On the same day Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews agreed to eight-year contract extensions, Dany Heatley inked a one-year, last-chance saloon deal with the Anaheim Ducks. It's been a sharp descent for a player who was among the very best eight years ago.
When Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews signed their monster eight-year extensions this week, the reviews were generally very positive. The Blackhawks secured the services of two superstars, players who are integral to their core and who would be just 34 and 35 respectively when their contracts expire.
While the cap hit is $10.5 million per year, it’s not outrageous by today’s top-player standards. What’s not to like?
Not much, but there is some risk attached to the pacts. While most expect Kane and Toews to be elite players for years to come, plenty can happen in eight years.
For exhibit A, see Dany Heatley, a guy who inked a contract a few hours after Kane and Toews on Wednesday, only to a lot less fanfare. The 2000 second overall pick was ostensibly the Patrick Kane of his day eight years ago. While he might not have had the wheels or hands that are as slick as Kane’s, the highly skilled left winger had an uncanny knack for scoring and making things happen.
In the fall of 2003, just prior to his horrific car accident in which teammate and friend Dan Snyder died, The Hockey News anointed Heatley “The New Face of the NHL.” The NCAA product had won the Calder Trophy in 2002, and scored 41 goals as a 22-year-old the next season.
Following the tragedy and the 2004-05 lockout, he resumed his career in Ottawa, where he was a second- and first-team all-star in 2006 and ‘07. He enjoyed consecutive 50-goal seasons. He was a vital cog for the Sens team that made it to the Stanley Cup final against Anaheim 2007 and was still valued enough in 2010 that he made Canada’s Olympic team in Vancouver.
It was at about that time, when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks, that his skating started to come into question, as did his ability to be a go-to guy. He was eventually moved to Minnesota, where he spent three seasons in decline. Last year, he had 12 goals in 76 games and was scratched at times by the Wild. And he was just 33.
Now he’s at last chance saloon in Southern California, having inked a one-year, $1-million deal with the Ducks. While he believes he still has something to offer, particularly if he plays alongside stud Ryan Getzlaf, the hockey world is demanding he prove it.
While Heatley’s case might be at the extreme end of the spectrum, consider the player who won the Hart Trophy and scoring title nine years ago. Joe Thornton was 26 and, while curiously traded from Boston to San Jose, viewed as one of the premiere players in the game.
The 1997 first overall pick has had an excellent career, but is still waiting to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time and is no longer in the same realm as players such as Kane and Toews. Seven-and-a-half years after he won the league’s MVP award, he wasn’t invited to play for Canada at the Olympics.
Then there’s Brad Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner who in 2006 was still a force at age 25, collecting 91 points for the Lightning. Eight years later, he was bought out by the Rangers, critics claiming he’s lost a step.
Even Sidney Crosby’s trajectory has been rocked in recent years. How many more Stanley Cup rings did you think he’d have by now after winning his first in 2009? Four years later, circumstance has conspired to keep the game’s greatest player at one.
So congratulations to Chicago for securing two of the true stars of the game for years to come. We hope it works out well for them. We won’t be surprised, however, if by the time we reach 2022-23, it all hasn't quite gone to plan.