It’s not uncommon for teams to find diamonds in the rough late in the offseason. Last summer the best example of this was Sam Gagner. The Blue Jackets inked the journeyman to a one-year, $650,000 contract. Gagner rewarded general manager Jarmo Kekalainen with a 50-point season and the best cost-per-point ratio for a player not on an entry-level contract of the 2016-17 season.
Finding top-six talent at a discount in September is a big deal because we just don’t see it happen. Yet, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning did just that when he signed Thomas Vanek to a one-year, $2 million contract. On paper the Vanek deal looks like an absolute steal, especially when compared to the contracts other noteworthy forwards signed this offseason.
Adam Gretz of FanRag Sports recently pointed out just how clever the Vanek signing was.
If the Canucks handle this correctly they can put a player like Vanek into situations where he can pump up his point total, leaning on him on the power play, and potentially boost his trade value at the deadline. Given how cheap his contract is and how productive he can still be (remember, he scored at a 57-point pace over 82 games this past season — that is borderline first-line production), he should have some value to a team in need of some offense.
Vanek split the 2016-17 season between the Red Wings and the Panthers. After signing a “show me” contract in Detroit, he found a way to produce on a team with countless flaws. In 68 games Vanek piled up 48 points. He achieved that despite playing under 15 minutes a night in both Detroit and Florida. Chris Kunitz signed with Tampa Bay and will also carry a $2 million cap hit for one year. He put up just 29 points in 71 games last season for the Penguins.
The Lightning paid for Cups and intangibles when they signed Kunitz. The Canucks paid for a consistent scoring winger who is sure to be an invaluable trading chip after New Year’s Day. Guess which team got the better deal?
Vanek’s contract doesn’t just compare well to Kunitz’s deal. When we compare Vanek’s deal to every UFA who signed a one-year contract last summer, it looks better.
Needless to say Vanek doesn’t make the Canucks Cup contenders — he won’t be as valuable to Vancouver as Joe Thornton is to San Jose. However, his contract is still outstanding, especially if we measure by paying for recent production. It’s also worth mentioning that Vanek ranked 35th in cost-per-point last season among forwards with standard contracts. He signed with the Canucks for $600,000 less than the Red Wings gave him last summer. Not a bad move for a general manager many consider to be on the hot seat.
The worst-case scenario for the Canucks would be Vanek getting hurt and damaging his trade value. The far more likely scenario is that he will prosper in a top-six role. The Canucks also added Sam Gagner this offseason, but that won’t push Vanek out of a featured role on offense. Travis Green’s team needs offense and that is exactly what the Austrian sniper brings to the table.
If Vanek can put up the kind of numbers he did last season in Detroit and Florida, Benning will have a highly-coveted winger when the trade deadline approaches. For the Canucks, a team that needs to focus on rebuilding, that means landing draft picks and prospects.
The chances that Vanek will finish the 2017-18 season in Vancouver are minute. Benning knows what he has in Vanek: a short-term solution on offense who will eventually become a ticket the general manager can cash in for futures. It’s almost all upside. It was exactly the kind of move Benning needed to make this offseason.