Ken Holland has had no problem adding veteran wingers on July 1st in recent years. If he wants to achieve his goal of getting the Edmonton Oilers to the playoffs in 2020, he’ll need to work his magic in free agency yet again. The Oilers simply aren’t good enough on the wings and they need reinforcements in the form of proven NHL talent.
The good news? Holland knows this, and has turned his attention to the current free agent class. The Oilers have interest in Brett Connolly, Mats Zuccarello and Joonas Donskoi, according to sources. It stands to reason that those aren’t the only three players they like.
Twice in recent memory, Ken Holland has signed Thomas Vanek to a July 1st deal in order to bolster the Detroit Red Wings forward group. Once again, Vanek is a free agent this summer.
Why Is He Out There?:
The Wings, under GM Steve Yzerman, are continuing a rebuild started by Holland. At 35 years-old, it appears that Vanek is no longer of use to the Red Wings. Yzerman isn’t likely to invest in a player that won’t help him when he expects to contend. Rather, the Wings are likely to keep their powder dry and try to open cap space up in the coming weeks.
As for their forward lineup, expect the Wings to test drive younger players and attempt to go bargain shopping in free agency. According to sources, there has been next to no contract between the Wings and Vanek since Yzerman took over, and expectation is that Detroit has no interest in signing him for 2019-20.
What Does He Do Well?:
Vanek’s calling card during his prime was his goal scoring. The Austrian-born forward was a consistent 20-goal scorer from his rookie season of 2005-06 up until 2015-16. He managed just 18 goals in 68 games with Minnesota that year.
Vanek did enjoy a nice resurgence during the 2017-18 season, tallying 24 goals split between Vancouver and Columbus. At 35 years-old, however, it’s quite clear his best days are behind him. Vanek scored a career-low 16 goals in 64 games with Detroit a season ago.
He looked slow and wasn’t much of a factor at five-on-five. He only managed 12 goals at even strength in 2018-19, as opposed to the 20 he had in 2017-18. Vanek did score four goals on the powerplay this past season, matching his total from 2017-18.
Never a great possession player, Vanek struggled in this regard in 2018-19 as well. He posted a Corsi For percentage of 46.7% at five-on-five, and had a -2.1% Rel on a bad Red Wings team. Detroit wasn’t a great possession team, but Vanek was below average even on this group. That’s a bad sign.
Vanek has been known throughout his career as a bigger forward with speed and dynamic goal scoring ability. In 2018-19, both his speed and ability to fill the net were clearly diminished. At 35, it’s tough to see those skills bouncing back.
All numbers via hockey-reference.
Here’s a look at Vanek’s scouting report via The Sports Forecaster.
Is a natural goal-scorer with plenty of size who can do a lot of damage in front of the net. A superior shot tipper, he owns the hands of a true sniper and is usually in the right place at the right time. Can really shoot the biscuit. Passes well, too. Can also line up on either side of center. Is not a great skater, so he tends to struggle when his positioning leaves him. Could stand to play a more abrasive game, which could provide him with more space on the ice, but that is simply not his style (and never will be). Takes a few too many shifts off at this point in his career.
Long Range Potential: Veteran scoring winger in decline.
Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:
Vanek, in his prime, was a top line forward that consistently flirted with 30 and sometimes 40 goals a season. He’s a shell of his former self now sadly. Vanek is likely best suited as a third line complementary scorer at this point in his career.
In Edmonton, Vanek would be hired to fill a spot in the club’s top-six for the 2019-20 season. Likely, he’d start his Edmonton career on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as his center.
What Will He Cost?:
Vanek carried an AAV of $3,000,000 on the one-year deal he signed last July 1st with the Red Wings. It’s safe to say, after the worst year of his career, that he’ll have to take less money if he wants to keep playing. It’s also safe to say he’ll need to settle for a one-year deal in free agency.
I don’t think it’s a given that Vanek gets signed in free agency. He’s an older player clearly in decline playing in a league shifting towards younger and more skilled players. He could be in trouble this summer.
A one-year deal worth $1,500,000 likely gets Vanek signed up.
I was a big supporter of trading for Vanek at the 2017 trade deadline and of signing him in July of both 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, Vanek’s time appears to have passed. After seeing him be just a shadow of himself in 2018-19, I think I’d pass on the veteran this summer.
The reason I write about him? He has a clear history with Ken Holland and he would fill a great area of need on Holland’s new roster. There will be many people, both executives and players, who find their way to Edmonton over the next few months. I don’t rule out Vanek as one of them.
Even if he comes to Edmonton on a cheap one-year deal, odds are he’ll disappoint a fanbase that still remembers Vanek as a 20-goal man. The good news? His 16 goals last season would have really helped.