By: Will Burchfield
Barring a five-game surge to close out February, the Red Wings will surely be sellers at the March 1 trade deadline. (Right? I mean, they have to be. Don’t they?) In that case, expect Thomas Vanek to be team’s most desirable asset.
In short, he’s had a bounce-back season, he carries a modest cap hit and he could provide any contending team a nice boost on offense. The Wings, especially coach Jeff Blashill, would prefer to keep Vanek on board, but that’s growing less and less likely with each additional loss.
So where could Vanek end up? USA Today hockey columnist Kevin Allen has an idea: Chicago.
Of Vanek’s strengths, Allen writes, “While he may not always be the prettiest performer, Vanek always seems to find a way to get the puck in the back of the net through redirections and rebound conversions. Vanek offers an intriguing net-front presence. He’s got an engaging personality and high hockey IQ.”
The 33-year-old has 14 goals and 36 points in 43 games this season. He’s been one of the lone – maybe the lone – bright spot on the Wings power play, with five goals and five assists. The high-scoring Blackhawks don’t exactly need more offense, but as they’ve proven before you can never have too much.
Of Vanek’s fit with Chicago, Allen writes, “The Blackhawks need a dependable scorer to play with Jonathan Toews.”
He adds, “(Toews’) ability to set up in the offensive zone could mesh perfectly with (Vanek’s) special talents in front of the net.”
It’s an interesting idea, one that occasions a glance at the Blackhawks’ farm system. For the Wings, that means looking right at the defensemen.
Vanek’s trade value isn’t all that high, but it’s not crazy to think he could bring back a solid prospect on the blue line – someone like, say, Dillon Fournier or Gustav Forsling. The Red Wings are desperate for mobile, move-the-puck defensemen (in today’s NHL, who isn’t?) and both players fit that mold.
Fournier, 22, was Chicago’s second-round pick in the 2012 draft. Forsling, 20, was Vancouver’s fifth-round pick in 2015. Both players have been hampered a bit by injuries, but their respective skill sets would justify the Wings taking a chance.
After all, if it pans out, the organization satisfies a glaring need. If it doesn’t, the organization turns the page. But Vanek’s contract expires at the end of the season either way.
It’s on the Red Wings to extract as much value from it while they still can.