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July 7, 2011 :: 3:14pm ET
The Heat is On
As the shock wears off from the Trade Away from The Bay, Dany Heatley strides into Minnesota looking for a ring.

LOS ANGELES, CA -- I've had a run of controversial hockey star-shocked-by-trade interviews lately. Mike Richards dialed me up last week to chat about his Exodus from the City of Brotherly Love and was a cool enough cat.

Even more controversial is Dany Heatley, the four-time All-Star and now thrice traded winger.

Like Richards, we allowed the dust to settle from the movement of the earth around his feet before chatting with him about his new and old team and his life away from the rink.

We'll start the story with a caveat; as an avid hockey fan, you know of this subject's past. If you're looking for further character assassination or chapter and verse on how selfish he is, best you turn your eyes away from the screen. While we risk a good portion of TFP's followers doing just that with this disclosure, my experience with Dany Heatley has been unlike what his public perception represents.

Before he was dealt to San Jose from the Ottawa Senators just prior to the start of the 2009-10 season, word on the street was the Los Angeles Kings were interested in the sniper from Calgary and the University of Wisconsin. Kings GM Dean Lombardi went on the record that to bring in a player of such character would risk the harmony of the young leadership core he had established and declined the opportunity to make a deal. His counterpart roughly 300 miles north, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said, 'Damn the character issues, I need goals', pulled the trigger and shuttled Milan Milachek, Jonathan Cheechoo (who magically some Sharks fans still pine away for) and a 2nd round pick for the guy known as "Heater" to those closest to him.

Curious about all the consistent negativity around a two-time 50 goal scorer, I ran across former Atlanta Thrashers teammate and current TSN analyst Ray Ferraro at the time of the trade chatter. If you've met Ray and talk to him for more than a minute, you know he's one of the best guys in the game, a straight shooter that loves hockey and gives smart, thoughtful takes in his job these days. On the heels of Lombardi's statements, I asked about the baggage that came along with the massive talent.

Ferraro couldn't be more clear on Heatley; not only did he share the same ice with him, but Dany lived with Ray (one of the few wise hockey moves ever made in Atlanta) during his early days in the Peach State. He was unequivocally dismissive of all the negativity, throwing in a few choice expletives. When asked if Wilson should have any concerns about Heatley, Ferraro said, "None, it's all bull about Dany being a bad teammate. If I was a GM in the NHL, I'd trade for him in a second."

Moreover, in the two seasons he toiled in the South Bay, I saw no evidence of the bad guy. In the course of covering the Kings, San Jose is a routine visitor to Staples Center as a division rival. Win or lose, Heatley never refused an interview. His teammates liked and respected him, both on and off the record. Is he the most intriguing character in the world to interview? No, but he's not the Vanilla Man (Patrick Marleau) either. While he went through some horrific times in Atlanta and run out of town on a rail in Ottawa and likely banned from the Edmonton city limits, his time in San Jose was productive.

The spin doctors will point to the fact that Dany only scored five goals in 32 playoffs games for the Sharks, and while the numbers are indisputable, his presence on the ice made it far easier for Ryan Clowe and Devin Setoguchi of the Teal to face lesser opposition while Heatley was toiling for the most part on the first trio.

He put 39 goals on the board for the Sharks in his first campaign, but dropped to 26 this season; the combination of the lower productivity in both regular season and playoffs had the critics hailing the trade that brought Martin Havlat to the Tank.

Only after the season was complete, did we learn that Heatley suffered a broken hand late in the season and then a severely sprained ankle in Game 3 in the Conference Finals against the Canucks. Despite those painful injuries, he never begged out, only missing two regular-season games for a suspension and actually set a season high in hits, a rarity for a player in his ninth season. Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle can only hope that his replacement will bring the same toughness (perish we say character) to the ice in October.

The combination of the Heatley trade, along with the acquisition of Brent Burns for Setoguchi, will inject a call of the Wild into the Sharks, and in our opinion, not necessarily for the better. While the Sharks had a need for a top defenseman, which Burns is by virtue of his 17 goals from the blueline last season, the differentiator that made the Sharks so dangerous in the NHL waters was beached. With Joe Pavelski manning their No. 3 center role, it was a matchup few teams could deal with. The dealing of two snipers moves Pavelski to the right flank of Calder candidate Logan Couture, to plug the checking line pivot Wilson signed former L.A. Kings center Michal Handzus.

