Monday, July 4, 2011

Havlat Secures Independence From Wild

With the sandy shoreline and vast expanse of Leech Lake’s sky-blue water providing a glorious backdrop on a hot, sunny Fourth of July at Red Wing Lodge, my thoughts, of course, are focused squarely on hockey. Much of that mindset is simply attributable to my obsession with the sport, but the odd timing has its own explanation. 

Last night my traditional Independence Day festivities with family, including a deep-fried turkey dinner and an amateur fireworks display, were disrupted when my phone was besieged with Twitter-related texts. It was a sign of something big.

As America celebrates its national independence and honors those whose sacrifices made it possible let us not forget the subject of those tweets; a certain Czech Republic native rejoicing in his own freedom on this very day.

Sunday night’s trade between the Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks sending Martin Havlat to the Sharks in exchange for Dany Heatley—the second such blockbuster deal between the two teams in just over a week—finally makes right a wrong that Havlat, in my mind, feels he committed two years ago.

Havlat, who never seemed truly comfortable with his decision to sign with the Wild and whose abrasive relationship with former Wild coach Todd Richards was well documented, likely had the shackles of playoff futility removed with the change of scenery. Havlat was an enigma to me throughout his tenure in Minnesota with his maddening inconsistency and his insistence on passing the puck in clear shooting situations.

Those like me who salivated 24 months ago at the thought of an explosive pairing of Havlat and Mikko Koivu providing offensive fireworks were, sadly, treated to a dud. With neither being what you would call a pure scorer the combination, like Havlat’s with the Wild as a whole, was not a good fit.

In Heatley, the Wild gets a shooter with a scorer’s touch who may not fly down the wing with Havlat’s electrifying flair, but will use his 6’4”, 220 Lb. frame to go to the net and finish. But Heatley’s not without his flaws as his sub-par playoff performances with the Sharks (five goals and 22 points in 32 games) would indicate and, of the three times Heatley’s been traded in his career, this is the first he hasn’t forced upon his team.

On the other hand, Heatley has proven in the past he can score in the post season. With Ottawa in 2005-06 he notched 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) in 10 games and followed that up with 22 points (7, 15) over 20 games in 2006-07. So, like Havlat, maybe a change of uniform does Heatley good and allows him to regain his post-season scoring touch.

That’s assuming, however, Minnesota makes a return to the playoffs sometime before Heatley’s contract expires three seasons from now. This move, in conjunction with the Wild’s recent acquisition of Heatley’s San Jose teammate Devin Setoguchi and prospect Charlie Coyle, is a step in that direction. 

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