If the Wild is to buy out the final year of Thomas Vanek’s contract during the window that opens Wednesday and lasts until June 30, Vanek’s agent doesn’t believe that decision has been made.
“If Chuck knew he was going to buy him out by now, I think I would know by now,” agent Steve Bartlett said regarding Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher. “I do think I have a good enough relationship that he’d give me the heads up. Now that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t decide something different between now and two weeks from now.”
The Wild brass is in the midst of pro meetings with coach Bruce Boudreau, the rest of the coaching staff and the pro scouts, so a decision might not be made. Any delayed decision could depend on the final salary cap figure for next season that’s expected to be provided by the league in the next week, on potential trade and free agency plans and whether Fletcher’s attempting to trade Vanek before the June 24-25 draft.
Bartlett said he has had one brief, general conversation with Fletcher, and Vanek seemed to think his year-end meeting with Fletcher was positive.
“With a new coach, we’ll just have to see how it all shakes out,” Bartlett said. “I still think there’s a rebound year in Thomas, and I’m hoping they’ll give him that opportunity, but I understand in this day and age, you never know. You can never predict.”
Vanek, 32, scored a career-low 18 goals in 74 games last season, and his 41 points were the lowest of any non-lockout season. He got off to a great start, scoring 10 goals and nine assists in the first 22 games. But he scored seven goals and 10 assists in his final 44 games.
In April, Vanek said “I’m not happy with my year, but at the same time, I truly still believe that I’m a 30-goal scorer in this league.”
He missed four of the last five regular-season games and the playoffs because of broken and displaced ribs, he said.
A buyout is permissible as long as he’s medically cleared. In the past three seasons, the Wild was unable to buy out Niklas Backstrom twice and Dany Heatley once because of injuries.
However, Bartlett said to the best of his knowledge, Vanek is healthy.
“Everything is good. I know he’s looking forward to the World Cup,” Bartlett said. “He’s certainly capable of [a rebound season]. He’s certainly not the only one that wishes they had a better year. It’s safe to say his focus right now is being ready to have the best possible year he can.”
The Wild has roughly $64 million committed to 15 players next season. There are 23 players on a roster, and next year’s salary cap is projected to be around $74 million. That leaves only about $10 million to sign unrestricted free agents, promote from within and re-sign some of its own, including restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba and maybe Darcy Kuemper.
If the Wild chooses to buy out Vanek, it would cost $2.5 million in each of the next two years in real dollars, but his $6.5 million cap hit would be reduced to $1.5 million this year and $2.5 million next year. So it would be a $5 million cap savings this upcoming season if the Wild feels it needs the cushion to do other business.
The Wild still is on the hook for a $1 million cap charge next season for buying out Matt Cooke last summer.
Bartlett believes Boudreau, who used to be a client of Bartlett during his playing days, and Vanek would be a good marriage.
“Bruce was never known as the most defensive-minded player either,” Bartlett said, laughing. “Bruce was known for his offensive touch that either you have or you don’t. I think that’s Thomas. Maybe Bruce has exactly the right message to get the most out of Thomas and play to your pluses and find a way to work around your liabilities.”