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Ex-Shark of the Week: Dany Heatley

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The All-Star himself is the focus of Week 3.

San Jose Sharks v Phoenix Coyotes
Dany Heatley on the ice during his first year with the Sharks.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Do you remember how you felt when the news broke that Dany Heatley had been traded to the Sharks? Hindsight has probably spoiled things a bit. But it was absolutely thrilling. It was probably the most exciting trade in Sharks history to that point. The Joe Thornton trade was bigger (and always will be) but that trade was made at a time when San Jose was on the fringes of contention. Deserved or not, Thornton had a reputation as a guy who could not get things done. The Sharks were sending away a haul for a star, but one who had yet to prove himself on any meaningful stage.

Dany Heatley, on the other hand, was the missing piece. 2007-era NHL jokes aside, he was an All-Star, and he occupied hockey’s stratosphere. Heatley was one of the top wingers in the entire NHL at the time, a pure goalscorer, and a total dynamo. And he was coming to a team that had run into a buzzsaw named Jonas Hiller and lost to the low-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round. Coming off the most humiliating playoff loss in team history at that point, this was a Sharks team that was hungry, that was talented, and was favored by many pundits to be a serious contender for the Cup -- and that was all before September 12, 2009, when Doug Wilson traded for Heatley. Let’s try to set the stage for what that felt like at the time.

Capitals v Thrashers
Atlanta Thrasher Dany Heatley skates with the puck in a game against the Washington Capitals on December 1, 2002.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images/NHLI

There are plenty of places to read about the life of Dany Heatley. This Vice article here is a good starting point, but it paints the story with too much hindsight. Dany Heatley was born in Germany on January 21, 1981 to a professional hockey player father, who moved the family to Calgary in Dany’s youth. He grew up to become an elite prospect, scoring 70 goals in 60 games in his final year in Junior A. Heatley, who always wanted to play college hockey in the U.S., was drafted 2nd overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft after two fabulous seasons for the University of Wisconsin. He blossomed in Atlanta, and he blossomed quickly. Playing with with fellow rookie Ilya Kovalchuk, he had an amazing 2001-02 season and won the Calder Trophy. In his sophomore season, he put the entire NHL on notice that a new elite goalscorer had arrived:

That 2002-03 season was Heatley’s peak as a Thrasher. He posted 41 goals and 89 points in 77 games. He was named the cover athlete for NHL 2004. He was, in every sense, a superstar. Then, that offseason, a speeding Heatley lost control of his Ferrari 360 Modena with his teammate Dan Snyder in the passenger seat. Snyder died six days later. Heatley, who had been drinking but whose blood alcohol content level was below the legal limit, pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter. The story has been covered enough — read this astounding New York Times profile of Dan Snyder’s parents from 2007 to get a sense of the whole story. Dan Snyder’s parents forgive Heatley, and the Atlanta community stood by him, but the story justifiably has followed Heatley for the rest of his career. It will for the rest of his life.

After recovering from his injuries, Heatley played 31 games and potted 25 points under a cloud of legal proceedings. He was traded to Ottawa for a change of scenery. There, Heatley promptly became a superstar again. On the ice, it was as if nothing had ever happened. Dany Heatley became one of the best pure goal scorers in the NHL. I’m not kidding -- it’s hard to overstate just how much of a phenom he was. During his time in Ottawa, only Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin scored more goals than Heatley. And his playoff resume was great, too: he put up 35 points in 34 games as a Senator in the postseason, including a 22 point 06-07 playoffs where he helped steer the Senators to the Stanley Cup final. Watch this video. He was amazing:

And then he wanted out. On June 9th, 2009, Heatley, displeased with his decreased power play time and clashing with Senators head coach Cory Clouston, demanded a trade. In late June, Sens GM Bryan Murray thought he’d worked out a trade and arranged to send Heatley to the Edmonton Oilers for Ladislav Smid, Dustin Penner, and Andrew Cogliano. Heatley, who disliked Edmonton as a city and a franchise, refused to waive his no-trade clause. The Canadian media, predictably and somewhat justifiably, spent the entire summer throwing a fit:

Summer dragged on. The Sharks traded Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Luckowich to Vancouver for Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi to clear up some cap space. The deal looks disastrous in hindsight, but Fear The Fin readers liked it at the time. Well-versed in the art of rumor-mongering, Mark Purdy wondered if this meant Heatley was coming to San Jose. One week before training camp, Doug Wilson finally pounced. Dany Heatley came to San Jose along with a fifth round pick in exchange for Sharks hero Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and a second-rounder (that Ottawa eventually traded). “I'm excited obviously, I'm excited to be a Shark,'' Heatley said. Deep quote, huh?

