with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck.  This is demonstrated by their possession numbers with and without him.

Generally, better than 50% is good (you have the puck more than your opponents).  Stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com

TOI 5v5 (Time on Ice) with Heatley

CF% (Corsi For) with Heatley (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted) (as of 3/30)

CF% (Corsi For) without Heatley (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted) (as of 3/30)

CF% (Corsi For) Difference WITHOUT Heatley (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted) (as of 3/30)

Kyle Brodziak

155:08

45.5%

52.2%

+6.7%

Cal Clutterbuck

100:52

46.6%

50.8%

+4.2%

That said, Heatley’s aim remains true.  Give him an extra second (or two or three) to pull the trigger, and he can still fire with deadly accuracy.  His shooting percentage, while not quite at his 18.3 percent clip from 2007-08, is still a respectable 12.2.

So which teammates can best protect Heatley’s defensive shortcomings while maximizing opportunities for his dangerous shot?  Let’s look at possession numbers for Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, his linemates from earlier this season.

Generally, better than 50% is good (you have the puck more than your opponents).  Stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com

TOI 5v5 (Time on Ice) with Heatley

CF% (Corsi For) with Heatley (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted) (as of 3/30)

CF% (Corsi For) without Heatley (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted) (as of 3/30)

CF% (Corsi For) Difference WITH Heatley (5v5 Zone-Start Adjusted) (as of 3/30)

Mikko Koivu

163:14

51.8%

52.8%

-1.0%

Zach Parise

160:31

50.5%

53.9%

-3.4%

Not surprisingly, Heatley’s four goals in five games to start the season, which account for about half of his production in 34 games, came with the squad’s best playmakers. And as sound two-way players in their own right, they also protected him.  While Heatley was left behind from time to time by their superior skating in 5v5 play, their overall production wasn’t hurt much.  When this line was broken up after nine games, Parise had already notched 10 points and Koivu eight.

Rookie Charlie Coyle is currently manning the wing besides Parise and Koivu and doing a bang-up job at it.  While far from the marksman that Heatley is, Coyle has brought a powerful motor and imposing size to that first unit.

So what I propose is radical, considering Minnesota’s 17-6-1 run: Switch Heatley with Coyle. Critics will say that the Wild stumbled out to a 4-4-1 start with a Parise-Koivu-Heatley trio.  However, considering their productivity together, one must look to other, more recent factors for the team’s resurgence such as Jonas Brodin’s emergence, Niklas Backstrom’s improvement, and Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi’s chemistry.

I believe that Coyle will vastly improve the third line, while Heatley will drag the effectiveness of the already excellent first line only a little, resulting in a net gain for the Wild.  Giving the old gunslinger another opportunity to ride upfront presents Minnesota’s best chance to roll three strong lines in the playoffs.

Sheng Peng
Sheng Peng plants ideas like Wilt Chamberlain on Twitter and Google+. He covers the Los Angeles Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Sheng Peng
RT @Marvel: Dammit, Hydra. - 3 hours ago

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