VANCOUVER, British Columbia _There was not as much interest in Thomas Vanek as the Detroit Red Wings hoped for, but ultimately the decision was made to cash him in for the best offer.
The Wings sent Vanek to Florida today for a conditional third-round draft pick in 2017 and a depth defenseman in Dylan McIlrath. The Wings retain 50% of Vanek’s $2.6 million salary, but if the Panthers make the playoffs, the pick becomes the one the Panthers hold from a trade with Arizona, which would be considerably higher.
“I worked the phones, I got the most that I can,” general manager Ken Holland told the Free Press. “Every deal I made over the last week, that is the best I could do, the best that was out there.”
Vanek is the fourth Wings player traded leading up to today’s NHL trade deadline. On Tuesday, the Red Wings traded Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers for a third-rounder this year and a second-rounder in 2018. They also traded Steve Ott to the Montreal Canadiens for a sixth-round pick in 2018. Last week, Tomas Jurco was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-rounder this year. The Wings also have the Toronto Maple Leafs’ third-round pick this year, as compensation for coach Mike Babcock.
The Wings are looking to rejuvenate after 25 seasons of making the playoffs also meant 25 seasons of never getting a high-end pick.
“We’ve been either stand-pat or buyers this time of year,” Holland said. “This year, given where we are in the standings, we had a number of unrestricted free agents, and we decided to geet as many picks as possible.
“We’ve got lots of picks now, and that gives us an opportunity to either select players in the draft, and it gives us opportunities on the trade front. People say not a great draft, but there are always players in every draft who find their way to NHL. It’s better options.”
As good as Vanek, 33, has been this season with the Wings (15 goals and 38 points in 48 games) he does not have much playoff history: 20 goals, 34 points in 63 games.
Vanek’s departure leaves the Wings without their most creative player, but the harsh reality is that with the Wings out of the playoff picture, they are better off losing down the stretch in order to gain as favorable odds as possible in the draft lottery.
“We cashed in our unrestricted for picks this year,” Holland said. “Our plan this summer is to make some tweaks and be back in the mix next year. We have some good pieces, some good players, but our record at this point is disappointing.”
As it became clear in February that the playoffs are out of reach, it made sense to trade Vanek for future assets, with an eye on bringing him back this summer. The Wings took a chance on him last summer after he was bought out by the Minnesota Wild, signing him for one year at $2.6 million. He delivered far more than hoped for.
In addition to high hockey IQ, Vanek holds himself accountable. He makes teammates better – remember how good the Gustav Nyquist, Darren Helm and Vanek line at the start of the season? It went downhill once Vanek got hurt. During the second half, Vanek has had great chemistry with Frans Nielsen and Andreas Athanasiou.
The Wings would still like to re-sign Vanek, but he is certain to test the market on July 1.
“I thanked him for his professionalism, thanked him for his high level of play,” Holland said. But we are disappointed we are not in the mix for a playoff spot and had to make some decisions.”