By: Will Burchfield
With the Red Wings struggling to keep their heads above water and Ken Holland having made it clear they won’t be buyers at the trade deadline, there’s a good chance the team will look to unload some veterans in the next few weeks.
Thomas Vanek figures to be the prime candidate.
The 33-year-old is in the midst of a resurgent season in Detroit after being bought out by the Wild last summer. He is second on the team in points (32), first in points per game (.80). In fact, Vanek ranks third in the entire league in 5-v-5 points per 60 minutes (3.09) and second in 5-v-5 assists per 60 minutes (1.88).
He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, meaning it would behoove the Red Wings to trade him before the March 1 deadline if they don’t envision themselves making a playoff run.
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Coach Jeff Blashill, who has come to admire Vanek both as a person and a player, would prefer to avoid that scenario altogether.
“Our focus is winning the game tonight (versus Columbus) and putting ourselves in the playoff picture so there’s no chance that happens,” he said.
Blashill has enjoyed having Vanek’s insight on the bench and in the locker room.
“I’ve learned tons from the players I’ve had the opportunity to coach over the years and certainly he’s right up there with some of the real good ones. His offensive mind is excellent,” Blashill said. “The thing about Thomas is he’s not afraid to say his opinion, and I love that. Through the discussion of opinions, usually you come to the best answer.
“He’s also not afraid to listen and admit when there’s other ways to do it better. Thomas has had a great influence on me, I think he’s had a great influence on this team.”
With Vanek in the lineup this season, the Wings are 19-14-7. Without him, they’re 3-7-2. When he scores a point, they’re 16-7-2. When he’s held off the scoresheet, they’re 3-7-5. Glaring discrepancies, indeed.
In line with his professional demeanor, Blashill believes Vanek has handled himself well amidst the rumors and speculation.
“There’s always a human element to this stuff that I think is easy to overlook from the outside. I think any time any player has an unknown future in any capacity, it’s hard. It’s the reality of life, but I also know that he knows how to manage himself, he’s been around the league lots,” said Blashill.
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When Vanek arrived in Detroit for training camp last summer, Blashill challenged him to upend his reputation as a one-way player. Time and time again, Vanek has delivered, most recently in Detroit’s 1-0 win over Nashville on Saturday.
“I had him on the ice with about three minutes to play and he got the puck on a real hard play in his own zone, he went hard off the (glass) into space — those types of little plays that he’s got the poise to be able to make,” Blashill said. “Sometimes when the game and the pressure heats up, some guys don’t have that poise. He does.”
The coach added that Vanek “tracked hard” throughout the game, working as hard without the puck as he did with it.
“When he does those things, he’s a real good player. I thought he competed real hard, and we need another big one from him tonight,” Blashill said.
The more Vanek helps the Red Wings win, the better chance he has of sticking around. For Blashill, that’d be just fine.