Signing Vanek: Montreal Canadiens vs. Minnesota Wild

Richard Wolowicz

The Montreal Canadiens acquired a scoring winger in Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline from the New York Islanders. Vanek is in the last year of his current contract and will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. There are some claims in the media that he would like to play for the Minnesota Wild next season. Below I will look at the financial ability of each team to sign him to a contract for next season.

Please keep in mind I am much less familiar with the players of the Minnesota Wild than I am with those of the Canadiens when reading any analysis of talent or priority of player signings. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a different opinion on anything stated here.

2014-'15 Salary Cap Projections

The visualizations below use salary cap data obtained from CapGeek. They were calculated using a salary cap of $69.5 million, which is about halfway between the $71.1 million projected early in the 2013-'14 season and the $68 million minimum projected at the trade deadline.

Montreal Canadiens

A public Google spreadsheet containing the cap info and the chart this visualization is based upon is available here.

The Montreal Canadiens' projected roster includes two goaltenders, four defensemen, and 10 forwards. However, they have two key defensemen currently approaching free agency in Andrei Markov (unrestricted) and the Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban (restricted). These two players combined will command a large portion of the cap space available for next season.

Assuming both of those defensemen are re-signed, the remaining cap space will need to be distributed among five additional players to fill out the 23-man roster.

Other key players on the current roster but not signed for further seasons include centres Lars Eller and Ryan White and winger and captain Brian Gionta, and also AHL forward Louis Leblanc who is currently in the last year of his entry level deal.

Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild have the majority of their goaltending and defense corps already under contract for next season, including Jonas Brodin who will be on the last year of an entry level deal. Their forward positions, however, are a bit less secure, as they are currently filling out that aspect of their roster with five entry level players--two of whom have contracts that expire in July. On the other hand they have top six forwards Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville locked in to long-term deals, albeit very expensive ones; all three have cap hits higher than the largest for a forward on the Montreal Canadiens' projected roster.

2014-'15 Salary Cap Projections including Thomas Vanek

I saw Andrew Berkshire suggested Vanek would be seeking a contract in the range of seven years at $7 million per season. I will include that in the 2014-'15 cap projections for each team below to see how that affects the cap manoeuvrability of each team.

Montreal Canadiens (w/ Vanek)

You can see that signing Vanek leaves about one-quarter of the available cap space for the Montreal Canadiens to play with (again, using a projection of $69.5 million). Although, as mentioned above they have some work to do in signing their top-two defensive pairing of Subban and Markov. That would leave very little to spend on re-signing Lars Eller and filling out the roster with depth players, although it could, just, be achieved. It would probably mean having to part ways with captain Gionta.

The most helpful characteristic of the roster that could allow for the signing of Vanek is the abundance of cheap, early-career deals for players like Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Nathan Beaulieu.

Minnesota Wild (w/ Vanek)

Like the Canadiens, Minnesota could take advantage of their cheap entry-level deals to sign Vanek. Having Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin on the roster for less that $2 million of cap space combined is a big reason why Vanek could fit with the Wild next season.

2015-'16 Salary Cap Projections including Thomas Vanek

These projections were also done using a salary cap of $69.5 million.

As we saw in the analysis for the previous season, having players in the last year of cheap entry-level deals is making it possible for both teams to squeeze the potential cap hit of Thomas Vanek into their lineup. Below we will see if that is still possible when those players demand bigger cages.

Montreal Canadiens (w/ Vanek)

As you can see, with Vanek signed to a contract, the Canadiens would already have a significant chunk of their alloted funds tied up for the 2015-'16 season. That doesn't include the deals they will have to have had in place the previous season for Subban, Markov, and possibly Eller and White. Also due at this point are new deals for future top-four defensemen Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, as well as forwards Galchenyuk, Gallagher, and Michael Bournival. It appears nearly impossible to make a Vanek deal work for the Canadiens when faced with those demands, especially when so much money is being tied up in less-effective players like Alexei Emelin and Rene Bourque. Some trades would need to be made before the start of the 2015-'16 season, and perhaps with fewer years left on their contracts, some of those players will be more attractive (or, perhaps just less unattractive) to potential suitors.

Minnesota Wild (w/ Vanek)

That's a lot of cap space taken up by eight players. Just at the forward position, Parise, Vanek, Koivu, and Pominville would occupy approximately 40% of the available space for the entire 23-man roster. That doesn't include Ryan Suter's contract, either. Minnesota would also need to have new deals for Brodin, Granlund, and some of the other players with cheap contracts that had been used to the Wild's advantage in the previous season. The Minnesota would find it even more difficult to sign Vanek than the Canadiens given the circumstances that face them in the 2015-'16 season, and making room via trade would mean shipping out a player worth a lot of money for a long time.

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