by Craig Schroepfer (Twitter: @cdc830)
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was the worst kept secret in all of hockey.
Over the last year the hot rumor in the NHL was that Thomas Vanek would play for the Minnesota Wild once he became a free agent. That rumor became reality on Tuesday as Minnesota signed Vanek to a three year contract worth $19.5 million. With the deal signed, it ends a year that was a long journey for Vanek.
In October, Buffalo traded Vanek to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson and a pair of draft picks, choosing to get something for Vanek instead of losing him for nothing. Once on Long Island, New York tried to lock Vanek up in February, offering him a seven-year contract extension worth $50 million.
Vanek turned down the Islanders offer and a month later he was playing for his third NHL team as New York traded him to Montreal at the NHL trade deadline. With the Canadiens it was thought that Vanek would be the spark that Montreal needed to make a run in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Vanek turned out to be a disappointment for the Canadiens, scoring only 5 goals in 17 games. Montreal did make it to the Eastern Conference finals but it was in spite of Vanek, not because of him.
Despite his struggles in 2013-2014, the Minnesota Wild decided to take a chance on Vanek.
“We expressed early on the term of the deal would have to be shorter which would work well for what we had coming.” Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher said when talking about signing Vanek. “Today we got into the numbers and it took a couple hours but fortunately we were able to arrive where we are right now. At the end of the day this seemed like the right decision.”
When asked what Vanek brings to the Wild. Fletcher said “What we were looking for is a right shot, someone who could play with our top players and somebody who could help our power play.”
As for Vanek, he made it clear that Minnesota was where he wanted to play.
“My top priority was to sign here.” Vanek said “I had some other options but once we agreed on this term and the money I thought it was a fair deal for both sides and I’m happy to be here.”
The signing of Parise and Suter in 2012 played a huge role in Vanek deciding to join the Wild.
“This team has gotten really good and is very good.” Vanek said. “About a year ago when I made my decision to go to free agency this was a team I definitely had in mind. For it to come true today, I’m extremely thrilled to be part of the Wild and a group like this.”
The signing is a homecoming for Vanek as he played college hockey for the University of Minnesota from 2002-2004 and won a NCAA National Championship with the Gophers in 2003. For Wild fans, the hope is Vanek will be final piece to make Minnesota an elite team in an already stacked Western Conference.
The length of the contract and the terms of the deal makes the signing of Vanek a low risk, high reward situation. Vanek turned 30 in January and his days as a 40 goal scorer may be done as he hasn’t hit that mark since the 2008-09 season. Vanek might be good for 26 goals a season, which is what he has averaged over the last five years.
For a Minnesota Wild team that finished with 199 goals last year, those 26 goals could be the difference in making them a Stanley Cup contender.