On April 9th, it was announced that Dany Heatley would miss the remainder of the regular season after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. At that point, an entire fan base was convinced that we had seen the last of the four time All Star, in a Wild sweater.
Heatley, 32, is under contract for next season at a $7.5 million hit to the cap, which is the final year in his contract. It would make sense for the team to use a compliance buyout on Heatley to clear up that $7.5 million, since the salary cap is going down from $70.3M this year, to $64.3M next year. The team has $7.3 million in cap space with 19 players under contract heading into next year (that does not include RFAs). So clearing out Heatley's salary, would give the Wild significant room to make some moves.
But, if you take a closer look at the team after Heatley went down, one could argue that the team is better off with him on the roster. His mere presence on the roster gives the team three legitimate scoring lines, something the team was lacking down the stretch and in the postseason (the absence of Jason Pominville did not help either).
Projected Forward Lines heading into Free Agency (Not including RFAs)
Heatley only put up 11 goals and 21 points this past season. But he was constantly shuffling lines, and saw two different nine game streaks without a goal.
If you take a closer look at Heatley, his lack of goals does not do justice to how he played (slow feet and five second slapshot windup aside). He was frequently drawing the attention of the opposition whenever he touched the puck, giving his linemates more ice to play with. He also spent more time in front of the net (somewhere he needs to be), creating havoc for opposing goalies. A good chunk of his 11 goals, came from in front of the net.
Also keep in mind that Jason Zucker could be on a line with him next year, and that would bode well for more production from Heater (Zucker is fast, works hard, and fires shots from anywhere on the ice, creating ample scoring opportunities for a guy like Heatley, who could be parked out in front of the net).
Speaking of a guy who can sit out in front of the net, who would fill that void should Heatley not be back next year?
It would be expensive to keep Heatley, but he can be on that third line (or a second second line since the talent level is so equal), and be a force on the second line of a power play unit, that struggled to score in 2013. Oh, and Heater has 66 games of playoff experience in the NHL, something this team was also greatly lacking this season.
If you use a compliance buyout on Heatley, the Wild have that cap space, but will not have the same depth at forward. You could go out and sign a UFA, but then you are locked into paying a third line forward for far more than he is worth for three to five years. If you keep Heater, you are overpaying a third line forward for just one season. You should all be thinking of taking that second option.
If you keep Heatley for this year, you leave yourself in a better position for the 2014 offseason, where the cap will likely go up, and there is a great list of forwards that are set to become free agents. Also take into account the Wild only have nine players under contract past next summer, so they would have ample room to sign, or re-sign, any player they so choose.
Chuck Fletcher has big decisions to make this summer. His first decision will likely be on whether or not to keep Dany Heatley. Lets hope he chooses to retain the four time All Star for one more year.