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Martin Havlat finds a home in Minnesota

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Team-wise, Martin Havlat hasn’t had the best luck over his 10-year NHL career.

After five seasons in Ottawa - and as he prepared to finish out the last year of his contract and become a restricted free agent - the satiny smooth left winger was traded to Chicago in the summer of 2006; the Senators went to the Stanley Cup final in the 2006-07 campaign without him.

After three seasons with the Blackhawks (including a final year that saw him named the franchise’s MVP while producing 29 goals and 77 points in 81 games), Havlat was forced out of the Windy City in the summer of 2009 when team management chose to sign his former Sens teammate Marian Hossa and allowed Havlat to sign as an unrestricted free agent with the Minnesota Wild. The decision must have been all the more painful for him when the Hawks proceeded to win the Cup last season.

In his first year with the Wild, Havlat hardly was the impact player his six-year, $30-million contract suggested he would be: his goal total dropped by 11 (to 18) and his point total fell by 23 (to 54). In fairness, the 2009-10 season was a philosophical transition for the organization and the Wild finished 13th in the Western Conference, but when Havlat and his teammates stumbled out of the gate this year, there was no excess of empathy for him or anyone else in a green uniform.

But for a couple months now, Havlat’s personal circumstances have changed - and the Wild’s fortunes have improved.

Havlat went goalless in his first 11 games this season, but scored 14 in his next 41. And his playmaking skills are back where they used to be: with 38 assists in 70 games, he’s already eclipsed the 36 he had in 73 games last year. At the same time, the Wild, projected by many to miss the playoffs, are right in the thick of the chase for a lower post-season seed.

Finally, Havlat – an injury-replacement for the 2011 All-Star Game – appears to have found a home for the long haul, on a team whose best days are still to come, in a town that’s crazy about the sport.

“Last year was tough, but we’re having a much better season and we’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot,” Havlat said. “We like where we are right now.”

Havlat’s former coach believes in his quiet-but-determined demeanor and was sad to see him leave Chicago.

“Marty was great for us,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “His consistency was there and he had a lot of patience in letting the game come to him. He had some challenging times when he was first in Chicago, but he should be commended for working his way through them.”

Kyle Brodziak, Havlat’s linemate with the Wild this season, acknowledges the impact the 29-year-old Czech is having.

“If things aren’t going well, he’s great at sticking with what works for him and fighting through it,” said Brodziak of Havlat, who leads the Wild in goals (21), assists (38), points (59) and game-winning goals (four). “You can see what he does - he draws guys to him, doing something that’s creating open space for himself or us. He’s been huge for us this year.”

Battling through dry spells, tough spots and injuries is something that’s been a common theme for Havlat, who never played an 82-game campaign with the Sens and averaged only 57 games a season in Chicago. But he sees an upside to his health struggles as he prepares to wave goodbye to his 20s.

“I’ll be 30 in April, but I basically didn’t play for two-and-a-half, three years, so I’m closer to 27,” Havlat said with a laugh before discussing his adjustment period with the Wild. “It’s always difficult at the beginning when there are new players, new GM, new coach, basically new everything. It takes a while to understand what the coaches want and the coaches have to get to know you, too. Sometimes things click right away, sometimes it takes some time.”

This article originally appeared in the March 7, 2011 edition of THN magazine.

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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.

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