By: Will Burchfield
With the Red Wings looking like a playoff long-shot, there’s a good chance they’ll become sellers at the trade deadline. If that’s the case, expect Thomas Vanek to be the team’s main bargaining chip.
So — what exactly is Vanek’s value?
Well, start with his performance this season. The 33-year-old forward has been the Red Wings’ best player, posting 31 points in 37 games. He’s looked rejuvenated and re-motivated after being bought out by the Wild last summer and has quieted talks that his career is on the decline. For a contending team in need of an offensive boost, Vanek would be a nice addition.
Next, take a look at his contract. For a guy averaging almost a point per game, Vanek’s a bargain. A serious bargain. He’s making just $2.6 million this season, most of which will fall on the Red Wings’ hands should Vanek be moved at the March 1 deadline. (If a team were to acquire Vanek on that date, he’d cost them about $560,000 against the cap.) That’s a big deal in the NHL, where few teams have financial wiggle room.
But – there’s always a but – Vanek is surrounded by question marks.
First of all, he’s been hampered by injuries the past two seasons, casting doubt upon his ability to stay on the ice. He missed the end of the 2015-16 campaign with the Wild, and has sat out 12 games this year with the Wings. Any team thinking about bringing Vanek aboard will likely have second thoughts about his health.
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Second of all, his strong performance this season is dulled by his struggles the two prior. After averaging .84 points per game through the first nine years of his career, Vanek fell off to .60 points per game from 2014-2016. Things really cratered last season when he posted just 41 points in 73 games, prompting the Wild to buy him out in the offseason. He’s redeemed himself to a certain extent in Detroit, but Vanek doesn’t have anywhere near the superstar reputation he used to.
Third of all, Vanek will be viewed on the trade market as a two-month rental. His contract, though favorable in value, expires at the end of this season. That won’t appeal to teams interested in Vanek’s services and it certainly won’t help the Wings in negotiations. The New York Islanders are the cautionary tale in this regard, as they gave up a boatload to acquire Vanek in the fall of 2013 only to be burned when he signed elsewhere in the ensuing offseason.
Finally, and most importantly, Vanek has been in this situation before. Once the Islanders realized they weren’t going to be able to retain him, they put him on the block leading up to the 2014 trade deadline. Hoping to reel in a prize package for a 30-year-old, point-per-game player, the Isles traded Vanek to the Canadiens and got back…Sebastian Collberg (look him up) and a second-round pick. Yes, the Islanders had their hands tied and opposing GMs knew it, but what leverage do Ken Holland and the Wings have now?
Point is, if Vanek’s value was that low in 2014, when he was still very much in his prime, it’s only going to be lower now. And with teams around the league less and less inclined to give up future assets, it’s hard to imagine the Wings getting back much more than a B-level prospect or a second- to third-round pick (not both) in exchange for Vanek. At that point, assuming the Wings are going to eschew the full-scale rebuild, it’d make more sense to keep him.
This is all speculation, of course, and maybe there’s a contender out there who’d overpay in the name of chasing a championship. But if Vanek ends up being traded and the Wings don’t get much in return, keep in mind his recent past and his long-term future.