Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hard Not to Get Excited About Heatley

Hope everyone had a great holiday. I only came close to lighting the neighborhood on fire once. If you ever get a chance to get your hands on "Pure Fantasy" while fireworks shopping, I certainly think it's worth the $10 or whatever you end up having to pay. Just make sure the hose is in your hand and you're ready in case it tips over on the platform and starts spraying stuff everywhere.

Anyway, there was much discussion about the Dany Heatley trade as we made the Fourth of July rounds. A few things became very clear the more I looked around Twitter and listened to what people were saying.

People care about star power. This isn't a move that Chuck Fletcher made because he wants to sell out the arena. I think general managers care about such things, but I don't think general managers care about them over winning.

Fans might want to win over everything else, but let's not be stupid. The Wild hasn't made the playoffs since 2008, and they haven't gotten past a first round since 2003. If you're not going to be good, you need to be compelling. The Wild has been neither, a huge sin when it comes to the fans.

The 2011-12 team might not be in the top eight of the Western Conference, but Fletcher has done what he can -- within reason, of course -- to guarantee that this team will be compelling and watchable.

There are some fans who won't accept anything less than a playoff team. They won't tolerate another 85-point season that sees the Wild not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to pick in the top five.

Fletcher knows that, but he also knows that this team hasn't had a legitimate star player since that Gaborik guy, and he hardly played in his last year with the team. So it's really been since the 2007-2008 season that this team has possessed a player the caliber of Dany Heatley.

Heatley might be motivated, but there's going to be a lot of pressure. Did you digest what I just wrote there?

2007-2008 was a long time ago. The Blackhawks still sucked. Chris Pronger could still skate. UMD as an NCAA title contender in men's hockey and football? Laughable, really.

And Gaborik was a hockey god in Minnesota. The guy could do nothing wrong, outside of injuring groins.

Heatley steps into a world where Gaborik was the last player who could do the kinds of things Heatley can. It's a hockey-mad area, one where college and high school games can pack the XCel Energy Center as well as the Wild can.

Not only is Heatley charged with being the kind of player on the ice that he's been in the past -- something he wasn't last season -- but he also needs to be one of the franchise's faces. A go-to guy who is known by the fans and is someone they can get behind.

None of this helps the team win. He has to do that stuff, too. But the off-ice stuff is important in this market, and it's especially important in a market where none of the teams are in a good run right now.

(The Vikings still have Adrian Peterson, but they're coming off a 6-10 season and are begging for the public's help for a new stadium or they'll move to Los Angeles. The Twins couldn't have started the season any worse than they did, and their franchise face -- Joe Mauer -- is one of the more controversial figures in the state now. The Timberwolves, well ... yeah. And the Gophers aren't good at anything that matters to the majority of the state's fans -- their hockey and football teams have stunk for a while, and the men's basketball team had a disappointing season to go along with the trouble they've found off the court.)

Martin Havlat was never going to be this guy. Nice player, yes. Highly-skilled playmaker, yes. Face of the franchise, no. That wasn't going to happen.

And Havlat simply wasn't working out in Minnesota. That's not a shot at Havlat, because it's never all the fault of the player when something doesn't work out. But he wasn't minus-29 solely because he wasn't with the right linemates, or because he wasn't getting enough ice time, or because he wasn't on the right power-play unit. It's not all the Wild's fault, just like it's not all Havlat's fault.

But it was a certainty after two seasons that Havlat was never going to meet expectations here, and the Wild did the right thing to cut ties. That they got a player of Heatley's caliber and stature in return only makes the move better.

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