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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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