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Numbers Game: As expected, Wild sign Vanek

Scott Cullen

7/3/2014 2:36:49 PM

There were rumours throughout the NHL season that the Minnesota Wild would be a free agent destination for a particular top goal-scoring winger and, when free agency opened, they got their man.

Numbers Game looks at the Wild signing Thomas Vanek.

The Wild Get: LW Thomas Vanek.

Vanek, 30, has been one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the game. Since 2006-2007, his 252 goals ranks fourth, behind Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk. Vanek is a four-time 30-goal scorer who has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last nine seasons. Only Ovechkin and Rick Nash have managed that same feat.

So, with that goal-scoring resume, Vanek should have been incredibly appealing as a free agent, but there was the small matter of his slump in the playoffs that left a sour taste for some. Vanek had eight points in 10 games, through Game Six of the Boston series, but fell flat after that, managing two assists and a total of eight shots on goal in the next seven games. He played under 15 minutes in each of his last eight playoff games. For a season in which he played a career-high 19:21 per game, with the Sabres, Islanders and Canadiens, that role reduction made it clear that Vanek would be moving on from Montreal. This following a season during which he scored 15 points in 18 games with the Habs, giving him 68 points in 78 games while moving around the Eastern Conference.

Which brings us to Minnesota, which had been linked to Vanek pretty much from the get-go of his contract year. Vanek played college hockey at the University of Minnesota. His wife is from Minnesota. The Wild would have Dany Heatley's $7.5-million cap hit coming off the books. Former Sabres teammate Jason Pominville was playing well for Minnesota. It was all lining up for Vanek with the Wild.

Ultimately, nothing really changed that. Maybe a great playoff would have given Vanek more leverage on the open market, but he didn't sign a break-the-bank deal, inking for $19.5-million over three years. The $6.5-million annual cap hit is actually less than Vanek's previous contract, but when a player has a preferred destination, and particularly when he has earned a boatload of money in his career already (more than $57-million in his career, according to Cap Geek), there is an opportunity for a team to get him for less than the top price on the market.

That Vanek was willing to accept a three-year term is a clear indication that Minnesota was his preferred location.

When it comes to his game, Vanek doesn't use his size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) very effectively, aside from when he's in front of the net, where he positions well for tip-ins, deflections, screens, etc.

Throughout his career, Vanek hasn't been much of a puck possession player, varying up and down a little bit in relative terms from year to year, but Vanek has always been a high-percentage finisher in his own right and consistently had high on-ice shooting percentages (which includes others on the ice with him in 5-oin-5 play), so he's going to bring offence to Minnesota.

Depending on how the Wild want their lines to shake out, Vanek should have either Mikael Granlund or Mikko Koivu -- two pass-first playmaking centres -- setting the table for him and if Vanek is getting opportunties -- he had a career-high 3.18 shots on goal per game last season -- take 25 goals to the bank, with 30 or 35 possible at the top end.

This is a nice upgrade for the Wild, who made some noise in the playoffs and have added a premier goal-scorer to their mix and have done so without spending too much in order to get him.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.