News has flown fast in the first few hours of NHL free agency, and the Minnesota Wild joined the party with confirmation they’ve agreed to three-year contract with free agent winger Thomas Vanek. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the deal is worth $19.5 million ($5.5 million in 2014-15, $6.5 million in 2015-16, $7.5 million in 2016-17) and includes a full no-move clause.
Vanek looked dead set on hitting free agency after not committing to the Buffalo Sabres long-term and then turning down a seven-year contract extension from New York Islanders in recent months, and he will return to where he was a key cog on the University of Minnesota’s national title team in 2003. Vanek makes his offseason home in Minnesota, so that was definitely factor in his signing with the Wild.
Vanek has scored the eighth-most goals in the NHL since the start of the 2005-2006 season (277) with 279 assists over nine seasons (663 games), mostly with the Sabres. He was dealt to the Islanders last October before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens near the trade deadline in March and finishing the season there. A disappointing playoff run with the Canadiens (10 points and a plus/minus of -4 in 17 games) had his stock down a bit as free agency started, but Vanek still had multiple teams interested in him.
The Wild finished with 199 goals last season (tied for 24th in the league; 2.43 goals per game) and they had one of the weakest power plays (45 goals; 22nd in the league) around as well. Vanek will help immensely in both areas, with 113 career power play goals and an average of 30.8 goals per season in his career. His 27 goals last season would have ranked third on the team, and his 68 points would have led the team during the regular season.
Vanek will be 33 years old when his contract expires, so he could put himself in line for one more nice pay day if he performs well for the Wild and helps the team to a few deep playoff runs. Most importantly, signing him will not hinder the development of young players like Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter as they look to move into prominent roles in the short-term.