Thomas Vanek enjoyed his meeting with Wild coach Mike Yeo late Sunday, and the feeling was said to be mutual. But as of late Monday, it still was up in the air as to whether #VanekWatch would end Tuesday with the former Gophers star ending months of speculation by signing with his hometown NHL team.
The Wild made Vanek’s short list, but agent Steve Bartlett said there were other good options on it, too, as NHL free agency opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The other good options likely will offer Vanek more money and more years than the Wild, which might plan to tender the left winger a short-term deal.
The extra years, and thus security, could alter Vanek’s decision.
“Is it a deal-breaker if he loves everything about the team and they’re shorter term than another team? I don’t think it’s to that extent,” Bartlett said. “It’s just one more of those boxes that you check when you’re trying to make a decision.”
In a slim free-agent class that offers a multitude of forwards with a multitude of red flags, the Wild has shown the most interest in Vanek, the Stillwater resident, and veteran goal scorer Jarome Iginla, who turns 37 Tuesday. The Wild had more conversations Monday with Iginla’s reps in hopes of selling Iginla on its program and how it’s a Stanley Cup contender.
Iginla, in the twilight of his career, badly wants to win his first Stanley Cup. He has scored 560 goals and 1,167 points in 1,310 career games and had 30 goals and 61 points last season for the Boston Bruins. Iginla wants to return, but the Bruins, as of now, have salary cap issues, meaning Iginla will become a free agent.
The problem is Iginla’s timeline. If he’s patient to gauge all suitors, the Wild could be left with nobody if it chooses to wait for him over signing Vanek. Iginla, who was thinking over his options Monday night, is expected to get back to the Wild on Tuesday morning.
Vanek, 30, turned down lucrative long-term contract offers last season from the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. He just ended a seven-year, $50 million contract. So he has made the big money, which might make signing a short-term deal with less security than other cities more tolerable because of the appeal of living at home.
The prospect of a short-term deal certainly didn’t stop him from meeting with Yeo on Sunday. Afterward, Vanek sent Bartlett a text saying he had a good meeting with Yeo.
“At least from Thomas’ side, he enjoyed hearing Mike’s view of what the team’s going to be like and what his coaching philosophies were,” Bartlett said.
One player who would love Vanek to sign with the Wild is his former Sabres linemate Jason Pominville.
“He’s always a threat when he has the puck, and when he doesn’t have the puck, he always finds ways to get himself available,” Pominville said of the NHL’s eighth-leading goal scorer since 2005-06. “He would step in and help our power play right away. As a net-front presence, he’s always there with screens and always finds a way to get his stick on the puck.
“He’s so good at tipping pucks, it’s crazy.”
As for Iginla, the all-time leading scorer against the Wild, Pominville said, laughing, “Either way, we’d get a goal scorer, and we wouldn’t have to worry about [Iginla] scoring against us.”
The Wild has shown interest in Paul Stastny, but the Avalanche center appears destined for St. Louis or elsewhere. Other skilled wingers available include Milan Michalek, Ales Hemsky, Radim Vrbata, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Jussi Jokinen and David Booth.
Last week, the Wild was expected to pursue free-agent defenseman Matt Niskanen. However, as of late Monday, it looked as if the Wild had decided not to enter the fray. As agent Neil Sheehy looked to cut his long list of suitors to a more workable number, the Wild hadn’t made contact.
Sheehy has said he could get up to the maximum seven-year term for Niskanen. That could have scared the Wild off because with so many young players needing to be re-signed the next couple of years and not wanting to box out youngsters like Matt Dumba and Gustav Olofsson from eventual jobs, General Manager Chuck Fletcher has said he wants to avoid super long-term contracts.
The Wild did not inquire about bought-out Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on Monday, but it might have interest in consistent Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman. With rugged defenseman Clayton Stoner likely leaving via free agency, the Wild will look to replace him. One veteran it has talked to is former Wild Willie Mitchell, although there are others as well.
As of Monday night, the Wild had not yet re-signed physical forward Cody McCormick. If he leaves, the Wild might look to replace him in free agency or give youngster Brett Bulmer, who has been derailed by injury after injury during his pro career, a chance to earn that spot in training camp. It’s unclear if the team has reached out to bruiser Shawn Thornton.
The Wild is expected to sign Guillaume Gelinas, 21, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s best defenseman this past season after scoring 23 goals and 92 points in 67 games for Val-d’Or. He scored 34 points in 24 playoff games for a team that lost the Memorial Cup to Edmonton. He would start in Iowa of the American Hockey League next season.