Dany Heatley was 30 years old when the Wild acquired him in a trade with San Jose in 2011. He was a natural goal scorer, having potted 245 goals in his previous six seasons. Even though the totals had been diminishing, it was assumed Heatley could still provide 25-30 goals a year for the Wild playing out the final three years of a contract that would pay him $19 million.
Instead, Heatley scored just 47 goals total in three seasons with the Wild. He had his moments, and he was a good guy in the locker room any time we dealt with him, but overall he certainly did not deliver nearly as many goals as the Wild and fans would have hoped.
The natural fear, then, is that Thomas Vanek — signed by the Wild on Tuesday — winds up as the next Heatley. Both are forwards with a knack for putting the puck in the net. Vanek, like Heatley, is a former WCHA player (Gophers vs. Badgers) who is 30 at the time of joining the Wild. (Their birthdays are even two days apart). He has a remarkably similar contract in terms of his time here (3 years, $19.5 million). His goal scoring totals have declined to the point that 25 or 30 might be considered a good season, rather than the 40 he delivered a couple times in his younger days. His performance in the playoffs this season did not inspire confidence, though it might have helped the Wild when it came to the years and money on the contract.
Is the comparison between Vanek and Heatley natural? Absolutely. There are too many similarities too ignore. Are they fair? They’re not fair — yet. We need to see how Vanek performs because no two players are the same. The Wild could end up getting a tremendous bargain if he’s the player they think he is — which is to say he’s the player they thought they were also getting in Heatley. Or Minnesota could be saddled with a big cap hit and not enough production.
Time will tell, but for now we’ll give Vanek the benefit of the doubt.