I'm very shocked.
Not because of Thomas Vanek has just signed in Minnesota. This was rumored to be a foregone conclusion as far back as when Jason Pominville was traded. So the fact that he signed in Minnesota is about the most predictable thing that could have happened.
What's surprising is that the Wild signed him after taking a hard line about how long they were willing to sign him for. Vanek has been a premier offensive player in the league, and that hasn't exactly come cheap in recent years. With Vanek getting and turning down an offer of 7 years, 50 million from the Islanders before the trade deadline, the bar was raised pretty high for any team that wanted to sign Vanek.
Then Vanek disappeared in the playoffs for Montreal. What seemed like an injury was being widely perceived as a lack of effort on Vanek's part. Combined with his disappointing showing and seeming lack of leadership at the Olympics his stock seemed to take a pretty big hit.
Still, there should have been plenty of demand for the 30-year-old goal-scorer, and seeing the contract that 32-year-old Marian Gaborik recieved from the Kings (7 years, 4.9 million per), it seemed like the Wild would be outbid by another team.
Turns out, no. From the moment he was allowed to talk about it, Chuck Fletcher was adamant about a short-term deal with Vanek and yesterday admitted to underbidding most players yesterday. It's surprising for anyone with the talent and options that Vanek had to agree to a 3 year, 19.5 million contract.
This move is great for the Wild. They've let everyone know that they want to retain salary flexibility so they can maintain their young core in the future. A noble goal, but one that threatened to prevent them from getting the goal-scorer they needed to win now. And the Wild definitely needed a goal-scorer. They were 25th in the league for scoring goals, and ahead of only Buffalo in generating shot attempts at 5-on-5.
Vanek will be a help to those problems. He's a good power-play scorer and an elite creator of offense at 5v5, the kind that can carry a team for weeks. He's consistently provided 9-10 shots per 60 minutes, which is right up there with some of the elite offensive guys in the league (Patrick Kane, Taylor Hall, Bobby Ryan). For all his skill, he still uses his 6'3" goes to the net, tips shots, and screens goalies, which is something the Wild haven't been able to do as of late, particularly on the power play.
He also has had an established linemate relationship with Jason Pominville, and they have demonstrated good chemistry with each other. In the three seasons 10-13 where they were regular linemates, Vanek had a 46.6 Corsi Forced Percentage without Pominville, and Pominville had a 49.1 CF% without Vanek. But when they were together, their numbers were 50.1%. On a bad Buffalo team, no less. Wild fans should be looking forward to seeing the two reunited again.
Another exciting thing about Vanek signing in Minnesota is that it finally gives the Minnesota Wild three legitimate scoring lines. Look at what the Wild can throw on the ice in Game 1 next season:
These lines look great. Vanek's line could be the top scoring option, with Pominville having fantastic chemistry with both Granlund and Vanek. The second line would be able to absorb tough minutes and score. That third line is brimming with speed, and could give opponents nightmares. And since they wisely kept Brodziak at the draft, the fourth line is basically the third line of last year's team. And last year's team was considered to be pretty deep.
As for maintaining cap flexibility down the road, this deal accomplishes that, too. The cap hit isn't too cumbersome as is (it's less than the cap hit of Dany Heatley's corpse last season), and the deal only extends three years. If guys like Granlund, Brodin, and Coyle take two-year "bridge" contracts next year, then Vanek's 6.5 million cap hit will be off the books before they get their big pay days.
There are concerns with Vanek. There've been work ethic questions, and his skating isn't great, leading some Wild fans to be afraid of a Dany Heatley 2.0 situation. I'm not too concerned. The price on this three-year deal is right, and there isn't the downward trend in Vanek's numbers like there was with Heatley. A risk? Perhaps, but the rewards are great, and the Wild got the best goal-scorer on the market in on a club-friendly deal.
With St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, and even Chicago improving in Free Agency, this was simply a move the Wild had to make to continue to get better in the Central Division. The fact the Wild were able to do it on a club-friendly deal was stunning, and Fletcher should be applauded.