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2013-14 Canadiens Season Review: Thomas Vanek

To start the season review, we're going to go over the players the Canadiens moved on from, starting with Thomas Vanek.

Bruce Bennett

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After a disappointing playoffs that ended with Thomas Vanek blaming his linemates instead of owning up to his lack of effort, his leaving has come as a nearly welcome event in Montreal. He became an easy target in a city that likes taking potshots, when not many players were opening themselves up to criticism during a great playoff run. The truth of the matter though, is that Vanek came as advertised.

When Vanek was first put with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, not many fans wanted to hear that he completely tanked that line into oblivion while they went on an epic lucky run, scoring on nearly 20% of their shots. Vanek is what he is, and that's a one-dimensional scorer who's scoring is driven by his creativity and hot streaks. He doesn't produce the kind of possession numbers that insulate against cold streaks, so the other shoe was bound to drop, and it did so in the playoffs.

Vanek is a player who is generally given extreme offensive zone deployment in order to generate the most possible offence, and as you can see in the numbers from the rest of his season, what he did in Montreal was nothing new.

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Keeping in mind that he spent most of the year on poor possession teams, Vanek spent almost every bit of the season well below 50% Fenwick, and below his team's average while he was off the ice. The two blips above league average were both right after trades, which is interesting.

Vanek has been a fairly possession neutral player for most of his career, but his usage in Montreal and Michel Therrien's attempt to catch PDO in a bottle really worked against him. Looking at every player Vanek spent more than 10 minutes playing with in Montreal, he comes out relatively neutral without weighting ice time, but the players he spent the most time with, he impacted negatively.

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Because of Vanek's extreme offensive usage, Subban had a little bump in possession overall with him, allowing a couple fewer shot attempts against per 20 minutes, but overall, the top line and the top of the lineup suffered for Vanek's presence.

Curiously, where Vanek had the biggest positive impact among forwards was Brian Gionta, playing on his natural left wing. This makes me wonder if the Canadiens really missed out on the potential of a Vanek - Eller - Gionta line that could take secondary tough minutes and score at a pretty high rate. Eller and Gionta already work well together, and though Vanek didn't play much with Eller, the time they did play together was relatively successful.

It's actually pretty interesting to see how many eggs Therrien threw in Vanek's basket to ensure he produced. His four most common linemates, by boatloads I might add, were the top offensive producers on the team. Vanek spent just under 20% of his ice time at even strength without David Desharnais or Max Pacioretty, and only 27% without one of P.K. Subban or Andrei Markov.

Playing with possession drivers like those guys that often and still putting up numbers that are pretty awful, as well as getting the most shelter zone starts on the roster, it's not hard to understand why Vanek isn't back with the team.

Vanek produced at a fantastic rate for the Canadiens during the regular season, but while with them, he carried a 17.6% on-ice shooting percentage, and still benefited from some stellar goaltending at .944 at evens. The way Vanek broke down in the playoffs, especially considering he denied he was injured, I have to wonder if these next few years are his last hurrah as a top line scorer. You have to give Minnesota some credit for keeping the term on Vanek so reasonable, beyond those three years, he might be Dany Heatley.