Former Gophers star Thomas Vanek gets his happy homecoming with Wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 2, 2014 - 7:19 AM

Chuck Fletcher stuck to his guns.

On a day where lucrative long-term deals were being tossed around the NHL at record pace, the Wild general manager risked that the allure of coming home to Minnesota and playing on a contender would be enough for Thomas Vanek to spurn longer, richer contracts elsewhere.

In the end, the Austrian-born former Gophers star wasn’t turned off and the Wild, a team in need of more goals, attracted the best goal scorer on the open market with a three-year, $19.5 million contract.

“About a year ago when I made my decision to go to free agency, this was definitely the team that I had in mind,” said Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer who has scored at least 25 goals in all eight of his full seasons and 20 goals in 38 games in lockout-shortened 2013. “For it to come true today, I’ve still not come to terms with it. I’m extremely thrilled to be a part of the Wild and of a group like this. I’m just happy.

“My top priority was to sign here.”

It actually is hard to come to terms that after more than a year of anticipation and speculation in the Twin Cities and leaguewide, after he turned down seven-year, $50 million extensions from the Sabres and Islanders last season, that Vanek will wear No. 26 in a Wild sweater next season and not have to move him, his wife and their three sons out of his Stillwater home.

“We all knew it was probably going to happen,” said his former Sabres linemate, Jason Pominville. “Now that it really has, I’m really happy he is part of our team.”

It was a wild day in which it seemed every ginormous available player landed in the Central Division, which could be dubbed the Division of Death. Many considered it the NHL’s toughest division already.

Dallas, a team on the rise, traded for Jason Spezza and signed Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal. St. Louis signed Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal. Chicago signed Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million deal. Wild killer Jarome Iginla, who was courted hard by the Wild, signed a three-year, $16 million deal with Colorado soon after Vanek signed with Minnesota. And remember, last weekend, Nashville acquired James Neal.

For a Wild team that scored 2.43 goals per game (tied for 24th in the NHL), all the moves in the division made signing Vanek more critical.

“It’s only going to get more difficult to make the playoffs,” Fletcher said. “The teams in our division are stronger today than what they were yesterday, and we like to think we’re stronger today as well.”

Vanek, 30, who led the Gophers to a national championship in 2003, brings with him a history of goal scoring.

Since the start of the 2005-06 season, he has scored the eighth-most goals in the NHL (277 goals in 663 games) and the third-most power-play goals (113). He also has 556 points and is tied for 11th with 0.42 goals per game during that span.

“He’s a game-breaker,” Fletcher said. “The things he does well are things that we need.”

Vanek scored 57 goals and 113 points in 83 games over two years for the Gophers. He led the team in scoring both years, was a WCHA Rookie of the Year and his 31 goals as a freshman rank second in school history. In 2003, he was the Frozen Four MVP, beating Michigan in overtime and scoring the winning goal in the national championship game against New Hampshire.

“He’s very creative with the puck, he’s very good with the puck on his stick, and he’s always in front of the net and he’s always around the net,” said Wild defenseman Keith Ballard, Vanek’s former Gophers teammate. “That’s an area we probably could have been a little better at. Now we add quite possibly the best net-front guy in the league.

“He gets his stick on so many shots. That’s going to help us 5-on-5, that’s going to help us on the power play. Twenty-five to 30 every year, I mean, that’s hard to find.”

Vanek’s stock did drop during the playoffs. He scored five goals and 10 points for Montreal, which went to the Eastern Conference finals, but he was heavily scrutinized and saw his ice time slashed.

  • related content

  • Mitchell spurns Wild; Stoner to Ducks

    Wednesday July 2, 2014

    More than $500 million in long-term contracts were handed out league-wide on the first day of NHL free agency..

  • Chart: About Thomas Vanek

    Tuesday July 1, 2014

    Thomas Vanek at a glancePosition:  right wing • Size: 6-2, 215 poundsAge: 30. Vanek was born in Austria in 1984,...

  • Video: Wild signs ex-Gopher Vanek to three-year deal

    Tuesday July 1, 2014

    The three-year deal adds scoring punch to Minnesota’s lineup and brings a former U of M star back.

  • Thomas Vanek career statistics

    Tuesday July 1, 2014

  • Vanek, Heatley comparisons natural, but are they fair?

    Dany Heatley was 30 years old when the Wild acquired him in a trade with San Jose in 2011. He...

  • Top average salaries for Wild players

    Tuesday July 1, 2014

    TOP-PAID WILD PLAYERS(average salary over life of contract)Zach Parise, LW $7.538 millionRyan Suter, D $7.538 millionMikko Koivu, C $6.75 millionThomas Vanek, LW...

  • Thomas Vanek signed a three-year deal to play with the Wild.

  • Thomas Vanek found the right fit in his new No. 26 Wild sweater and a three-year, $19.5 million contract.

  • Thomas Vanek has 277 goals over nine NHL seasons. “The things he does well are things that we need,” GM Chuck Fletcher said.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland 2 Top 11th Inning
Kansas City 1
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs 1 Bottom 8th Inning
St. Louis 9
Los Angeles 1 Bottom 8th Inning
San Diego 1
Milwaukee 0 Top 7th Inning
San Francisco 3
Oakland 0 Bottom 6th Inning
LA Angels 2
Washington 3 Top 7th Inning
Seattle 0
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 4th Qtr 3:32
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 27 4th Qtr 9:45
Oklahoma State 24
(14) Wisconsin 17 3rd Qtr
(13) LSU 7
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 3 1st Qtr 4:30
(3) Oregon 14
(25) Washington 0 1st Qtr 2:45
Hawaii 10
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 0 1st Half 25:00
San Jose 1
Portland 0 1st Half 25:00
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close