Call of the Wilde: Is Vanek worth eight years?
Thomas Vanek is Montreal's newest Canadien.
By Brian Wilde, OPINION, CTV Montreal
Published Wednesday, March 19, 2014 1:50PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 19, 2014 3:01PM EDT
The popular consensus in Montreal is that all that stops Thomas Vanek from being a Montreal Canadiens player after July 1st is the will of Thomas Vanek.
It seems Habs fans believe it is absolutely ludicrous to think Marc Bergevin would not go after this sniper and sign him up long-term now that he is here and enjoying the roar of the Montreal crowd and the beauty of the most cosmopolitan city in North America.
Allow me to flip the coin over and see this from the other side for a second because this one isn’t as black and white as it seems to everyone.
Thomas Vanek is a great hockey player. He’s the kind of hockey player that every team needs. An absolutely rock solid goal scorer who no matter what the environment just seems to add a healthy total to his career stats year after year after year.
Not only that. He’s no Alexander Ovechkin kind of offensive goal scorer. Ovechkin has the second worst plus minus in the NHL while he is notching his 46 goals so far this season, but when you’re minus 31 too, you wonder how high the actually upside is.
Of course, you want an Ovechkin on your team, but that minus 31, that’s a lot of 5 on 5 goals in the red column.
Not Vanek. He’s a goal scorer who has been on two of the poorest teams in the league this year in the Islanders and the Sabres.
In fact, the worst the Sabres were this year was at the beginning of the season when Vanek was there.
He also saw the Islanders go through a pretty horrific patch as well.
Somehow through all of that, Vanek stayed around a plus player or dipped to a minus one or two. This is simply excellent and shocking.
Plus/minus is starting to get the overall egg on its face as a stat in the last year or two because of Advanced Stats Analytics, but it’s still not a bad number to judge.
The best in hockey history at plus/minus was Bobby Orr who one season was around a plus 120.
Vanek is a good plus/minus player indicating he’s a responsible player and he scores goals too.
Unrestricted Free Agent
Habs GM Marc Bergevin also has one other detail going for him that could be essential in signing the unrestricted free agent.
Vanek told Alyson Lozoff in a one-on-one interview this week for Sportsnet that he has thought of this contract as his one big contract and he was going to, in all likelihood, test the market for it.
But consider this: there’s only one team that can offer Vanek an 8th year. Only one.
All other teams that make Vanek an offer must stop at the mandated 7-year contract offer according to the CBA.
Bergevin can promise him an 8th season of giant money coming his way.
So what’s the problem you’re asking, because this sounds like a no-brainer:
- He’s a goal scorer. Always has been.
- He plays well at both ends of the ice.
- He likes it here it seems and he is succeeding here.
- He thinks of this as his one chance to gain huge dollars and he can only get an 8th guaranteed season with huge dollars here.
So…. Show him the money!!
Here’s the rub. Here’s where we turn that coin over and contemplate for just a second if this player is worth that windfall.
If the guaranteed investment is a guarantee...
Thomas Vanek is 30-years-old. For the Habs to win him over and get him to commit before July 1st, they’ll need to put that cherry on the top of the money sundae and offer up an 8-year commitment.
Vanek will be 38 when the contract ends.
You know there’s a desperate team out there dying to make a splash at UFA Day 1 that will sign Vanek until he is 37.
What is this player going to look like at 37 or 38?
It’s one thing to offer the 24-year-old PK Subban 8 seasons, he will still be gold at the end of the contract.
It’s quite another to offer a 30-year-old 8 years, but you have to know that’s what it is going to take.
It’s the Habs' only advantage here.
The quotes this week about testing the market tell you that Vanek has been planning this Freedom Day a long time.
He’s not staying just because he’s here already.
It doesn’t work like that.
He stays because it makes sense financially.
It’s the 8th season, Man! That’s what counts!
Will Vanek Be Stellar At 35 Or Older?
Bottom line for Bergevin in deciding is what does Vanek look like at 35, and 36 and 37 and 38.
When will age creep in to his game? When do the legs go? When do the hands fail? Is he slowing down already?
Let’s pro-rate it and see:
- 2007 – 43 goals
- 2008 – 36 goals
- 2009 – 40 goals
- 2010 – 28 goals
- 2011 – 32 goals
- 2012 – 26 goals
- 2013 – 42 goals (lockout year computed pro-rated)
- 2014 – 29 goals (pro-rated to conclude this season)
There’s a drop this season, but trading a player and creating an instability in two new locations is likely a cause.
Statistically, I don’t see a player slowing down yet.
Pro-rated in the lockout year he would have been close to a career high.
Watch the player's play too, don’t rely on the stats, and you don’t see Vanek slowing down at all.
He’s strong on his skates. A moose to take off the puck. Stands around still in the dirty zones. Passes way better than I thought he could. Has no injury history or concussion history on his docket.
Most he ever missed games-wise in a season was 11 games in 2010.
So why wouldn’t you sign him for 8 years?
The only answer is the law of averages.
That’s the only reason to flip the coin over and wonder if it is a bad move.
The law of averages state that very few players are the same at 38 as they are at 30. Even 34 brings on significant change in the production of a player.
If Vanek performed to an NHL player’s mean average, the drop off in his numbers would be significant by 36.
The Bottom Line
I say roll the dice on this player.
Don’t worry about the 35 and 36 now. Just throw the 8 years at this player and worry about the diminished skills bridge when you come to it.
Be smart perhaps and pull an Erik Cole trade if you’re the first to see the skills diminish down the line.
For now, just enjoy that he has the skill set and he’s the exact type of player the Habs need.
Throw the 8 years at him as only you can Marc Bergevin.
He has a cap hit of $7.1 million right now.
It’s going to take $8 to $8.5 million to secure him per season.
Maybe even $9 million to be honest.
Throw the 8th year at him.
Let him think of that guaranteed extra $8 to $9 million that he might not even be close to meriting in his own mind knowing at 37, he may not be worth $2 million anymore if he ages poorly.
Trust me, he’ll think about that on July 1st – that money he can earn at 37 when he is 37 or the guarantee of it right now.
Guaranteed money, Thomas. Right here. $8.5 million right here and only here in Montreal.
Take it Thomas. You know you want it. You’re already here.
The fans love you. They chant your name: VAN-EK, VAN-EK, VAN-EK.
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