Earlier today, the Anaheim Ducks cut ties with Dany Heatley, placing the veteran winger on waivers.
Heatley was signed to a one year, $1 million contract on July 9th, 2015 and was expected to be a productive goal scorer for the Ducks. The veteran, who scored 50 goals and topped the 100 point barrier in back-to-back seasons (2005-2006 and 2006-2007), was coming off a disappointing 2013-2014 campaign, where he scored just 12 goals and 28 points in 76 games. Heatley ended up playing on the fourth line in his final season with the Minnesota Wild last season, and the Ducks saw an opportunity to add a seasoned veteran goal-scorer.
Heatley was expected to give the Ducks a big-bodied scoring threat to complete the top line of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The initial idea was that Heatley, who is 6’4 and 220 lbs., would give the Ducks a big, yet skilled top line when combined with Getzlaf (6’4, 221 lbs.) and Perry (6’3, 212 lbs.). Heatley has a terrific shot, which would theoretically complement well with the playmaking abilities of Getzlaf and scoring instincts of Perry.
Unfortunately, that never came to be. Heatley suffered a groin injury near the end of the preseason and missed the first nine games of the season. He made his Ducks debut on October 28th against the Chicago Blackhawks, logging one shot on goal in 13:26 of ice time. Heatley appeared in four games before going on Injured Reserve with the same groin injury on November 14th. He returned on December 19th against the Ottawa Senators, where he had the back-to-back 50 goal, 100 point seasons. Heatley made one more appearance on December 27th against the Arizona Coyotes.
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In six games with the Ducks this season, Heatley went scoreless with a -3 rating while averaging 12:08 of ice time. He had a Corsi For % of 42.7%, worst among Ducks forwards. He struggled to make an impact on the ice, going largely invisible for games: he logged a mere eight shots on goal. The notion that any player can succeed with Getzlaf and Perry is false: it takes effort to succeed with those two players. Heatley rarely engaged in the corners and would try to park in the circle or the slot for a shot attempt.
Heatley’s presence on the roster also blocked youngsters Emerson Etem and Rickard Rakell from getting ice time: both players were eventually sent down to AHL Norfolk before being called up again recently because of the injuries to Perry and Kyle Palmieri. The Ducks made a concerted effort to go younger this season when they decided to not offer contracts to veterans on the team, such as Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik. The signing of Heatley blocked youngsters such as Etem and Rakell from getting ice time.
With the way Rakell has impressed since his most recent call-up, the Ducks had two options for when Perry and Palmieri are set to return.
1. Send down Rakell, who has waiver-exempt status
They could take advantage of Rakell being waiver-exempt and send him to AHL Norfolk without giving up any roster players. The Ducks did the same last season to Sami Vatanen, who was arguably one of the Ducks’ six best defensemen last season, but the team opted to keep Bryan Allen and Luca Sbisa over the young Finn, who is flourishing this season in Anaheim.
The Ducks have already used this option, with Heatley (and to a lesser extent, Rene Bourque) blocking the aforementioned youngsters. The Ducks have also used this provision to retain the rights to goaltender John Gibson while the team has Ilya Bryzgalov as the backup to Frederik Andersen.
2. Waive an unproductive player
It’s harsh, but it’s the truth. Heatley was the most unproductive player on the Ducks roster. He made very few positive contributions for the Ducks while on the ice. He didn’t top 14 minutes of ice time in any game with the Ducks. He and Bourque are similar, but with Bourque, he takes his shifts and makes the occasional hit and makes an effort (sometimes) to go to the dirty areas of the ice and crash the net. Heatley couldn’t even bother to do that. He got penciled into a top-six opportunity and earned that because of name-recognition basis and nothing else.
On-ice production should dictate ice time, not reputation. The truth was that Etem and Rakell were more productive players for the Ducks on the ice. Points do not dictate production, but Heatley did not contribute to the little things that help the team win either. The Ducks took a step forward when they said that veteran status and name recognition would not dictate ice time for their team. However, the Ducks took a step back with Heatley: not when the team initially signed him, but when the team continued to keep him on the roster over more productive players.
I hope Heatley finds success elsewhere, just as I hope that other players the Ducks have let go do (Allen and Jesse Blacker). But the Ducks are better through “addition-by-subtraction” for cutting ties with Heatley. Now, Rakell has an opportunity to stay with the NHL club for the season. This should shift Devante Smith-Pelly back to his more natural position of wing, where he can play to his strength along the boards instead of learning a different position at center.