ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild bought out the final year of left wing Thomas Vanek's contract Friday.
The move was made a few hours before the NHL draft and a week before the beginning of free agency.
Vanek's disappointing two-year stint with Minnesota ended with 39 goals and 54 assists in 154 games with a minus-15 rating. His 18 goals last season were a career low, including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season when he had 20 goals in 38 games in his last full season with the Buffalo Sabres.
''In order to give our team more salary cap flexibility we needed to make this difficult decision,'' general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement distributed by the team. ''We thank Thomas for his time with the Minnesota Wild and wish him the best going forward.''
The 32-year-old Austrian player signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract on July 1, 2014, with the Wild, but he never quite fit with the system. Vanek was scoreless with four assists in 10 playoff games for Minnesota last year, and he sat out the postseason this year because of a rib injury. He hasn't topped 30 goals in a season since 2010-11.
Vanek was set to make $7.5 million this season, with a $6.5 million salary cap hit. He'll become an unrestricted free agent, eligible to sign with any other team. The move will give the Wild an extra $5 million in salary cap space this summer, when the market opens next weekend.
In 11 NHL seasons, Vanek has 316 goals and 333 assists in 817 career games.
He played two years in college at Minnesota, winning an NCAA championship as freshman with the Gophers in 2003.