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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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