BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Wild cut ties with Thomas Vanek only two years after the former Gophers star turned down long-term, mega-million dollar offers from other clubs to sign a three-year deal in the place he calls home.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher delivered Vanek the news Friday that he would be bought out of the final year of his contract to create $5 million more in salary cap space this offseason.
Vanek, 32, was disappointed. He believed that new coach Bruce Boudreau’s coaching style would fit him better.
“But overall in my two years, I’m grateful I got the chance to play for the Wild. It was a dream of mine,” Vanek said. “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. Now it has roughly $14 million to make potential trades or pursue free agents. 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.
“That was the easiest way for us to get the space we feel we need to move forward this summer,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher didn’t have to pull the trigger Friday. He did so as a courtesy so the veteran can begin talking to other teams when the free-agent courting period starts Saturday. Vanek is free to sign with any team in the league other than the Wild starting Friday.
Vanek reportedly turned down a seven-year, $50 million contract with the Islanders to sign in Minnesota. Asked if he had regrets, Vanek laughed.
“It’s always easy to look back, but at the end, no, I don’t. I really don’t,” Vanek said. “I wanted to play here. Even though I’m not from here, I call this place home. Minnesota’s close to my heart.”
Vanek scored 39 goals and had 93 points in 154 games for the Wild. This past season, Vanek, after coming back from serious abdominal surgery last June, scored a career-low 18 goals in 74 games last season. His 41 points were the lowest of any non-lockout season despite 10 goals and nine assists in the first 22 games.
He missed four of the last five regular-season games and the playoffs with broken and displaced ribs, he said.
Asked if he regretted the signing, Fletcher said, “No, you can’t look back. Thomas tried hard and we made the best decision we could at the time. Sometimes things don’t work out. … We had a difficult time finding the right role for him and his talents, and he didn’t seem to find the right chemistry with some of our top players … Economics were a huge part of this decision.”
Vanek is looking forward to free agency. He’ll likely have to sign a one- or two-year deal.
“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.
• The Wild tendered qualifying offers to at least restricted free agents Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Darcy Kuemper, Tyler Graovac, Jordan Schroeder and Zac Dalpe. But it has not confirmed yet what other minor leaguers it retained the rights for. It has definitely cut loose 2010 second-round pick Brett Bulmer and 2012 second-round pick Raphael Bussieres.
• Assistant GM Brent Flahr is going through the process of hiring an assistant coach for Iowa.
• The Wild’s development camp will be July 12-17. The camp will be run by Brad Bombardir and Richard Park.
• Flahr said defenseman Gustav Olofsson, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, is ahead of schedule with his rehab and will be ready by training camp.