No matter how the respective general managers or players may want to spin it, Sunday night’s blockbuster deal that saw Dany Heatley traded to the Minnesota Wild for Martin Havlat is about one thing and one thing only:
Trying to get two expensive but underachieving assets a fresh start, in the hopes that they start to pay dividends on all the dollars the teams invested in them.
Nor should that be construed as a bad thing either. It’s a smart, calculated decision and you’re surprised that it doesn’t happen more often on such a grand scale, teams swapping out one problem for another, and crossing their fingers that relocation relocation relocation finally makes the light bulb go off.
The NHL landscape is littered with players that fail in one place and then succeed elsewhere. Just think back to the derision directed the Calgary Flames way last summer at this time when they brought Alex Tanguay back on a one-year, $1.75 million contract. Nobody could believe it - or that Olli Jokinen was returning either. But both players made the most of their second chances - and Tanguay, especially, after given the chance to play with Jarome Iginla, became a productive NHLer again.
So now look at Heatley and Havlat, who were teammates for about five minutes with the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators. OK, it was one season, but it was actually only 18 games, which is how many Havlat played that year before shoulder surgery knocked him out of the line-up in a Nov. 29 game against the Montreal Canadiens. At that point, Havlat left for what was then the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks and stayed just long enough to lead the team in the scoring the year they finally ended their lengthy playoff drought (2008-09). At that point, with Havlat an unrestricted free agent, the Blackhawks opted to replace him with another long-ago Ottawa Senator, Marian Hossa - leaving Havlat little alternative but to take Minnesota’s free-agent dollars. His two years there were marked by wild fluctuations in both his performance and his happiness level.
Early last season, he went public with his dissatisfaction over how he was utilized and when coach Todd Richards did up his ice time, Havlat responded with a strong middle third of the season. But as the year petered out, so did Havlat’s play.
Meanwhile, in San Jose, Heatley found the going equally tough. Originally acquired to be Joe Thornton’s wing, coach Todd McLellan ultimately determined that wasn’t a good fit for either player, so last year, he switched Devin Setoguchi to right wing on the top line and moved Heatley down to play with Logan Couture. Heatley wasn’t used on the top power play either, which is what originally caused him to ask out of Ottawa. Playing injured in the playoffs, he was ineffective and a lightning rod for more San Jose discontent, as they fell out of the playoffs in the third round to Vancouver.
So now the Wild own both the top two right wingers from last year’s Sharks, having acquired Setoguchi just before the 2011 entry draft for defenceman Brent Burns. Heatley carries at $7.5 million annual salary-cap charge, but much of the big money (the years at $10 million per season) have been paid out. Havlat’s charge is $5 million, which helps San Jose, a team that once and for all, is trying to pull out all the stops to get to the top in the Western Conference.
Adding Burns to supplement a relatively thin defence corps is a far important move in the grand scheme of things. But giving Havlat an opportunity to get engaged again in a new location is the sort of move that could pay dividends.
Havlat will play as a top-six forward, likely with Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Joe Pavelski will likely move up from the second line and play wing with Ryan Clowe and Couture. Michal Handzus, signed as a free agent away from the Los Angeles Kings, then slides into the No. 3 centre role.
Havlat and Heatley are both 30 and on their fourth NHL teams now. At some point, the realization is going to set in - that maybe all these teams really aren’t conspiring to undermine their confidence or undercutting them at every turn. Maybe it really is them. An awakening is what their new employers are hoping to see, even if they wouldn’t ever put it quite that bluntly.