When the Canadiens allowed Thomas Vanek to walk and sign with the Minnesota Wild after the 2013-14 season, it ended up being a pretty wise move. The Wild inked him for three years at $6.5 million AAV, and now they are buying him out of the final year of that deal.
In hindsight, boy was that decision a good one. Had they entered a bidding war with Minnesota for his services, the Habs might have ended up paying even more for him. But anyways, now that he's back on the open market, and probably prime to take a much cheaper deal, is he worth taking a look at?
In short, probably not. His offensive numbers are pretty good, as he still capable of around 20 goals per season, and eclipsing the 40-point mark. In terms of goals, assists, and total points per 60 minutes played, he's still above league average. He can still create offence.
In terms of possession, and defence, he is basically a black hole.
He doesn't suppress shots, he does not drive possession, and he is not good defensively. He'll get you some goals, but you need to make every effort to ensure favourable deployment in order for him to do that. He is very useful when he is in the offensive zone around the net, looking for tips and rebounds.
Image Credit: Corsica Hockey
And that has it's uses, but it is probably also why he's being bought out. At this point, the only way you can get good minutes out of him is if you shelter him rather aggressively. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting shredded when he's on the ice. By essentially every defensive metric, he is a liability.
Someone will probably pick Vanek up after July 1. But even given the fact that he's been bought out, and will still be getting paid by the Wild this season, he's probably still going to cost too much. If a team could get him on a deal like the one Alex Semin signed with the Canadiens last year, then it could be worth it. Anything else is a huge gamble.
If Vanek were willing to try and prove himself post-buyout like Semin did, maybe he takes a big salary cut to come back to a team that he had success with. He had good chemistry with David Desharnais, and to reunite them in a very offensively-oriented role could have it's benefits.
He also helps the power play, and with Kirk Muller coming in to run it behind the bench, he would definitely be a boost there. The big thing is bringing him in cheap, because they're really going to have to shelter him big time to avoid him being a liability.
That said, the unfortunate likelihood is that Vanek won't want to sign such a deal. He still puts up decent offensive numbers, so that as a bargaining chip will drive up the price. If he were even average defensively, I would think it justified to pay him more, but he's not, so it's a tough case to make.
If no other free agents pan out for the Habs, maybe they could offer him a one year prove-it deal at around (though I'd personally prefer less) $2 million, but anything more would be tough to swallow.
Like they did back in 2014, the best bet for the Canadiens is probably allowing someone else to take a chance on Thomas Vanek. Unless, of course, he's game for the aforementioned super-cheap one year deal.