Michael Russo from the Star Tribune wrote a terrific article earlier concerning Dany Heatley, his trade to the Minnesota Wild, and his time with the San Jose Sharks.
As fans it’s easy to get caught up in liking/disliking athletes. Dany Heatley’s “heal turn” in the summer of 2009 represents that better than virtually any other example I can think of. His departure from Ottawa was well documented here, and by pretty much every other blog and sports outlet in North America.
As Russo points out, Heatley’s time in San Jose will largely be viewed as failure. The Sharks didn’t win any Stanley Cups and twice lost in the Western Conference finals (both times fairly convincingly too). Heatley’s playoff numbers aren’t amazing either. In fact, the former 50-goal scorer managed just 22 points in 32 games over his two post-seasons with the Sharks. Frankly, those stats are somewhat flattering too. Only five of Heatley’s 22 points were goals.
Disappointing stats? Absolutely, but it’s not that simple. While it’s clear the new NHL – the way the game is played, the younger and faster players, and the new rules – don’t bode well for Heatley and his style, he’s still an elite goal scorer at this level. Consecutive injury plagued seasons have certainly played a significant role in Heatley’s decline. From torn groins to broken hands, Heatley has probably seen more trainers and medical rooms in the last two years than most nurses.
Imagine being a goal scorer, one who’s one-timer is perhaps rivaled only by Steven Stamkos, and trying to take a slap shot with a broken hand. Oh, and by the way, you probably can’t feel that hand or the stick you are holding because it’s completely frozen. Add a torn or pulled groin (which never properly heal during a season) and you can start to see why Dany consistently looked a step behind the play. It also explains why he kept missing the net and shot pucks wide in the 2011 Sharks-Canucks playoff series. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for the guy, but you can start to understand the reasons for his struggles in San Jose. Your team is counting on you to score on that shot. There’s pressure from fans and the media, and lowly bloggers like me tweeting “Can Heatley live up to his paycheck” etc…
It must be overwhelming. And worst of all, I’m sure Dany wants to alleviate the pressure he’s put on himself. Heatley’s injury struggles are a strong reminder that we’re all human at the end of the day. The amount of mental toughness (in addition to physical toughness, of course) required in an ordeal like this at the pro sports level is incredible. After a full season (or two) of this, it’s bound to get the best of anyone.
Needless to say, we’re going to really see what Dany Heatley is made of this Fall. It’s a much different scenario now than it was two years ago when he was traded to San Jose. Heatley’s got a lot to prove and fresh canvas to work with. The task is simple, although much harder. Heatley won’t play with all-star caliber line ups like he did with San Jose and Ottawa. He will be playing on a significantly weaker line up (but one that’s liked him for some time) without a star playmaker feeding him passes. Thinking about it, he had Ilya Kovalchuk to play with in Atlanta too. No offense to Mikko Koivu, but Heatley is about to play on the least talented line he’s ever experienced in the NHL. He really has his work cut out for him. I for one – a Senators fan and all – hope he can get back to the level he’s truly known for.
After all, fans always like a good comeback story, right?
Stay classy, Dany Heatley.