Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s Detroit Red Wings Daily Player Previews. In this series, we will be taking a look at who the team rolled out last season, players they acquired in the offseason, and other prospects to look out for while looking at how they all shape up for the upcoming ’16-17 season. We left off at Justin Abdelkader. Today, it’s one of the more intriguing pick-ups for Detroit, forward Thomas Vanek.
Left Wing, 32 years old
Signed for one year, $2.6 million AAV (from Wild)
74 games played (seven seasons of 78+ games played)
146 shots (career-low)
22 penalty minutes
47.4% Corsi-for percentage (-0.4 relative)
Lowest TOI since rookie season in ’05-06 (14:44)
Power Play TOI:
192:06 (fifth on Wild, 16th among NHL left wingers in Western Conference)
Six power play goals (third on Wild), 14 power play points (fourth)
Penalty Kill TOI:
Shots on goal and TOI decrease last three seasons (played 74+ games in each):
What to make of this deal? For starters, it’s a low-risk, possibly high reward type deal for a player looking to prove his worth again in the NHL. Sounds like another certain KHL returnee. A member of the 300-goal club, Vanek opened his career in Buffalo after the lockout and proceeded to score 32+ goals in four of his first six years in the league. Though this stretch from ’05-11, he had 86 power play tallies, good for 5th among NHL forwards in that span. His overall point production was consistently solid as well since his sophomore campaign in 2006-07, as from that season to 2013-14, the Vienna, Austria native scored 25+ goals seven times and 60+ points six of seven possible full 82-game seasons. However, in a league that’s getting faster and in a business of “what have you done for me lately?” Vanek has entered a bit of a decline as evidenced by his time on ice and shots on goal decrease the past three seasons.
The former 5th overall pick’s goal and point totals tell the story, going from 27 markers and 68 points in ’13-14 to just 18 and 41 with the Wild last season. That included a career-low five power play tallies in ’14-15. To his defense, the Wild system and identity were quite inconsistent as seen with the past two seasons, needing a hot goalie with Devan Dubnyk in ’14-15 and a coaching change with John Torchetti last season to make runs into the playoffs. The same could be said for Detroit, but going from the experienced, defensive sternness of Mike Babcock to the active offensive awareness of a rookie head coach in Jeff Blashill can take some adjustment after being used to one system for a decade.
Torchetti will now serve as the power play and forwards coach for Detroit, which makes the transition favorable for Vanek, who is regarded as a power play specialist. He only saw 20 games under the interim coach due to an upper body injury that turned out to be broken and displaced ribs, but it is valuable to have some idea on how he could fit in on Detroit’s man advantage, which needs an experienced sniper who can also be a net front presence at 6’2″ and 214 pounds.
Vanek at even strength is nothing special, as he’s posted a positive Corsi-relative ratio just once in his career (2010-11, +2.9). Time will tell if he’ll be able to improve upon that in Jeff Blashill’s system, but I’d expect him to be a primary special teams contributor. On a team full of playmakers (Detroit had just two 20-goal scorers last season) and the way his shot totals have declined, the mentality for this season has to be shoot-first. The Red Wings brought him in for his ability to put the puck in the net, and the challenge for Torchetti and Blashill will be to put him in positions to succeed on a team that has an overflow of forwards.
The former Golden Gopher did not require surgery on his ribs and will be competing in the World Cup of Hockey for Team Austria. Getting into game shape early on will be important for Vanek in starting off on the right foot. I personally thought this was the most intriguing deal Detroit made on July 1st and I’m eager to see how Vanek will fit in as a top-nine contributor. If he’s motivated to play for a bigger contract and rekindle the fire of his heyday, this could be a pretty big get for Detroit. If not, it’s a one-year deal with no harm done.
All analysis aside, him wearing #62 will look pretty odd though, won’t it?
79 games played
36 penalty minutes
51.2% Corsi-for percentage
8 power play goals
18 power play points
Stay tuned for tomorrow as we head into Day 4 with Darren Helm.