2014 Free Agency: Should the Dallas Stars Make a Play for Thomas Vanek?
Thomas Vanek had a great season despite being bumped around the league and vanishing in the Eastern Conference Final. Should the Stars try to pick him up?
Thomas Vanek was the center of a lot of talk this past year. First, the circus that is the Buffalo Sabres began churning out reports of trades early in the year. Then, he was shipped to Long Island in return for fellow sniper Matt Moulson. Then, once extension talks with the Islanders petered out, he was sent to Montreal for a deep playoff run.
Vanek started his stint with Montreal in spectacular fashion. After recording 15 points in his 18 regular season games with Les Habitants it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that he would end up re-signing. This seemed like an even more obvious conclusion through the Canadiens' first two playoff series because of his performance in their four game sweep of the Lightning and their shocking victory over Boston.
This all changed in the Eastern Conference Finals. Facing off against a New York Rangers team which seemed to have gotten extremely lucky to even make it to the semi-final, Vanek's offense dried up and he was quickly moved to the fourth line, where it is a little silly to expect anyone to produce offense at a high level.
Opinion on Vanek soured in Montreal very quickly, and now it appears that there is very little chance he and the Habs extend their relationship.
This is slightly ridiculous, however, because the playoffs are an entirely different monster than the regular season. For one thing, defense and goaltending tend to get much more stingy in the playoffs and scorers generally have less room to maneuver. Furthermore, the knock on Vanek was that he wasn't playing with enough physicality. Again, while you want your players to be strong on the puck and battle, not every player plays with a physical edge - and that's completely okay.
The idea that he was drifting or not trying is more a manifestation of frustration at the Rangers completely dominating the Canadiens top to bottom than anything else and a passionate fanbase and media-base turning on the new guy as the obvious scapegoat.
At the end of the day, Vanek still put up 10 points in 17 games. It seems as though lack of time to build any chemistry was more of a factor with Vanek than simply quitting.
On to the Stars: Should they pursue him?
Vanek is a consistent 60-70 point player who has gamebreaking goal-scoring ability and could be one of the best offensive players in the league if paired with the right linemates and given a full training camp to build chemistry.
He is far and away the best offensive player set to hit the market aside from Marian Gaborik - who won't be available if the Kings have any sense. On top of general offense, he's a sniper and the Stars will need to get many more goals from guys not named Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn if they want to become a constant threat in the playoffs.
Vanek is the kind of player who Lindy Ruff could throw on the top line with Benn and Seguin in order to create three ~90 point players, or, since depth is key, put on the second line to spread out the scoring. He could, and probably would thrive in each role.
He certainly has his faults. He's not particularly great defensively and when he's not scoring he doesn't appear to be doing much. It seems, however, that the Stars could deal with this because they really need offense and it might be cheaper in the long run to pay him a big salary for 4-5 years rather than give up too many assets in a trade for another center.
Upgrading down the middle is the safest and thus most expensive route to more balanced scoring in the short term. As such, it might make sense for the Stars to over-pay for Vanek rather than over-pay for another center with multiple prospects and players. Because he has great offensive skill he could either mesh with the Stars' top players to form maybe the most dangerous line in the league, or help develop the offensive games of guys like Alex Chiasson, Cody Eakin, and/or Val Nichushkin on the second line. Like I just said, when he isn't scoring he doesn't appear to be doing much; but thankfully he's usually scoring.
While Vanek is going to command a high salary ($5-$7M range) no matter what, the Canadiens' loss to the Rangers has probably somewhat reduced his asking price.
The Stars shouldn't shy away from Vanek because of his performance in the Eastern Conference Final. It was only six games, and that sort of thing happens at some point with every scorer. A year ago around this time, the Boston media did exactly what Montreal is doing with Vanek, but with Tyler Seguin. A year ago around this time, the Stars reaped the rewards. It would make sense for them to try to do the same this year with a player of Vanek's calibre.