GM Marc Bergevin has
his work cut out for him in this offseason after a strong 2013-14 campaign from
the Canadiens. Not only does he have to prepare for the
upcoming draft but the club has to make decisions on the 18 players whose
contracts expire on July 1st. This is the second article of our series
discussing some of the notable pending unrestricted free agents.
Fans of the Habs have been through many emotions in just a short period of
time since Thomas Vanek was acquired on Trade Deadline day. At the
beginning there was elation, then there was optimism heading into the playoffs
but by the end, many were upset with Vanek’s play. Does management feel
the same way, will they try to keep the Austrian winger in the fold or let him
walk in free agency?
Inside the Numbers
Vanek was rather consistent despite suiting up for three different teams
during the season, his point-per-game averages were all comparable to prior
years. He got off to a slow start with Montreal as many deadline
acquisitions do but made up for it down the stretch with 14 points in his last
13 regular season games. As we all know, that didn’t carry over to the
postseason as his production and effort levels were sporadic, leading to him
playing under 15 minutes per game in the playoffs. The last time he had
average ice time at that level was his rookie season. One particularly
interesting stat was his shot totals. Vanek had a career high 248 regular
season shots (3.18/game) but just 28 in 17 postseason outings (1.65/game).
Season: 78 GP, 27 goals, 41 assists, 68 points, +7 rating, 46 PIMS,
Playoffs: 17 GP, 5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points, -4 rating, 4 PIMS, 28
Argument to keep him
Vanek showed how potent this lineup could be with a player of his calibre on
the roster. There are no comparable replacements in free agency, he is the
number one player on most lists so why not try to keep the best one?
Having a second high end goal getter (joining Max Pacioretty) allows the Habs to
roll two potentially high quality offensive lines. Although there are some
concerns that a long-term deal will have a couple of rough years on the end, at
30 years of age he should still have several above average seasons left in the
tank. Keeping him around also sends a positive message not only to the
others currently on the team but other prospective acquisitions that this team
is going for it for the next several years.
Argument to let him go
His postseason performance is a good place to start in this section.
Simply put, he didn’t get the job done and there was a good reason he played
considerably less as the playoffs went on. Whoever signs Vanek is going to
overpay. He’s going to get premier money but in an ideal situation, he’s
not the best player on a team. When you consider who the Habs have to sign
(Markov and Subban aren’t going to be cheap while there are other holes that
need to be filled), do they have enough to sign Vanek to a third big contract?
The fact that Vanek bemoaned a line change in the playoffs and tried to use it
as justification for his poor play also doesn’t sit well. Most teams,
including Montreal, regularly tweak the lines, it’s not realistic for Vanek to
expect to stay on one line regardless of what happens.
Vanek turned down a seven year deal worth $50 million from the Islanders.
Two things can likely be gleaned from this – he didn’t want to stay with Long
Island and he likely thinks he can get more on the open market. He’s
probably right too. Vanek has been one of the top goal-getters since the
2004-05 lockout and has scored at least 25 goals in each full season since then.
That type of consistency will attract many suitors and will drive up the price.
Phil Kessel in Toronto got eight million per year for eight years. That $8
M figure is probably Vanek’s ceiling with the number realistically coming in a
bit below that on a seven year term.
We already know that barring a late change of heart, Vanek will test the
market. If that happens, any chance of an eight year contract goes out the
window. While there have been rumblings that the Habs weren’t happy with
him and will let him walk no matter what, I have to think they’re going to put
forth an honest effort to keep him in the fold. Ultimately I think he’ll
go elsewhere (Minnesota seems like the likely destination, especially with Dany
Heatley’s $7.5 M cap hit coming off their books) but it won’t be for lack of
trying from Montreal.