Yesterday, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reported that the Red Wings remain in contact with the camp of Thomas Vanek. Despite having a good run with the Wings last season, I believe the team should walk away from him this season.
— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) July 12, 2017
Vanek, 33, has had a rocky career so far as he’s been traded from team to team looking for his place on a roster. In 2014, Vanek signed a three-year deal worth $19.5 million with the Minnesota Wild that carried an AAV of $6.5 million. Through his tenure there, Vanek was a healthy scratch on multiple occasions and was finally bought out after the second year of the contract.
Last season, the Red Wings decided to take a chance on Vanek. He signed a team-friendly 1-year, $2.6 million contract. It was worth every penny for the Red Wings as Vanek proceeded to put up fifteen goals and 38 points in 48 games played. The issue with this season is the Red Wings don’t have that many pennies to give. After signing unrestricted free agents Trevor Daley and Luke Witkowski and restricted free agent Xavier Ouellet, the team is left with a little over $2 million in cap space and still has to re-sign Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou. While this can be accomplished after moving Johan Franzen to the long-term injured reserve for cap relief, those contracts should, in theory, bring the Red Wings right up against the cap. I don’t see how they could fit a contract for Thomas Vanek, especially considering he’s looking for two years, under that salary cap. They’d have to trade another piece to make it work and I’d rather hold on to whatever piece they’d be able to move in a trade than have Thomas Vanek for more than a year. The crazy thing is, that’s not even why I don’t think the Wings should sign him (thought it might be why they can’t sign him).
When it comes to someone like Vanek, anything more than a year doesn’t make sense. If the Wings were to sign him, they should replicate exactly what they did last year, which was flip Vanek for picks at the trade deadline when it was clear the team would not be making a playoff berth. Vanek was traded to the Florida Panthers for minor-league defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a third round pick.
If that seems like a low return for one of the team’s more prominent goal scorers who is also on a very friendly contract, that’s because it is. Shortly after the trade, Jonathan Willis wrote an article for Sportsnet detailing why Vanek’s strong offensive stats were misleading. Willis’ analysis found that Vanek’s 5v5 offensive zone starts equaled more than his neutral zone and defensive zone starts combined. He was deployed purely as an offensive specialist with no defensive upside.
But that’s still not why I think Detroit should walk away from Vanek. An offensive specialist can be a good thing for a team. Having someone who you can confidently put in for an offensive zone faceoff at the end of a game when you’re tied or trailing by one (or even leading by one) is a luxury teams love to have. These players are also usually good powerplay specialists, ensuring their team is converting on the man-advantage. I’m sure Jeff Blashill would love to have someone like Vanek on the team again and, we as fans, would love to see more plays like this.
No, why I think the Red Wings should walk away from Thomas Vanek is because this signing would symbolize a refusal to change and to adapt. It would mean that this organization, management, and coaching staff still finds more value in veteran free agents than young prospects full of potential that were brought up within the system of this organization.
I understand the importance of veteran presence in the locker room and on the ice, but the Red Wings have plenty of that in Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Niklas Kronwall, and Trevor Daley. And how would signing Vanek fit into Holland and Blashill’s assertions that the young players will begin to carry more responsibility this year? He’ll eat up more offensive zone minutes and take a roster spot away from a Griffins player.
Like I said above, I’m all for bringing in an offensive specialist and if Kenny can make it fit under the cap without losing Tatar, Nyquist, or any of the kids, then even better! But Vanek is not the missing piece to lead this team to a Stanley Cup. He brings them closer to the playoffs, but not quite there, which is further away from a top-3 pick at next year’s draft.
This organization needs a change and I’m not talking about the roster. A shift in thinking needs to happen. Signing Thomas Vanek at this point would be the most Red Wings thing they could do. It’s time to shake off that old epithet and take a step in a different direction – towards youth, skill, and speed. It’s a step away from Thomas Vanek.