UFA Profile: Thomas Vanek can provide cheap depth scoring

I think we know by this point that the Oilers aren’t going to be making a big free agent splash. I’ve written about ideal free agent signings like James Neal and John Carlson, but there’s no way the Oilers will be able to fit them under the salary cap this summer. Instead, the Oilers will likely be adding some under-the-radar players to plug into their roster as effective depth pieces.

At the top of that list should be Thomas Vanek. The Oilers need a winger who can score goals and somebody who can pull the trigger on the power play. Vanek, though far from perfect, is a right-handed left winger knows how to put the puck in the back of the net.

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Who is Thomas Vanek?

The Oilers signed Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet back in 2007. At the time, Vanek, who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres fifth overall in 2003, was breaking out as one of the league’s best young scorers. Buffalo would ultimately match the offer and the Oilers would instead go on to sign Dustin Penner to an offer sheet that caused a huge fiasco between Kevin Lowe and Brian Burke. 

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It’s funny to think about what would have happened had Buffalo let Vanek go to the Oilers. Edmonton would have given up four first-round picks in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Those picks were used on Tyler Myers, Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Maybe Vanek would have pushed the Oilers over the top and brought them back into the playoffs in 2007-08 after a disappointing post-Cup run season, but it’s hard to imagine giving up four first rounders for a guy not being a disaster.

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Anyways, Vanek stuck in Buffalo for a few years before beginning a very strange tour around the league in 2013. The Islanders, who thought they were all in, dealt Matt Moulson, a first, and a second for Vanek. He played with the Islanders for 47 games before they decided they weren’t all in and dealt him to the Canadiens for Sebastian Collberg and a second round pick.

He signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent, got bought out after two years, signed with Detroit, got dealt to Florida at the deadline, signed with Vancouver, and got dealt to Columbus at the deadline.

All told, Vanek has played for eight NHL teams over the course of 13 seasons. He’s scored 357 goals and put up 396 assists over 965 games. Most recently, he put up a 24-goal season between Columbus and Vancouver which indicates that the 34-year-old can still hack it at the NHL level if used properly.

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Does he fit on the Oilers?

The Oilers badly need wingers who can score goals so Vanek is an ideal fit for the team.

As of right now, Edmonton is rolling into the off-season with left wing depth consisting of… Milan Lucic, Pontus Aberg, Drake Caggiula, and JJ Khaira. There’s also Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl who played left wing with Connor McDavid on the team’s top line at different points last season. Regardless, it’s very well known that the Oilers don’t have much on the wings right now.

Last season, only three players on the team scored more than 20 goals. McDavid had 41, Draisait had 25, and Nugent-Hopkins had 24. After that, the drop was massive. Patrick Maroon finished fourth on the team in goals with 14.

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Vanek obviously isn’t perfect. He’s a trainwreck in his own end, his skating isn’t all that good, he’s notoriously streaky, and he disappears in the playoffs. Still, he does one thing really well and that’s score goals. The Oilers don’t have very many guys who can do that right now beyond their core three forwards. I absolutely wouldn’t invest more than one year in Vanek, but a cheap, one-year deal in the $2.5 million range (he made $2 million with the Canucks last year coming off of a 17-goal season between Florida and Detroit) would make the team better right now.


UFA Profile: John Carlson

UFA Profile: James van Riemsdyk

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UFA Profile: Mike Green

UFA Profile: James Neal


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  • IceMan11

    Why would we want a guy that we think can help get us to the playoffs if, as you said, he “disappears in the playoffs”?
    I would say No Thanks!!
    Why not pursue acquiring Jeff Skinner? Solid goal scorer and better all around player.

      • crabman

        Vanek might not get a raise. But considering the lack of 2nd tier scoring forwards on this year’s UFA group, his 7 more goals and 8 more points this year I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a raise. 24g and 56 points is still pretty good production. I would be over the moon if he put up those numbers for the Oilers at $2.5M×1

    • crabman

      The cost to acquire Skinner plus his cap hit compared to signing Vanek for nothing but money is probably a big reason.
      Trade assets we really can’t afford for 1 year of Skinner seems a bit short sighted to me. Unless the Oilers can turn things around and be a cup contender next year I wouldn’t go all in on a potential rental like Skinner.

    • Can't Fix Stupid

      At least we can talk about players who have disappeared in the playoffs instead of players that didn’t get the team into the playoffs. David Perron scores 66 points in the regular season and now has a missing persons file since the Knights have been in the playoffs. At least they are talking about playoffs in Vegas still instead of draft picks. Amirite?

