Vancouver Canucks add UFA Thomas Vanek to crowded forward ranks
September 3, 2017, 2:22 PM ET [141 Comments]
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In the world of celebrity gossip, publicists commonly drop less-than-favourable news items on Friday afternoons—especially Fridays before long weekends. At that time, many editors have already checked out of the office, and social media traffic is relatively low as folks start gearing up for the weekend ahead.
Divorces often get this treatment. Most famously, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt called it a day on January 7, 2005. Just over four months ago, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner officially announced their divorce filing on Thursday, April 13—right before the Easter long weekend.
I couldn't help but wonder if the Vancouver Canucks were employing a similar strategy when they announced Thomas Vanek's signing last Friday, right as Labour Day long weekend was about to begin.
In Friday's blog, I talked about how the radio wars are going to heat up the team's coverage at both TSN1040 and the new Sportsnet 650. The team chose not to announce the signing in time for TSN make it the centerpiece of their coverage on the first full day of their new broadcast schedule on Friday, or to hold the announcement for the Sportsnet 650 kickoff on Monday.
Instead, the press release announcing Vanek's one-year, $2 million contract landed in my mailbox at 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon—after my attention had turned away from hockey for a minute, toward Friday night's Guns n' Roses concert.
GNR was a huge band for me in my younger days, but I didn't love their show when I saw them previously—near the end of their infamous Use Your Illusion tour, assuming Wikipedia has it right, on March 30, 1993 at B.C. Place. Knowing everything we do now about the toll that those two-plus years of touring took on the band, I guess it's no wonder that my memory of that night was that they were mostly going through the motions.
As a result, I hadn't made it a priority to get a ticket this time around. But when I got the opportunity to go, I was pretty excited. I had been hearing good things about the shows and was impressed that the band had been able to keep the "Not in This Lifetime" tour on the rails for more than a year after decades of bad blood between Axl and Slash.
In the end, I'm glad I went. Always known for playing long shows, they gave us a whopping 3:20 of music, wrapping up on the dot at midnight with a high energy "Paradise City." They played all the hits—and then some—and threw in a number of interesting covers along the way, like Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman," James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and an instrumental combo of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" as a dual guitar thing followed by Axl on piano on the outro of Derek and the Dominos "Layla."
My personal preference is always for a tighter setlist that comes in under two hours and makes every song count. But when a band hasn't rolled through town in so long—and has that nasty riot to atone for at what was then GM Place back in 2002—it's great that they gave the fans their fans their money's worth and more.
Hearing those opening strains of "Welcome to the Jungle" also reminded me that made for a great intro song for the Canucks. Those first few bars, especially the opening riff and scream, are still so powerful and iconic.
The tour packs up and moves on to the next city—but Vanek will be part of the Canucks for the next several months, at least.
Now that Ryan Miller has moved on, Vanek replaces him as the veteran player whose relationship with Jim Benning goes back to their days together in Buffalo at the beginning of their NHL careers. According to Vanek's agent Stephen Bartlett, those connections played a part in his signing.
Now 33, Vanek's a big body—listed at 6'2" and 219 pounds. He's best known for his nose for the net and was a two-time 40-goal scorer during his eight full seasons in Buffalo. After he was traded to the New York Islanders early in the 2013-14 season, he went on to play for Montreal, Minnesota, Detroit and Florida. All told, he has 333 goals and 697 points in 885 career NHL games. He's tied with Daniel Sedin for seventh place among active players with 129 power-play goals and his career average of 0.376 goals per game ranks him 17th among active NHLers between James Neal and Jamie Benn, according to QuantHockey. He's 18th in game-winning goals and 26th in points per game, so he has been a consistent offensive producer throughout his career.
My impression of Vanek is clouded by the fact that he never quite lived up to that seven-year, $50 million offer sheet that he signed with the Edmonton Oilers as a 23-year-old at the beginning of the 2007-08 season. The best season of his career came right before he signed that deal—he had 43 goals and 84 points in 2006-07 and had just gone to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final with the Sabres. Buffalo matched the offer and retained Vanek. He continued to score but never exceeded that 84-point mark. Buffalo also hasn't won a playoff series since that 2007 run.
I was also sour on Vanek due to his performance with the Montreal Canadiens during the 2014 playoffs. Acquired at the trade deadline in hopes that he would boost Montreal's scoring, Vanek put up 10 points in 17 playoff games as the Habs went to the Eastern Conference Final, but saw his ice time drop as coach Michel Therrien grew to mistrust the defensive side of his game.
According to Hockey Reference, Vanek played a playoff-high 20:04, recording seven shots on goal and scoring a goal in Montreal's first game of the 2014 postseason against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His ice time then dropped to the point that in the third round against the New York Rangers, he only broke the 13-minute mark twice in six games, falling as low as 8:55 in Game 5, and managed just seven shots in the entire series.
Vanek didn't give the Florida Panthers much support on their playoff run last season, either. The Panthers were 29-23-10 when they gave up a third-round pick and defenseman Dylan McIlrath on the March 1 trade deadline—one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Florida went 6-13-1 down the stretch to finish the year 14 points out of a playoff spot. Vanek had two goals and 10 points in those 20 games, but was a minus-7.
To be fair, the Canucks aren't bringing in Vanek as a playoff catalyst. They're hoping that he can add punch on the power play.
Vanek's typical power play role is different from Sam Gagner's, so there could be room for both new acquisitions on PP1. Gagner played up higher with Columbus last year, more between the circles.
Known as a left wing for most of his career, Vanek is now listed as a right wing on his HockeyDB page. At this stage of his career, he's not known for his skating, so it's hard for me to envision him playing with the Sedins at 5-on-5.
As well as being a potential catalyst for a power play that has struggled mightily over the past few seasons, Vanek also has the potential to bring an asset in return if he's dealt at next year's trade deadline. Even though his postseason record isn't great, there will always be teams looking for offense, especially if he does put together a solid season in Vancouver.
One veteran hockey watcher thinks it's a possibility:
My biggest objection to this move is that it makes the competition for roster spots even more intense—and that doesn't benefit the Canucks' young players.
After July 1, I laid out my possible forward lines like this:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Anton Rodin
Markus Granlund - Brandon Sutter - Sam Gagner
Reid Boucher - Alex Burmistrov - Derek Dorsett
EXTRAS: Jayson Megna, Michael Chaput, Brendan Gaunce, Brock Boeser
As the summer progressed, I got more enthusiastic about the idea of Boeser getting a shot in the top six, and about Jake Virtanen working his way back into the mix. Nikolay Goldobin's not on this list, either.
Now we've got Vanek, too, and PTO signee Ryan White.
It's going to be tough for any of the kids to get enough traction to make the opening-night roster out of camp—and their challenge will be further increased because of the preseason trip to China.
Ed Willes spoke with Trevor Linden earlier this week about the team's plans for the season:
Willes suggests that the emphasis for the China lineup will be on the veterans with "something to prove."
Most of those guys will accompany Green to China for the Canucks’ two-game exhibition series with the L.A. Kings in mid-September which, as you might guess, Linden sees as a positive.
It will give the new coach a chance to work with the veterans in a reasonably competitive environment. It will give those veterans a chance to see what Green is all about.
The Canucks will have just two preseason games and handful of practices before splitting the team into the group that goes to China for two games and the one that stays behind for a couple of road games in Alberta. If players like Virtanen, Goldobin and Boeser don't go to China, it's going to be mighty tough for them to make any kind of impression on their coach, halfway around the world.