Better defense? Likely. Slower? No doubt. A third consecutive visit to the Western Conference Finals? Most unlikely.

If Couture experiences a sophomore slump, as many NHLers do, they'll be further challenged to produce offense, an unheard of task on West Santa Clara Street since the lockout. With the Kings shipping in more Philadelphia flavor in Richards and Simon Gagne it's them, not the Sharks, who will be the Pacific Division favorites.

As Heatley makes arrangements to shift his residence to the Midwest, not unfamiliar as he matriculated at the University of Wisconsin, he leaves knowing that his presence in San Jose can be punctuated with consecutive Final Four appearances, the only time it's occurred in the 20-year history of the franchise.

But you still don't like the guy, do you?

Not that he needs it, but Heatley will have some familiar and friendly faces as he becomes the central figure in the Wild attempt to break through the playoff glass ceiling that enveloped them over the past three seasons. Though they possess talent like center Mikko Koivu and goalie Niclas Backstrom, Minnesota has never had a player of this notoriety (including Marian Gaborik) or paycheck size ($7.5 million for the next three years) skate at Xcel Energy Center. The buyer of the asset and the accompanying expensive paper, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher knows exactly what he's getting into.

"Some of our better offensive players first instinct is to pass instead of shoot and as a result we finished 30th in shots on goal this season," Fletcher said. "Our unwillingness to shoot the puck is well documented."

Not a better scenario to step in to for a cleanup hitter like Dany.

When Heatley was referred to as 'poisonous' by an old Ottawa media friend, Fletcher defended his character: "I'd think he's the opposite, he's played on quality hockey teams and has had success from both an individual and team standpoint."

He'll likely skate on a line with Setoguchi, with Koivu as the pivot, making it far easy to acclimate from an on ice standpoint and creating the highest octane line combination in franchise history.

Dany spoke in a relaxed tone, citing the cliché "nature of the business" when addressing his third address change in his professional career. Instead of voicing bitterness about being dealt away from a contender in a market where he just purchased a home, he was grateful that it occurred in the summer when he has more time to attend to personal affairs.

As for the inability to capture the Stanley Cup in northern California: "It's disappointing, because we didn't win. I had a couple of good years there, met people, played with great guys. A couple of us were brought in to win a Cup and we didn't accomplish that, but it's a nice city to live in and there are great fans."

Most Canadian hockey players will tell you they have two sports of choice, hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. "I actually had a choice between baseball and lacrosse, I chose baseball," said Heatley, who played both catch and some infield.

Still a fan, Heatley had the opportunity to see a World Series game last season in San Francisco during the Giants championship run. His loyalties lie with the Orange and Black at present, but receiving a welcoming text message from Twins slugger and fellow Canadian Justin Morneau that could sway his allegiance come October.

Dany is in the majority of players that carry superstitions to the rink and won't even own up to the worst one.

"I think the combination of things is the worst part, all the little ones add up," he said. "Like other guys, I put one side of the equipment first and how you tape your stick. I'd say I'm pretty finicky with my stick and that's probably the most important one to me."

When he flips on the flat screen HDTV, his first choice for viewing is a show that most single 30-year-old men in North America gravitate to, and no, it's not Jersey Shore.

"I'm a big fan of Entourage, I'm kind of sad it's ending, but there's not too many more things those guys can do after they've done this many episodes," Heatley said. "I'm excited to see the last season and I'll probably buy the DVDs for the entire series when they're done and watch them all again."

As for the long rumored Entourage movie, he puts on his critic's hat: "That might be cool, but sometimes the movie isn't as good as the series."

Like Sex in the City, Heater? "I won't admit to that," he laughed.

As for his reunion with Setoguchi, it's been rumored that an arm wrestling match will decide who flips to left wing as both guys usually call right wing home: "I think he'd beat me in arm wrestling, we'll probably come up with something else, maybe a round of golf."

Dany might want to check into doing some arm curls instead, though he's frequented the links more often in San Jose, his handicap holds steady at 20.

