What does Dany Heatley have left?

Scott Lewis
Perry Nelson / Reuters

Dany Heatley posted back-to-back seasons of 50-goals and 100-points with the Ottawa Senators. Dany Heatley was one of the best power play performers in the NHL. Dany Heatley earned upwards of $61 million over the course of his career. Dany Heatley was a great hockey player for a time. That time has passed.

Dany Heatley is just 33, playing fourth line minutes and taking a turn on the power play with the Minnesota Wild. He’s closer to 38-year old Ryan Smyth than he is to 31-year old Dany Heatley.

There’s hockey left in Dany Heatley beyond 2014, but it’s going to come in a much lesser role and with a drastically reduced salary.

Heatley’s decline was much more rapid than his simple counting stats would have you believe. He was locked in the throes of decline shortly after inking his big deal with the Senators in 2008, despite scoring 41 the previous season and 39 in the first year of the contract. A trade to San Jose following the 2008-09 season helped mask his downward trend thanks to a great team and 18 power play goals from the 6-foot-4, 220 pound winger in 2009-10. His stay in San Jose was short lived, though, as he was shipped to Minnesota in exchange for Martin Havlat in the summer of 2011.

The Heatley that the Wild received was far removed from the one that helped the Senators to a Stanley Cup Final in 2007. Former theScore scribe Kent Wilson examined Heatley’s decline at the time of the trade, noting that the once elite scorer wasn’t all that much of a player in even-strength situations anymore, but presented some value as a power play performer.

The results in Minnesota were predictable. Heatley scored a career-low (for a full season) 24 goals, and managed just eight with the man advantage (the lowest total of his career since his rookie season in Atlanta).

Years two and three in Minnesota saw the downward trend continue. Heatley’s even-strength scoring continued to fall, so too did his power play scoring rates. He’s something of a black hole possession wise, which is evidenced by his Corsi and Fenwick percentages.

Heatley is getting pounded in possession despite the way he's used by head coach Mike Yeo. Heatley faces middling competition and receives generally favorable zone starts. To be fair, zone starts don’t tell us everything. Heatley is different from Jonathan Toews, who often starts in the O-zone because he’s so good at getting out of his own end. Heatley's lining up for more draws in the offensive zone because he’s a defensive liability.

The following table outlines Heatley’s performance in Minnesota. For context (the tables in Kent Wilson’s aforementioned article are great), Heatley scored at a rate of 1.55 points per 60 minutes at even-strength and 6.61 points/60 on the power play in his final season in San Jose.

SeasonES P/60PP P/60Corsi For %Fenwick For %

So it’s not a surprise that Heatley is no longer an elite talent. He hasn’t been for a few years.

The question for Heatley now, as he gets set to enter free agency this summer, is what’s next?

His overall time on ice has fallen from nearly 21 minutes per night to just under 15 in three years with the Wild. He’s been a healthy scratch in the playoffs and a third/fourth liner when he’s in the lineup. Heatley’s abilities won’t command much in the way of salary on the open market, but will the former all-star and Canadian Olympian be willing to accept a lesser role on a cheap deal? It’s all guess work for now, but he’s handled his demotion well under Yeo.

Heatley might be a good fit in someone’s bottom six, firmly planted in the slot on a second power play unit. If not, then perhaps overseas would provide Heatley with a better opportunity to finish off his career in the scoring column.

Watching skills diminish in athletes is never easy. Whether they take it in stride as part of the process of aging or rage against it with an illusion that their future can be as good as the past.