    • Big Nuggets

      We would have to give uo a ton of assets for 1 year of Skinner after which he will be too expensive to resign. Not to mention we would need to shed salary just to fit him in next year which if you have noticed there aren’t any easy ways of doing this offseason.

  • TKB2677

    So he disappears in the playoffs.
    He’s 34, going to be 35 next season.
    Terrible in his own zone.
    He’s a streaky scorer.
    In a league that is getting faster yearly. His skating is already lousy. Players typically slow down as they get older especially once they are well into their 30’s so chances are his skating will be slightly worse next season.
    If you look at his stats, he’s coming off his BEST season offensively in 4 years. So that means he probably will get a little more money than he should because most UFA’s always get paid more than they should.

    So someone explain to me why the Oilers should rush to sign him again?

    If it’s the end of August and he’s still sitting there waiting and getting desperate just to find a job, then sure. But I wouldn’t sign this guy until the last minute.

  • Etown

    If the cap goes to $80 million and somehow we managed to get Looch’s 6 off the books, we should be going for Carlson. It’s a stretch but man wouldn’t he look good back on our blue line! Vanek at $1.5 would be acceptable.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    I try a 1 year, 1Mil Vrbata type deal with bonus’ on production.
    Bonus being, resign 1 year, if he reaches a set-point.
    This guy is looking for some stability, he’d have to earn it year over year.
    History shows at his age, he will regress. He reminds me of Vrbata, so pay him as such…

    • crabman

      The $1M Vrbata deal was performance bonus heavy. A performance bonus can only be added to an ELC or am over 35 contract. Vanek will be 34 at time of signing. performance bonuses are not an option. And if the bonus you suggest, a new contract based on reaching performance goals this year, is actually something the Oilers can do why would Vanek sign such a deal. $1M this year with the cance at another deal next year if he does well? why not take the $2.5M×1 this year and get another contract with someone else next year if you do well. Guaranteed money.

  • Vanek was very good in Van.

    The article makes it sound like Oilers are doing Vanek a favor by offering him a deal. I think Thomas will receive several good offers and I hope one is from the Vancouver Canucks. I agree Oilers need him , but I think he”ll pick another city. I know I would.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I remain firmly of the position that the Oilers cannot commit any material cap with term to a top 6 winger. Subject to actually being able to dispose of Lucic without taking a bad conract back, our cap strucutre will require young graduating prospect to play roles in the top 6 – young talented forwards can produce in the current NHL very young, in particular when getting to play with the likes of McDavid or Draisaitl.

    WIth that said, we have a year or two until the prospect train will be ready to deliver and a one-year stop gap winger would be great. I wanted Vanek for this role last year and I would love him this year.

    Problem is he had a very good season last year, production wise, and will likely require close to $4M, which we cannot afford, and likely wants a couple years of term, which we can’t give.

    Essentially, I think Vanek will price himself out of Edmonton.

    As an aside, he has been given some of the softest minutes in the NHL – not sure if we are able to hide him in the same way if he did sign.

  • bwar

    Also good to note that Vanek used to play hockey in Alberta and would have lots of connections here. Could be a selling point to get him to sign here. I’d love to see Vanek in an Oiler’s jersey but it would have to be on a pretty meagre deal.

  • OilerForLife

    I don’t think Vanek is the answer. Being traded that abruptly and often isn’t a very good sign. Something doesn’t seem right, and gut feeling tells me this would be a bad signing.

    • crabman

      I know the goal every year is to win the cup but who honestly thinks the Oilers will be cup contenders next year? This is why I would be fine with Vanek as long as it’s a 1 year deal. He is better than the majority of the wingers we have right now. Could score 15-24 goals and help the pp. It would be a placeholder signing. Unless the Oilers make some big moves Vanek is probably the best player they can afford. He will either help them back to the playoffs or be dealt out at the deadline for a pick of a prospect. It’s a low risk low reward type of signing.

  • Canuck fan chiming in. Vanek has made so much money on buy-outs, he doesn’t need a big contract. But what he will demand is a NTC/NMC for family stability. Vanek surpassed all expectations given he was a September UFA signing. He scores some good goals and was a surprisingly good playmaker. The breakaway slapshots alone were worth the price of admission.

    Would the Canucks have him back? No but that’s not a reflection on Vanek but more about giving ice-time to our younger players. Chiarelli could easily get some cheap regular season goals if he offered a 1 year deal with NTC/NMC. Definitely not a long-term solution nor a complete player as others have already pointed out but if you’ve got some cap space and a free roster spot in September, can’t hurt to roll the dice.