"I shot a 92 the other day, Devin would have to give me about 20 strokes, he's a pretty good player."

When he finishing eighteen holes, win or lose he professes to have the ability to step into the kitchen to feed his opponent by making "a pretty mean pasta with red sauce."

When discussing a possible switch to left wing, Dany feels that the most difficult part is when coaches don't stay the course.

"The challenge for me is when you switch game to game, you come in at a different angle as a defender, coming in on your backhand you're more protected but once you play a couple of consecutive games in the same position it's easy to settle in. I'd like to think I'm still a 40-to-50 goal scorer when healthy."

The Sharks' deep playoff run had him playing into late May, but he's kept abreast of the game over the past few weeks.

"I love the sport and while I don't think I sat down and watched a single game all the way through, I was aware of what was going on in the Finals," Heatley said. "The first few days of free agency were pretty exciting. It seemed that there was a lot more activity this year in terms of trades, not only me and Setoguchi, but Richards and (Jeff) Carter in Philly was a shocker to me. I think it's good to see players move around to teams and give young guys opportunity to come up to push veterans. That's what makes a good league."

After the immediate disappointment of failing to win it all, Heatley took refuge by distancing himself from the game in the days immediately following elimination.

"It's impossible to forget, it's a pretty tough week that immediately follows," he admitted. "It's different every year, this time I went away on vacation for a week and back to Kelowna, British Columbia (he owns a boat up that way). I try not to travel too much, I like to stay put and get in shape for next year."

So when he's chilling on the boat, his favorite tunes to relax to are crafted by The Tragically Hip (admitting that Gord Downie is likely the most famous person in his cell phone list) and Blue Rodeo. On the occasion when he does travel more extensively throughout the summer, it's to see if favorite rockers, The Dave Matthews Band. "I don't have Dave's number in my cell phone," he kids. "I really got into the band during my days at Wisconsin; a lot of the guys I played with were big fans. I think this is the first time in years that I haven't gone to see them because they're not touring as much as they used to."

Dany equates it to a college reunion; he returns to Madison, home of his Badgers and catches a couple of shows in July and August with the boys. And if that was him instead of Gilbert Brule rolling down that B.C. road, would he have picked up Bono? "Absolutely!"

There not a more polarizing character in the game than Dany Heatley. While Sean Avery hit the pages for bad behavior every so often, we see it as a desperate cry for attention from a career third liner. Heatley possesses skills of a rare few ever to hit the ice; in an era that's seen far fewer dominant scorers, he's managed to pot 50 goals twice in his career. Yet, with that skill, he's reviled in Ottawa and Edmonton (for daring to use a no trade clause he negotiated into a contract), been accused of being the root cause when his team falls short in a sport that's all about the team both in failure and success. Could the guy use a PR firm to help his public image? Indeed, but a 30-year-old Dany Heatley appears to be comfortable in his own skin and at peace with what's gone before.

He stands to make an additional $20 million on his current contract and sounds like he's secure with his legacy whenever he steps away from the game. Maybe he'll sail off into the British Columbia sunset and never look back. While most may not miss him, we get the feeling he's good with it all.

We'll close allowing the reader to judge from a vantage point few see, inside the closed doors of the dressing room.

Setoguchi, a running mate of Heatley, reportedly jumped 10 feet off the couch when learning he would not be alone in his banishment of the non-playoff Land of 10,000 Lakes. The most telling quote comes from the 24-year-old winger also labeled a disappointment in San Jose, despite scoring 84 goals in three-and-a-half seasons (darn, those Sharks fans are demanding). While the accusations and inferences have been made about Heatley's destructive power in the room for years, perhaps Devin's words affirm the maturity of a former alleged bad seed.

"He is misunderstood," Setoguchi said. "As a friend and not even a hockey player, he is one of the most genuine, honest people I've ever met in my entire life. Trust me, he's a good guy and his teammates love him."

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com.
You can also visit Dennis on Twitter.


 

 

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Jun. 28, 2011 Mike Richards enters the Pacific
May 30, 2011 The Cup Comes Home
May 07, 2011 Jumbo Flavor
Apr. 05, 2011 Purple Rain
Mar. 17, 2011 Ya gotta have Hart
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