The Red Wings have long been known for their reliance on veteran players to carry the production. This year was one of the first where the bulk of it came from young players, while the vets were counted on to guide them through the hills and valleys of an NHL season.
Assuming that the management team expected the young guys to take the wheel, it’s the only reason that makes sense for why they brought back Thomas Vanek this year. At 34-years-old, Vanek has long passed his peak. He can be a useful player if deployed properly, as we saw three years ago, but he can’t be relied on for speed or his defensive game at all.
This made it hard for him to be an impact player this year. Neither his basic or advanced stats were flattering, as we’re about to see.
At even strength, Vanek was simply not good. His on-ice goals for may have been even, but every other metric on Evolving-Wild’s RAPM chart is negative. The particularly concerning one for me is the expected goals because that means scoring chances aren’t being generated while he’s on the ice.
That being said, he is a smart player and despite his lack of speed, can slow the game down for his younger teammates. And he’s a great passer so he can dish them the puck.
For a 14-year NHL vet, 36 points ain’t bad. Hating on Vanek is definitely on trend because he’s a vet who eats up ice time that should probably go to a younger player, but 16 goals is still 16 goals.
As mentioned above, Vanek’s power play time dwindled over the course of the season, so most of his production came at even strength.
In the context of his career, his 16 goals and 36 points were a low point for him. His age is showing, but he’s made no indication that he’s ready to hang them up. On a good team with a solid support system, I could seem him putting up 45-50 points.
Vanek’s advanced stats are not good. His shot attempt percentage is among the lowest on the team. Though Jeff Blashill tried to deploy him in the offensive zone, he somehow always ended up chasing the puck in his own end.
He spent most of his season playing with Frans Nielsen, so that line was always going to be heavy, but I think they ended up being worse than any of us expected.
I predict that Thomas Vanek will not be back in the winged wheel next year. We’ve yet to see how Steve Yzerman plans on rebuilding this roster, but I can only imagine that Vanek is not part of his plans, especially with the huge steps forward Larkin, Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi made this year.
They just don’t need the veteran leadership that they did in the past. It’s a new era.