clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Wild Might Want to Listen to Thomas Vanek

New, comments

Thomas Vanek says part of the reason for his struggles was that he wasn't centered with a creative center. Would solving that issue help his performance rebound?

Thomas Vanek enjoyed some success with Charlie Coyle last year, but are they right for each other?
Thomas Vanek enjoyed some success with Charlie Coyle last year, but are they right for each other?
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Vanek caused a bit of a stir among the Minnesota Wild fandom last week when talking about his underwhelming performance last season. Speaking to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Vanek was quite candid in discussing what he believed to be the reasoning behind that frustrating season.

"I knew the goals and points would be harder [in Minnesota]. They're not going to be any easier this year just because I feel better. We don't have maybe the strongest depth in the middle, so I'll have to find a way again of probably making more plays than shooting and creating chances rather than getting chances.

It's very unusual to see a player speak so honestly concerning a team he's still on. The blunt nature of his comments, and the expressed preference of being paired with Mikael Granlund over the rest of the Wild's centers predictably drew strong responses from Vanek's many critics.

As for the decorum of what, where, and how Vanek explained his reasoning, I'm not concerned with it. I mean, I like when players eschew cliche and tell us what they're thinking, but it's not that important. I also don't care in the least how it'll affect any locker room dynamic. What concerns me is: Is Vanek right? And if so, have we found what we need to get the most value out of the remaining two seasons on his deal?

I decided to take a look at how Vanek performed at 5-on-5 when paired with individual Wild centers.

Vanek With

TOI

Goals/60

Points/60

Shots/60

GF%

Coyle

344.14

1.39

2.79

6.27

67.9%

Granlund

248.27

1.21

2.17

8.69

52.4%

Koivu

167.45

0.00

1.79

5.37

46.7%

Brodziak

149.56

0.00

1.60

3.60

30.8%

Haula

139.34

0.00

0.00

4.72

11.1%

2011-14 (total)

2671.44

0.92

2.40

8.08

53.9%

Confirming what your eye test probably says, Vanek was at his best last season with Charlie Coyle. A small sample size for sure, but if Vanek had those Goal and Point totals over the course of the season, he'd have been Top-10 in Goals/60 and Points/60. And this wasn't scoring a goal, then giving up two. The Wild heavily out-scored their opposition when Vanek and Coyle took the ice together.

So, that settles it, right? Vanek should get paired with Coyle, and that should be the end of that. Well, not so fast. Vanek got as much criticism last season for his seeming unwillingness to shoot the puck as he did for his low point totals. And while Coyle seemed to do a lot of good for Vanek, he didn't cause Vanek to shoot more.

But Granlund did. Vanek's point totals weren't quite as gaudy with Granlund as they were with Coyle, but Granlund was still able to draw out Vanek-like production from #26. Furthermore, Granlund proved to be far and away the most adept at setting up Vanek. In fact, Vanek's Shots/60 were higher than Granlund than they were with elite NHL center John Tavares the year previous (7.55).


I don't think you're going to find many Wild fans who would sign Thomas Vanek again, given the chance. With the Wild in a salary cap bind which rendered them unable to improve this offseason, it'd be surprising if GM Chuck Fletcher wasn't also regretting this deal. But Fletcher and the Wild have made their bed with Vanek, and their job isn't to rue his presence, it's to get the most they possibly can out of him.

Vanek may have spoken out of turn in last week's interview. He may have said things that ruffled some feathers. It doesn't matter: He was right. At this stage of his career, Vanek's not a player who's going to generate individual offense like a Zach Parise or Jason Zucker. He's got to have a linemate that's going to give him the support he needs to flourish offensively. It might turn out that Coyle will again get the most production out of Vanek, and maybe even do a better job of setting Vanek up to shoot this year. But if that isn't the case, coach Mike Yeo is going to have to be willing to break up his top line and see if Granlund can get Vanek to do what the Wild signed him to do.