Winning Play: The pluses and minuses of Tim Heed

Since the beginning of the calendar year, Tim Heed leads all San Jose Sharks defensemen with a plus-14.

Dubious stat that plus-minus is, this number certainly has helped Heed stay in the line-up. After appearing in just three games from the start of the season through December, Heed has taken advantage of Erik Karlsson’s absence to play 23 of 29 contests in 2019.

Heed registered a plus-three in last night’s 5-4 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. In the same game, Radim Simek suffered a possibly serious lower-body injury, meaning that we might see more Heed, even when Karlsson returns.

So what does San Jose have in Heed?

Some of the brushstrokes in Heed’s game are obvious: He’s a mobile, offense-first puckmover. But looking more closely, we gain a better understanding of what Heed excels at — and what he has to work on.

On the bright side, Heed may not just be a good puck-mover, he may be a great one. He’s certainly more than a “makes a good first pass” blueliner.

Skittering puck, Heed (72) had the wherewithal to wait for the puck to settle before one-touching a hard stretch pass onto Joe Pavelski’s (8) blade.

This brilliant pass might look familiar:

Heed is certainly daring. But only daring gets you a seat in the press box. Execution is king.

Heed kept himself from being pinned down by a forechecking Kyle Connor (81) with a behind-the-back, between-the-legs pass to a well-positioned Micheal Haley (18).

Blake Wheeler (26) sealing the wall, Heed discovered a crack of light, onto Joe Thornton’s (19) stick.

While the 5-foot-11 Heed isn’t the most physical defender, he’s capable of limiting time and space with both quick feet and stick:

Heed matched Mark Scheifele’s (55) speed, using his stick to prevent Scheifele from cutting to the middle. He then closed on Wheeler, forcing the Jets captain to move the puck.

All this said, Heed can be separated from the puck with relative ease.

Wheeler flagged Heed down from behind and almost stole the puck with a stick lift. Luckily, Tomas Hertl (48) swooped in.

Heed tries to compensate for this weakness by moving the puck quickly, but sometimes, he also gives it up too quickly.

In February, Christian Fischer’s (36) pressure encouraged a weak Heed backhand pass up the middle. Conor Garland (83) did the rest.

In the same game, with two Coyotes sniffing around the puck behind the net, Heed tried a less-than-optimal pass up the wall. In fairness, Heed was between a rock and a hard place, but this was a soft play that couldn’t have made Peter DeBoer happy.

It’s probably no coincidence that Heed played exactly one more shift the rest of this game.

Like many talented blueliners who haven’t established themselves as NHL regulars, Heed also has challenges with coverage at times, which can be attributed to, among other things, lack of focus or inexperience.

He was a split-second slow on covering Mathieu Perreault’s (85) one-timer. In the grand scheme of the eternal dance between shooter and defender, this was no big deal.

But we’ve seen more obvious coverage mistakes from Heed:

Especially during Heed’s recent tear — he’s accumulated seven points and registered a plus-13 in his last nine contests — it’s been suggested that Heed should take fellow right-hander Justin Braun’s place in a healthy San Jose line-up. Besides underrating Braun’s contributions, there’s no reality in this stance, at least from the coaching staff’s perspective.

Braun has played more than Heed at 5-on-5 in every game that both have appeared in this year; Braun has averaged almost five minutes more (17:20) at 5-on-5 than Heed (12:36). As for special teams, Braun is a first-choice penalty killer, whereas Heed is a secondary power play option. In other words, what Brent Burns or Karlsson is to the power play, that’s what Braun is to the penalty kill. In short, Braun is considered more valuable in his role than Heed is in his.

This isn’t to disparage Heed’s contributions — there haven’t been many depth defensemen in the league better this year — but he still has a way to go before fully gaining DeBoer’s trust.