Look back to the post-trade analysis on this very blog by Matthew Taylor: “I'm going to go out on a limb, though, and say that this trade was better for the Sharks than even the Thornton trade. Granted, I love Joe and I think he's a better player (he was also younger when the deal went down), but this deal helps the Sharks in so many ways it's amazing.” Read the comments on that post. It’s near-unanimous jubilation. The Sharks had their missing piece. Losing Cheechoo and Michalek hurt, but it was a worthy price to pay — heck, Milan Michalek was my favorite Shark at the time, and even I shrugged it off as part of the cost of doing business.

Drop the hindsight for a minute: that first year in San Jose, Dany Heatley delivered on the hype. He scored 39 goals and added 43 assists. He was a point-per-game player who finished tied for fifteenth in scoring. The Sharks were the best team in the Western Conference that year. San Jose lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in a sweep that was much closer than many remember. But there were warning signs. Heatley was not a good possession player at even strength, though his power-play efficiency was just about tops in the league.

Heatley’s quality of play dropped off a veritable cliff in 2010-11. He scored 26 goals that season, but he was god-awful as a possession player at even strength. If you can get the cache of it to load, this post by Kent Wilson of The Score summarizes Heatley’s flaws way better than I ever could. His cumulative corsi-tied ratio over his two years in San Jose was, well, I’ll leave that to Wilson too: “The only regular SJS players with worse percentages over that same time frame were Jamie McGinn, Jamal Mayers and Scott Nichol.”

And in a playoff limited sample size, he posted 21 points in 32 games over the two seasons. It just wasn’t great, particularly for a player who was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle for a team that couldn’t get over the playoff hump. Perversely, Heatley’s greatest high-pressure accomplishment as a Shark was winning the gold medal on Team Canada with three of his Sharks teammates.

Ice Hockey - Men's Gold Medal Game - Day 17
Four Sharks - Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, and Joe Thornton - celebrate winning the 2010 gold medal in hockey for Team Canada.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In the 2011 offseason, Doug Wilson packed Dany off in a rare one-for-one trade. Heatley was sent to Minnesota in exchange for Martin Havlat, who just retired a week and a half ago. Fear The Fin looked back on Heatley’s Shark tenure in 2011 and reviews were mixed. Heatley himself lamented his time as a Shark as a missed opportunity: “I think both years I was there we had a chance to win, and we didn’t get it done,” he said. “Any time you don’t win, it’s obviously a regret, any time you’re on a team like that.”

In retrospect, the Heatley-for-Havlat trade should be remembered as one of Wilson’s best. Havlat wasn’t healthy often, but was somewhat productive when he was. He saved the Sharks over $3 million in sorely-needed cap space compared to Heatley’s gargantuan $7.5 million annual salary. And it was a prescient deal. Sadly, Heatley only grew less effective at even strength, and it destroyed his reputation as a quality NHL player. In 194 games with the Wild, Dany Heatley mustered just 47 goals and 102 points.

Minnesota Wild v Colorado Avalanche - Game Seven
Dany Heatley #15 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 in the second period of Game Seven of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Heatley signed with the Ducks for 2014-15, broke camp with them, and was sent down to Norfolk by Christmas. In Feburary of that season, he was traded to a Florida Panthers team desperate for forward depth and couldn’t crack that lineup, so he went down to their affiliate in San Antonio and posted 13 points in 18 games to close out the year. Dany Heatley was through playing hockey in North America. It was a stunning decline for a once-incredible player, whose reputation as a true star was always overshadowed by his off-ice surliness and the burden of enormous expectations.

But Heatley isn’t done with hockey altogether. He just turned 36. He put up solid numbers with the Nuremberg Ice Tigers last season in Germany, and rumors swirled over the summer that he might be headed to Finland next. It hasn’t happened yet -- but don’t be stunned if Heatley reappears in North America as a wily veteran in training camp next September. Stranger things have happened. Just ask Sandis Ozolinsh or Claude Lemieux.

Share your Dany Heatley memories in the comments! Vote on who the next ex-Shark of the Week should be! It won’t be Claude Lemieux, I promise.