The Sharks’ Heatley dilemma

The Sharks’ decision of whether to pursue and add Dany Heatley(notes) to their roster boils down to one simple question: Does he make San Jose better?

The answer isn’t so easy.

General manager Doug Wilson is getting all kinds of heat to make a statement deal, and a trade involving Heatley would appear to fit the bill. Fans and media should realize one thing right off the bat – Wilson couldn’t care less about outside pressure. He will do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. Period.

In the meantime, he’s trying to answer our original question – would Heatley make the Sharks better? And better is defined by winning not only in the regular season but in the playoffs as well.

Heatley could certainly complete a first line that would be as strong on paper as anyone’s in the league. Heatley and top-line center Joe Thornton(notes) have enjoyed success and displayed strong chemistry during international play as members of Team Canada. Add speedy right wing Devin Setoguchi(notes) to the mix and you have the best first line since, hmm, dare we say Jason Spezza(notes), Daniel Alfredsson(notes) and Heatley in Ottawa?

The Sharks definitely have a need at left wing. If the season were to start today, that spot would go to Milan Michalek(notes), Ryane Clowe(notes) or Jonathan Cheechoo(notes) – all better suited for second- or third-line duty, and two (Clowe and Cheechoo) who are natural right wings.

The farm system doesn’t have the team’s next first-line left wing, and the franchise has never boasted a star on that side of the ice. Take a look at some of the top-scoring left wings throughout the years: Nils Ekman(notes), Alexander Korolyuk, Marco Sturm(notes), Scott Thornton(notes), Victor Kozlov, Jeff Friesen(notes), Johan Garpenlov and Brian Mullen.

Heatley, with two 50-goal seasons and 260 total in 507 career games by age 28, would certainly fill the net and could be a prime weapon on the power play. Right now, the power play is basically built around the hard shot of Rob Blake(notes). The Sharks have gotten away from Joe Thornton hanging with the puck on the boards and instead focus on feeding the points (preferably Rob Blake or the creative Dan Boyle(notes)) and crowd the front of the net for rebounds.

The problem is that when Blake is injured or unavailable, the unit tends to look elsewhere for answers – and there aren’t any. Heatley could be the guy who prevents those long power-play droughts.

The Sharks’ obstacle has been lifting their game mentally and physically once the calendar changes from regular-season hockey to the Stanley Cup playoffs. And Wilson has to decide whether Heatley’s demand of trades from his past two teams (Atlanta and Ottawa) signals a character flaw. The last thing Wilson can afford is to add players who are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

To date, Wilson has worked only around the edges of his roster. He has cut ties with Marcel Goc(notes), Mike Grier(notes) and Brian Boucher(notes). Travis Moen(notes) ended up being a rental. Jeremy Roenick(notes) will announce his retirement on Thursday. Scott Nichol(notes) is the only new face thus far, signed to provide more grit as the fourth-line center.

Bigger moves are coming, assuming the Sharks can find a willing dance partner. Wilson isn’t talking specifics – “I’ve been quoted enough this summer,” he said – but the GM has resisted the temptation to trade captain Patrick Marleau(notes) or top goalie Evgeni Nabokov(notes) thus far.

And Wilson isn’t happy several of his players’ names have appeared in rumored deals, such as Christian Ehrhoff(notes) to Columbus for Jason Chimera(notes) and Cheechoo/Ehrhoff as part of a package to Ottawa for Heatley. Clowe’s name was circulated fairly widely, too, just before the draft – the Sharks making sure they understood his value and maybe Clowe better understanding his value, too, before the sides agreed on a new contract.

If there’s smoke where there’s fire, it’s probably not surprising the team has run out of patience with Ehrhoff, the 27-year-old German defenseman who has progressed through the years but maybe not as far and as fast as San Jose would have liked. Consistency, competing hard and staying on the same page have been challenges for the otherwise talented Ehrhoff.

A Cheechoo/Ehrhoff package isn’t going to get the Heatley deal done, assuming that’s really what the Sharks want to do in the first place. As much as Heatley can improve the Sharks in one area, does such a move allow leeway and relief from a bloated payroll to address other areas of concern as well?

The take here is the Sharks need a top-six weapon like Heatley. He’s the right age to grow with the group and he plays the forward position that’s hardest to find. In terms of character and past indiscretions, players do grow up, mature and focus on the matter of winning over individual accomplishments once they see their careers are flying by and their shelf is still free of the ultimate prize.

My guess is San Jose is a logical destination for a player who has known only a fishbowl life the last four seasons in Ottawa. And Heatley is likely not to be a distraction with a group that has a solid foundation of veteran leadership (Blake, Boyle, Thornton, Brad Lukowich(notes)).

It’s Wilson’s opinion that counts most, and once he has his own answers he’ll be able to proceed. One thing he knows for sure, he has no room for mistakes.

Ross McKeon is an NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Ross a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Aug 4, 2009