Fear the Fin Debates: How should we feel about Dany Heatley?

Although Dany Heatley's break-up with San Jose was not as controversial as his split from Ottawa (in fact, the Sharks kind of pulled the "it's not you, it's me, but it's also kinda you" card), Heatley's tenure with the Sharks didn't end on the best of terms. His playoff performance was a complete disappointment, his season scoring was extremely down from his first year with the team and his health and conditioning were called into serious question.

Now, three games into Minnesota's season, Dany Heatley has a goal and two assists (on a pair of Setoguchi goals no less) in a solid start for his new team. He looks healthier, committed, and more like the player who had 39 goals with the Sharks in 2009-2010 than the one who had 26 in 2010-2011.

For some, this has ruffled feathers. Others are simply happy to see him do well. Plank and Matt spent some time this week discussing both sides. Considering that Heatley's Wild just played Ottawa last night, it's as good a time as any for a debate. Enjoy.

Matt: While I'm happy to see Heatley thrive in Minnesota, I can't help but resent him a bit for how he played his final year in San Jose. He started his tenure with the Sharks with such promise, I was so excited to see how he and Thornton would mesh together. Really, he had a fantastic first year with the team and I was happy the trade was made.

In his second year, though, I really felt as if he gave up. He came into camp out of shape, a result of his nagging injury, and played the whole year in a slower, less committed fashion. I thought it was the result of an injury that would never heal, but according to observers of the Wild, Heatley is skating well and backchecking and being the player we expected him to be. For some reason, that just irks me.

Jason: Dany Heatley is a polarizing figure. The Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance could have both used him on recruitment posters and seen an unprecedented rise in enrollment. All of Ottawa's fanbase and now a fair amount of San Jose's holds a grudge against him for various reasons, and I find it very unfortunate. In Ottawa, it is because he asked to be traded and those private conversations magically got leaked to the public. In San Jose, it is because he loved it here and didn't meet the expectations that the front office had for a player they were going to be paying 19 million dollars over the next three years.

Essentially, the Sharks moved a guy who underperformed in exchange for a really good player in Martin Havlat as well as salary and cap space. These things allowed them to offer extensions to Brent Burns and Logan Couture. I know you understand this Matt, but I wanted to bring it up because San Jose was the one dictating the terms here-- Heatley had no idea the trade was coming. From a big picture standpoint, the Sharks became a stronger organization after the deal as well, even if they end up losing on the Heatley/Havlat direct comparision.

So Heatley realizes he went from a perennial Stanley Cup contender to a team that is trying to rebuild. So he is trying his damnedest to get back to elite status with people from all over pissing on him. So he approaches this as an opportunity to prove people wrong and sees it as a second chance. So he works on his skating in the offseason and tries to fix the biggest hole in his game.

So what? Good for him.

Matt: I'm all for the Sharks making the swap, as we've discussed before and agree on, Heatley may never have become the same guy he was his first year in any other year with San Jose and Havlat brings some speed and chips in goals. The added cash saving helps a ton too, as you mentioned. If Heatley being traded is what it took for him to get his head on straight, so be it.

The problem I have with the guy is that he's had so many chances and potential eye-opening experiences that this lesson should have sunk in with him earlier in his career. Minnesota is his fourth team, and it took him this long to get the picture? He had the chance of a lifetime to win with San Jose, and he squandered it? He may not have known the trade was coming, but he definitely didn't make very many friends with his conditioning and perceived level of effort with the team.

For some reason, I just have a hard time rooting for a guy that effectively bailed on two teams. If he has a good year in Minnesota, I'm not going to fret it one bit from the standpoint of a San Jose fan, and it's always nice to see a guy succeed. For me, though, it's really hard to consider myself a Heatley fan at this point in time. Maybe eventually he works his way back into a player I'm comfortable rooting for, but he's not there right now.

If we're going with Star Wars references, Heatley is like Anakin Skywalker. Stuck with him a bit, forgave some earlier missteps, but this last flameout (Get it? Mustafar joke.) has just soured me on him in general.

Now, if Heatley decides to sacrifice himself and comes in to throw Chuck Fletcher into a core shaft right before he finally gets the better of Doug Wilson in a trade, I'll rethink my stance.

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Jason: There's a huge difference between ambivalence and actively rooting against a player though, which is what the crux of my argument is-- ambivalence is fine (you could say I'm ambivalent towards ambivalence), but hoping he does poorly in Minnesota seems petty. And I think that's where my opinions begin to clash with others (not necessarily you), because I don't harbor any resentment towards him for his career in San Jose. Partly because I never saw an issue with his "intangibles", partly because I thought he was still a successful player despite his on-ice shortcomings, and mostly because all of our interactions with him were positive and never indicated that he was a guy who was the big issue he's always made out to be.

As for Heatley "taking four teams to get the picture" or being a guy "who effectively bailed on two teams" I think that's a good thing to tackle because it's brought up so often. I don't think those situations are related. You have an unfortunate car crash that led to the death of a teammate, a situation that was forgiven by Dan Snyder's family. Morality is a tricky subject to cover, especially for those outside of the situation, but ultimately the lesson is that people make mistakes-- if Snyder's family can forgive, I think the public should forgive as well.

