GLENDALE, ARIZ. – For the biggest game of the season, Wild coach Mike Yeo made the tough decision to scratch big-name, big-money veteran Dany Heatley against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
Heatley, 33, a two-time 50-goal, 100-point scorer who has the 12th-most goals (372) and sixth-most power-play goals (143) among active NHLers, never had been a healthy scratch in his 12-year career.
“It’s never fun scratching a player,” Yeo said. “His situation is different in a lot of ways, especially compared to a young kid, because he hasn’t been a healthy scratch, because of the career that he’s had and how difficult that would be for him emotionally.
“We’re not done with him. We’re going to need him again.”
Heatley has struggled this season (12 goals in 74 games, team-worst minus-18), but especially lately. He has no goals since Feb. 27, no power-play goals since Feb. 1, four shots in the past 11 games and is minus-7 in his past five.
“Since the trade deadline, he got reshuffled,” Yeo said. “He was playing well before the trade deadline, and you can see confidence is a big factor right now, so we’ll use these practices to do what we can to get it back.”
Heatley said Yeo informed him of the move during a “pretty quick, 10-second” conversation before Saturday’s morning skate.
“It’s not a good feeling, but at the same time, I’ll stay ready and be ready if they need me again,” said Heatley, in the final year of a contract that pays him $5 million with a $7.5 million salary cap hit.
“I think it’s gone up and down this year. Got a chance there a couple months ago and thought I played pretty well, and things are kind of back to where they were at the start of the year and things haven’t gone well.”
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, one of Yeo’s mentors, made a similar call with a couple of veterans lately. He scratched defenseman Derek Morris for a third consecutive game Saturday and goal scorer Mike Ribeiro the previous two games.
“Sometimes you have to take veteran players out. It’s not derogatory to the veteran,” Tippett said. “For us, it’s all about the team and how we’re going to win. That’s always been my philosophy and will continue to be my philosophy.”
Yeo said scratching Heatley largely had to do with the type of lineup he wanted for Saturday’s game.
He wanted Justin Fontaine, scratched in seven of the previous 12 games, back in the lineup, especially after scoring his first career hat trick at Phoenix on Jan. 9. He wanted to play Stephane Veilleux because of his speed, energy and ability to maybe aid an ailing penalty kill (64.6 percent the past 12 games).
And he wanted to promote Nino Niederreiter by reuniting him with Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville.
“Nino’s been lost in a lot of ways because of the reshuffling, too, and we believe there’s more there that we can pull out,” Yeo said.
Bryzgalov gets nod
Yeo started former Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov over rookie Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper has allowed three or more goals in six of his past eight starts.
With so few practices lately, goalie coach Bob Mason used Saturday’s pregame skate and will use Sunday’s practice to work extra with Kuemper.
“This is a day where I want him coming off the ice feeling like, ‘OK, I got better,’ ” Yeo said. “He doesn’t have the games right now to be feeling good about his game, so if he doesn’t have the practices, it’s pretty difficult.”
In the previous two games, Jared Spurgeon committed turnovers that led to two backbreaking goals.
Yeo grabbed the normally reliable defenseman for a brief conversation near the start of Saturday’s morning skate.
“I haven’t seen him make those two plays ever in his career,” Yeo said. “But it happens to every player. So I just wanted to basically give him a tap on the shin pads to say, ‘Listen, forget about that.’ ”
Spurgeon wound up scoring the game-winner Saturday and was plus-3.