Sunday NHL Insider: Throwing cold water on Vanek-to-Wild talk

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2013 - 8:11 AM

Remember all the talk of Thomas Vanek’s return? Well, hold off on that.

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Former Gophers standout Thomas Vanek was traded by the Sabres, but not to the Wild — rather, he was dealt to the Islanders, for Matt Moulson and a pair of draft picks.

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When Thomas Vanek was traded to the Islanders last Sunday night for the hefty price of Matt Moulson and a first- and second-round pick, my TweetDeck looked like the “Price is Right” wheel. Frantic questions propelled in from Wild fans:

 

Q: Why didn’t the Wild trade for Vanek?

A: 1) Like the majority of teams in this salary-cap gridlocked league, the Wild currently doesn’t have the cap room; 2) Why would the Wild trade for someone it could potentially sign next summer anyway? 3) The Wild already sent Buffalo prospects Matt Hackett and Johan Larsson and a first- and second-round pick for Jason Pominville in April. Do you really want the Wild to singlehandedly stock the Sabres’ prospect pool?

 

Q: The Vanek trade has to come with a contract extension, right?

A: 1) No. 2) Yes, the Islanders really are that crazy.

 

Q: Shouldn’t the Islanders have traded for Sabres goalie Ryan Miller instead since goal-scoring isn’t their problem and stopping the puck is?

A: 1) Yes. 2) Yes, I already told you, the Islanders really are that crazy.

 

Q: Does this ruin the Wild’s chance of signing Vanek next summer?

A:It was by the 50th one of these Twitter questions that I realized we might have allowed the Vanek-to-Minnesota-in-2014 conjecture run a wee bit out of control.

In a large way, the media (OK, me) is to blame for this Vanek frenzy because we have talked incessantly about the Austrian sniper being destined for Minnesota in the same realm as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter coming to the Wild in 2012.

We have written about Vanek in the newspaper and blogs, talked about him on radio and TV. We’ve talked about the link with Pominville, Vanek’s buddy and linemate in Buffalo. We’ve reminded how Vanek starred at the U and trains at Mariucci during the summer. We’ve talked about how Vanek lives in Stillwater, and who wouldn’t want to raise their three boys in this wonderful state?

Plus, Vanek loves walleye and chicken wild rice soup. (OK, I made that up. But, it’s probably true).

We’ve even thrown out the price tag of what it would likely cost the Wild to sign Vanek — roughly six years, $40 million. The Wild would have that room next summer thanks to Dany Heatley’s $7.5 million conveniently coming off the books.

And we’ve pointed out over and over that the offensively impoverished Wild still lacks a pure goal scorer like Vanek, whose 254 goals since the start of 2005-06 are seventh-most in the NHL over that stretch.

What we haven’t considered — and what Wild fans probably should in order to temper expectations and potentially disappointment — is the Wild may analyze over the next eight months that its available money would best be spent elsewhere.

It looks like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund have what it takes to develop into top-six forwards. The art of finishing may not consistently come this season. But it should with time. Plus, in the minors and colleges, the Wild has other skilled forwards developing.

If the Wild adds Vanek, who turns 30 in January, to a corps that already includes Parise, Pominville and Mikko Koivu, that would be four 30-(or soon-to-be-30-) something top-6 forwards committed long-term.

The Wild could conceivably block out some of its promising kids.

I’m not saying the Wild couldn’t use Vanek. I’m saying if Coyle, Niederreiter, Granlund and others look like the real deal and the Wild finds holes elsewhere (maybe goaltending or a bruising blue-liner), the Wild might pass on Vanek and address those areas.

A month ago, I believed there was no doubt the Wild would pursue Vanek. Now, I wonder.

Maybe it still happens. But there’s a long time between Nov. 3 and July 1, and in the NHL, things change on the fly.

NHL Short Takes

Gaborik job evaluation

The Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t had any contract talks regarding an extension for former Wild forward Marian Gaborik.

“I’d like to see him taking charge, driving the team with his example — not only with the points but with everything else he does,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch. “I want to believe that even a 30-year-old or a 35-year-old player can get better, and that’s one area that I want to see more from him.

“I always say to players: Leave a legacy behind you as a great teammate, a great leader, a great example. Those are the areas he can do a lot more in, and I think he wants to, too. But if you want to be a leader, you have to do it every day.”

Introducing …

Alex Ovechkin, who has scored 31 percent of Washington’s goals, is out with what’s said to be a minor shoulder injury.

He’ll be replaced on the power play by … Eric Fehr.

“I don’t think they’ll be covering me quite as closely as they cover Ovi,” Fehr said.

He’s not Thor

Dynamic Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, the Norris Trophy winner two years ago, is upset the Ottawa media have been criticizing his defensive game.

“You guys have lifted up the expectations pretty high,” he said. “You talk about me like I’m some kind of … god or something. It’s not easy to live up to that.”

Wild’s Week Ahead

Sunday: vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Tuesday: vs. Calgary, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Thursday: at Washington, 6 p.m. (FSN)

Saturday: at Carolina, 6 p.m. (FSN)

Player to watch:

Marek Zidlicky, Devils

The Defenseman will play his first game against the Wild since demanding to be traded in 2011. Seventeen of his 25 goals with the Wild were on the power play, and his 123 points are third among defensemen.

Voices

“I wasn’t overly surprised. We weren’t finishing.” — Wild winger
Zach Parise on being separated from center and linemate Mikko Koivu.

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