Then you have the situation where Heatley requests a trade in private, only to have those conversations become public. That was a PR nightmare for Heatley, but it's pretty clear who leaked the information to the media. And then you have a season where Heatley plays with an injury for nearly the entire year and is out of shape either because or due to it. I don't see an overarching theme between the three. If anything, he's just displaying the traits of your normal everyday run of the mill human being. The difference is that he gets paid a lot of money to perform his profession.

I always feel like I'm playing Devil's Advocate when it comes to Heatley, just because he's so vilified by so many throughout the League. I think the main thing that brings on the hate is the dollar amount of his contract. That's always been a funny thing to me, but for the sake of brevity, I'll pose a question to you on the matter-- do you think you would still feel the Dark Side rising within you when you hear Heatley's name if he made less galactic credits?

Search your feelings, Taylor. You know it to be true.

Matt: Your mind powers will not work on me, boy. You're trying to paint me in to a corner here, labeling me as someone who wishes that Heatley would do poorly just because I can't bring myself to root for the guy. I don't resent him at all for his time in San Jose, but last season just made me feel "meh" towards him as a player. I'm in that ambivalent group of ambivalent people you're ambivalent about, you could say. He will do what he does in Minnesota without any hate or support from me. (I know he cares, oh so much)

Where I disagree with your stance is that I don't see any reason to outwardly root FOR him. I'm not advocating that we root against him, but I don't get why a San Jose fan should feel any real loyalty to a guy who didn't take full advantage of the situation he was presented when he was acquired by Doug Wilson and a team who had a real shot at a Stanley Cup. Playoff numbers are hard to judge a guy on. I'm taking issues with the fitness and commitment levels.

Also, I'm not trying to judge Heatley for past mistakes. The car crash is a tragedy that neither of us even brought up while he was here for the reasons you mentioned. The trade request issues, and subsequent veto of the trade that would have sent him to Edmonton... that one gets to me a bit but not enough for me to go on a Jedi witch-hunt.

The imperial credits he's paid has a lot to do with it, I agree with you on that. He makes so much money that there is really no excuse for him to be out of shape. That's a hard stance to have, and it takes the human element out of it, sure. But for some reason, I just can't defend a guy who gets paid so much and needs additional motivation to get his rear in gear. He's made his mistakes and he's trying to get better... I just don't see why he couldn't do it in San Jose.

My high expectations are my weakness, and your faith in Heatley is yours.

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Jason: Clarifications are needed here so I will sum them up-- I think rooting against Heatley to fail in Minnesota is petty, but I'm not advocating someone should root for him just because he was a member of the Sharks organization. That's stupider than Jar Jar Binks. And Jar Jar Binks is stupider than George Lucas without a beard.

Your second paragraph is interesting because I feel it captures the anti-Heatley sentiment quite well. What you're saying is that Heatley burned up the majority of his goodwill with his lack of conditioning last season, leading many to become ambivalent towards his success with another team. So when said player does take an active interest in improving his conditioning and skating ability, it now "irks you" (first paragraph). Maybe I'm missing something here, but that seems like a situation where a player tries to right his wrongs and invites ill-will because he is trying to improve his game. Whether or not he did it in San Jose almost becomes secondary-- it's because he didn't do it here but is now doing it somewhere else that is an issue. I feel like we both did a lot of Dany Heatley defending last season and now you're dancing around like a Twi'lek. You look great though.

As for monetary compensation playing a role in his criticisms, I understand how that can be a sticking point. For me that's more of on the business side of transactions-- when analyzing how a player is performing on the ice, salary kind of goes out the window for me. Take Niclas Wallin for example. The offseason was when his contract was criticized (and boy did we ever criticize it), but once the season starts it seems logical to let that go and focus on how he's performing in the role assigned to him, and if anything, focus on management for making the decision rather than the player getting the best deal he can. I understand that with money comes expectations, but it's easy to forget Heatley scored 39 goals with the team in his first season and was fourth on the team in points last year. Maybe it wasn't the success that was expected, but it was still success nonetheless.

Alright, let's send this conversation the way of Alderaan. Final thoughts-- you may fire when ready.

Matt: I get your points and I understand where you are coming from. The comeback story is always one that grabs people. It's why redemption movies are so popular. If Heatley comes back and leads his team to the Cup, I'll follow it on the edge of my seat and admit you were right. Tell your sister, you were right.

The poor last season, the trade drama, the contract implications all just roll into a ball of something I just can't get behind right now. I feel bad, he was always nice to us in our interactions with him and even made a stellar "Dumb and Dumber" reference in a post-game interview. I just can't do it.

Concentrate fire on that conclusion.

Jason: Heatley may fail in Minnesota, he may succeed. He may score 40 goals, he may score 20. The Wild may struggle to make the playoffs, or...well, they're going to struggle to make the playoffs. But no matter what, I wish him the best because I feel like he's got the short end of the stick in the media, got heaped with the majority of the blame for the Sharks inability to make the Stanley Cup Finals, and is a guy who deserves to be acknowledged for his approach to his offseason training regiment.

Even if it didn't happen in San Jose.

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