He had back-to-back 50-goal seasons, an Olympic gold medal, and was arguably one of the brightest stars in the NHL during the early 2000s.
The expectations may have been curbed by the time a 31-year-old Dany Heatley arrived in Minnesota, but he was acquired to help carry the offense for the goal-deprived Wild. He led the team with 53 points for the 2011-12 season with the Wild finishing 35-36-11 and fourth in the Northwest Division.
After the commendable first year, inconsistencies and injuries increased in the next two seasons. The decline may have been overshadowed by the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the 2012 offseason, and the team was able to quickly replace Heatley’s production. However, his quick descent into an overpaid fourth-liner and healthy scratch was surprising, especially when his point-per-game pace was only two years prior and he was part of Canada’s Olympic 2010 roster that same year.
His departure from the Wild was unceremonious, as his burdensome cap hit came off the books and Minnesota finally became a consistent playoff team without him in the 2014 offseason. What was supposed to be his opportunity to redeem his scoring touch and standing among the NHL’s elite quickly soured and never came to fruition. His career will be remembered for the prolific scoring and media controversies with the Atlanta Thrashers and Ottawa Senators, while his time in Minnesota showed promise before the production evaporated and he finally left the NHL in 2014.
Arriving in Minnesota
The Wild acquired Heatley in June 2011 from the San Jose Sharks for Martin Havlat, his former teammate on the Ottawa Senators. The contending Sharks hoped to get faster on the wing, especially as Heatley’s average skating was not transitioning to the game’s sudden uptick in speed. The Sharks made it to the Western Conference Final against the Vancouver Canucks that year, but Heatley struggled, finishing with 8 points in 18 games. Following San Jose’s elimination, it was reported that Heatley was battling various injuries the entire season.
Coupled with Heatley’s cap hit ($7.5 million) and diminishing returns on offense, the Sharks managed to find a partner in the Wild. He was the third and final winger before the Parise/Suter era that the Wild hoped to channel their offense through, with the others being Marian Gaborik, who left for the New York Rangers in 2009, and Havlat. Minnesota was in transition, hoping to generate more goals from the newly acquired Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, who was part of a package for Brent Burns that same summer.
Pundits say the decline was expected on the Sharks even before the trade, with Heatley unable to be more than a scorer, and his past media controversies becoming heightened as the production decreased. Two years before, Heatley went through a media frenzy with the Senators and the Edmonton Oilers, nixing a 2009 deal that would have sent him to Edmonton for a sizable return when he requested for a trade. Instead, he agreed to go to the Sharks, and the Senators received a smaller package compared to the Oilers’ offer.
He was coming off a career-worst 64 points in 2010-11, which paled in comparison to the production he had with the Senators. His first season of 53 points with the 2011-12 Wild was another decline, but it was expected when he did not have Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau or Joe Pavelski on his line. The second-highest scorers for the Wild that season were Kyle Brodizak and Mikko Koivu, both finishing with 44 points. Of utmost importance at this point was that Heatley was healthy and captured some semblance of his former self on the ice.
The Final Injury and Departure
On April 3, 2013, Heatley battled former teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic in front of the Sharks net that led to Vlasic’s violent slash. A brawl between the teams ensued when Heatley fell to the ice. Vlasic was suspended, but the injury sidelined Heatley for the rest of the season and playoffs. He finished with a respectable 21 points in 36 games during the 48-game shortened season. The injury hampered his offseason progress, and he returned to the Wild with even lower expectations the next year.
The 2013-14 season was a disaster for him, finishing with 28 points in 76 games. Either being a fourth-line winger or healthy scratch towards the playoffs, this would prove to be his last full season in the NHL. The mounting injuries robbed Heatley of his ability to get to the net and his natural scoring touch at this point. His skating worsened and became a burden for the Wild. In the span of two full seasons and the shortened 2012-13 campaign, Heatley quickly went from star to reclamation project, and then fringe NHLer as he ended his time with the Wild.
Heatley would sign for one year with the Anaheim Ducks for the 2013-14 season, but lasted six games and struggled with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals. The Ducks traded him with a third-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Tomáš Fleischmann at the trade deadline. He never suited up for the Panthers, and was relegated to their San Antonio Rampage AHL affiliate to finish the season. After one final year with the Nürnberg Ice Tigers of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Heatley was out of hockey.
One of the most dominant scorers of his generation, Heatley’s time with the Wild signaled the end of his career, as injuries ravaged his final seasons and he could not adapt his game and skillset once speed became more prominent in today’s game and the goals were no longer there. It is worth noting the initial enthusiasm of his arrival in Minnesota. Away from Stanley Cup aspirations and the mass media with the Thrashers, Sharks and Senators, Heatley could have redeemed himself with the Wild. Instead, he became a shell of his former self, struggling to be kept in the lineup with an exorbitant cap hit behind him. His time in Minnesota was short, but it capped off a career that saw him reach some of the highest feats in the league to one riddled with controversy and unwanted media attention.
Sports journalist covering the Minnesota Wild. Currently completing a journalism degree in Toronto, Canada.