In 154 games with the Minnesota Wild, Thomas Vanek has scored 39 goals, 93 points and has logged second- and third-line minutes, but at a $6.5 million price tag, it simply hasn’t been enough.
And with the Wild entering the off-season with little more than $9 million in cap space and only eight forwards under contract, something is going to have to budge. With free agency approaching, it appears more and more likely the pieces that’s going to move is Vanek, and it doesn’t appear the 32-year-old is going to be moving on via trade.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo, it has been indicated that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has talked with Vanek’s agent about buying out the final season of Vanek’s three-year, $19.5-million deal. TSN’s Bob McKenzie more than backed up Russo’s report, too, saying the “probability…appears quite high” that Vanek will be bought out by Minnesota before next Thursday’s buyout deadline.
Buying out Vanek would save the Wild $5 million this coming season, but Minnesota would be on the hook for $2.5 million come 2017-18, according to CapFriendly. However, the pros of the extra space this season may outweigh the cons of the paying out $2.5 million next season.
If Vanek is bought out, he’ll simply be a victim of his cap hit. His production hasn’t been altogether awful, though the Wild were looking for 30-plus goals per season when they signed Vanek, not 40 over a span of two seasons. He simply hasn’t been able to find the same scoring touch in Minnesota, however.
Prior to coming to the Wild — which was a foregone conclusion when he was a free agent, with college and family ties to the state — Vanek had scored 25 or more goals in every single full campaign of his NHL career. Even during the lockout-shortened season, he managed 20 goals, which would have been a 43-goal pace had it been a full season and had Vanek remained healthy. He had twice eclipsed the 40-goal mark and had another two seasons of 30-plus goals. But that offense has since fallen by the wayside.
Vanek notched 21 goals in his first season with the Wild, but he was snakebitten in the post-season to the tune of zero goals in 10 outings. That continued this past season, where he managed only 18 goals in 74 games. It was the first time in his career — college or professional — that he scored fewer than 20 goals in a season.
One of the things that has plagued Vanek as he has aged is his speed. He was never the fastest or most graceful skater, but he managed to use his 6-foot-2 frame to power through opponents. In a game that’s become faster with each passing season, Vanek has seemed to have difficulty keeping up at times.
If Vanek is bought out, he’ll hit the open market and he could potentially take a significant pay cut to be a nice contributing piece. It’s clear his scoring touch isn’t quite what it used to be, but at $3 million or less, he might be a savvy addition. He’d still be an effective power play scorer — he has hit double digits in power play goals seven times — and a veteran presence on a second unit.
Regardless of what’s next for Vanek, though, it doesn’t appear he’s long for Minnesota. Whether it be by buyout or by contract expiry, Vanek’s days with the Wild appear to be numbered.