With the free-agent market set to open Tuesday at 11 a.m., pending free agent Thomas Vanek met with Wild coach Mike Yeo late Sunday. General Manager Chuck Fletcher was not expected to be at the meeting.
For more than a year, Vanek has seemed destined to sign with the Wild. The 30-year-old former Gophers star turned down lucrative long-term contracts last season with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders in order to become a free agent.
However, the Wild appears set to offer Vanek only a short-term contract, so he likely will have a tough decision to make Tuesday because it’s expected that he’ll have the chance to sign longer-term deals for more money with other teams.
The objective for Sunday’s meeting was for Yeo to talk to Vanek about his potential fit and role, the Wild’s system and what would be expected from Vanek if he were to sign in Minnesota. The Wild’s identity late in the season and in the playoffs was as a hardworking team that played as five-man units in all three zones, and the Wild wants to make certain Vanek would fit into that seamlessly.
The Wild ranked 24th offensively in the NHL last season, and Vanek’s 277 goals are the eighth-most in the NHL since 2005-06. So he is the type of scorer who could help a team in need of more offense.
The Austrian-born Vanek, who lives in Stillwater, scored 57 goals and 113 points in 83 games over two years for the Gophers. He led the team in scoring twice, was a WCHA Rookie of the Year, and his 31 goals as a freshman are second in school history. As a freshman in 2003, he was the Frozen Four MVP, beating Michigan in overtime in the semifinals and scoring the winning goal in the national championship game against New Hampshire.
The Wild also has showed significant interest in future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla since the free-agency interview period opened Wednesday. Iginla, who has scored 460 goals and 1,167 points in 1,310 career games, scored 30 goals for the Bruins last season. He is hoping to return, but he is expected to become a free agent Tuesday — the day he turns 37.
The only question is if Vanek/Iginla is an either/or proposition for the Wild to offer contracts or if there’s room for both.
The Wild will be looking for a defenseman to replace free agent Clayton Stoner. Some defensemen available will include Willie Mitchell and Anton Stralman. The top free-agent defenseman on the market will be Matt Niskanen, who had 46 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. But he is seeking a seven-year contract at more than $6 million annually. Fletcher has said he is hesitant to sign players to “super-long” contracts.