To say that the relationship between forward Thomas Vanek and the Minnesota Wild ended unceremoniously would be something of an understatement.
Originally signed by the Wild to a three-year, $19.5 million deal on July 1st, 2014, Vanek would only end up making it two thirds of the way through his contract, ultimately getting bought out by Minnesota on June 24.
Vanek wasn’t necessarily a bad player over the two years, putting up 52 and 41 point seasons, but was still playing below expectations, especially at a cap hit of $6.5 million, and even found himself as a healthy scratch at times. In the end, Minnesota decided that they would rather have the extra cap space than the services that Vanek provided.
“Before I was a free agent, I had a couple offers. But I wanted to come here and see if we can make it work,” he said at the time of the Wild’s decision. “It just never panned out the way we both envisioned, and now here we are.”
After already playing for four teams (the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and the Wild) over the span of just three seasons, the two-time 40-goal scorer and former NHL All-Star was on the move yet again.
Now with the Detroit Red Wings on a much lighter one-year, $2.6 million deal, he is on the path of redemption.
Vanek has started hot with his new club, scoring five points over his first three games. He scored twice in his Detroit debut and then had a three-assist outing in a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night. He’s also been doing so while showcasing some of the flair not often seen since his early years in the league.
“He’s been very good so far,” said head coach Jeff Blashill about Vanek after his first game. “We talked about making sure he works hard, backchecks, makes sure he works hard to win battles and be good defensively. He’s been all those things. And if he does those things, you can see he is a really, really talented player. If he does those things, he is going to score, because he’ll be on the ice.”
The opportunity is certainly there for the taking for Vanek. With one of Detroit’s long-time leaders, Pavel Datsyuk, now back in his home country of Russia, and another in Henrik Zetterberg in the back nine of his career at the age of 36, the Wings will have to score by committee this season if they want remain competitive in the Eastern Conference.
Vanek is currently 10th out of all Red Wing forwards in terms of average time on ice, at 13:42 per game, but is first in powerplay usage at 2:39. Both of those numbers could see themselves go up if he continues to play like he did in the first three games.
Even though the best years of his career are now behind him, the 32 year-old Austrian should still have some gas left in the tank. He produced an impressive 68 points in 2013-14, despite the challenge of splitting it between three different teams. That total fell quite a bit in his two seasons with the Wild, but in Vanek’s defense, Minnesota isn’t exactly a team that’s known for scoring prowess.
With his Red Wings contract only for this current season there’s a chance that Vanek could be on the move yet again at the end of the year.
However, that day is still six-to-eight months away, and with the benefit of a fresh start helping to put some wind in his sails Vanek possesses the ability to let his on-ice play dictate the direction of his future.