Dany Heatley scored 26 goals for the San Jose Sharks last season and described it as a "bad year all the way through."
Halfway through his debut season with the Wild, Heatley is on pace to score 26 goals again, but nobody inside the organization seems overly concerned. Why?
"Everybody probably came into the season saying he's going to score 50 goals for us," coach Mike Yeo said. "But the thing I would say is he's been very consistent. He's been getting chances every game. He's a great pro the way he comes to the rink and leads our group every game. And every day he's playing a very responsible two-way game."
That's probably not music to the ears of Wild fans longing to see more scoring punch from the team overall and Heatley in particular. Heatley leads the team in goals (13) and is second in scoring (28), but he hasn't beaten goalies with the consistency expected of a two-time 50-goal scorer.
Fair or not, Heatley's play -- at least from the outside view -- is judged by how many goals he scores. That's a product of his résumé and reputation, something that comes with the territory when labeled a scorer. Prior to this season, he had scored the third-most goals in the NHL since entering the league in 2001.
The Wild traded for him last offseason with the hope that he would bring some life to their offense, but it hasn't worked out that way yet. Heatley is on pace to finish with his fewest points since 2003-04, and the Wild has scored the third-fewest goals in the NHL.
That's not entirely his fault, of course. Scoring is a collective effort. Even the best goal-scorers need help at times.
The Wild should feel encouraged that Heatley looks like he's starting to heat up with four goals in his past seven games which, not coincidentally, has coincided with Mikko Koivu's return from injury. The Wild needs Heatley to get on a roll and score goals in bunches to help pull his team out of its current rut.
Heatley is capable of carrying a team with his scoring. The Wild is 10-2-1 when he scores. Four of his goals have tied the score. He has three game-winning goals and scored six times in the third period, both team highs.
The Wild needs more of that. Heatley knows it, but he's also careful not to force it.
"I've always put pressure on myself," he said. "This year is no different. I think the fact that we're not a real high- scoring team, I think you probably put a little more on yourself. But there's a fine line between putting pressure on yourself and going overboard and pressing."
Yeo certainly isn't making a big deal of it. He points to Heatley's impact in other areas, specifically his defensive presence, and the fact he's getting his share of quality scoring chances. Heatley has 125 shots and he's putting himself in position to score. The pucks just aren't going in as often this season.
Maybe this is simply who Heatley is now. He doesn't skate as well and his hands aren't as quick as they once were. That doesn't mean he's playing poorly or isn't a threat to score at anytime. But perhaps he's no longer a 50-goal scorer, either.
Yeo isn't buying that theory, however.
"How many guys do you see score 50 goals every single year?" Yeo said. "All they can do is go out and get chances. Some years it goes in like crazy. Other years it doesn't, even though you've had all these chances. If you look at the numbers of chances he's had this year, he's had a ton of chances. That's all you can do. Hopefully the second half of the year he continues to get the same amount of chances but gets a little more puck luck and things start to go in more for him."
The best place to start is on the power play. More than a third of Heatley's career goals have come in that situation. His 128 power-play goals prior to this season were an NHL-best since 2001. He has scored four times with the man advantage this season but the Wild has failed miserably lately in that phase.
"We've lost a lot of opportunities on the power play," Heatley said. "You're only going to get so many chances, three or four a night. You pretty much have to score on one of those."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org