After months of speculation, the Wild plans to move on without veteran winger Thomas Vanek.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher informed Vanek's camp of the decision today to buy out the final year of his contract. Vanek will become a free agent next Friday.
"I'm very disappointed, especially with the new staff and Coach [Bruce] Boudreau's style, I think it would fit my game a lot better, but at the end of the day, that's the business we signed up for," Vanek said. "But overall in my two years, I'm grateful I got the chance to play for the Wild. It was a dream of mine.
"Before I was a free agent, I had a couple offers. But I wanted to come here and see if we can make it work. It just never panned out the way we both envisioned, and now here we are."
This was a business decision. The Wild had $9 million in salary cap space. Buying out Vanek provides the Wild another $5 million cushion to do other business like potential trades during draft weekend or free agency.
"In order to give our team more salary cap flexibility we needed to make this difficult decision," Fletcher said. “We thank Thomas for his time with the Minnesota Wild and wish him the best going forward.”
Asked if he regretted the decision to sign in Minnesota, Vanek laughed.
"It's always easy to look back, but at the end, no, I don't. I really don't," Vanek, who hails from Austria, said. "I wanted to play here. Even though I'm not from here, I call this place home. Minnesota's close to my heart. This is something I wanted to do and I wanted to try out. I had my doubts. Is it the right fit, the right system? But it was a dream of mine to come back to the State of Hockey and to fulfill that, but obviously it finished not the way I was hoping it to."
Vanek, 32, who scored 21 goals and 52 points during his first season with the Wild, scored a career-low 18 goals in 74 games last season. 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.
He missed four of the last five regular-season games and the playoffs with broken and displaced ribs, he said.
The Wild had roughly $64 million committed to 15 players next season. There are 23 players on a roster and next year’s salary cap has been slated at $73 million. That only left about $9 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.
Buying out Vanek costs $2.5 million in each of the next two years in real dollars, but his $6.5 million cap hit will be reduced to $1.5 million this year and $2.5 million next year.
Vanek is looking forward to free agency.
"As long as I can believe in myself, like I do, I've been working hard already and I feel good. I think I can score 25, 30 goals in the right situation," Vanek said. "As disappointing as this is, especially in the family front -- my boys aren't going to be too happy we're moving again; they'll get new jerseys, so they'll be excited there (laughs).
"Right now the focus is to have [agent] Steve [Bartlett] go to work and find the right fit."