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Free Agent Spotlight: Can Thomas Vanek bring a 40-Point Season to Carolina?

The 33-year-old winger could help the Canes if there is enough gas left in the tank.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

After nine seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Thomas Vanek has been a journeyman. Since leaving Buffalo in 2013-14 the winger has played for six different teams and is a common trade target at the deadline for teams looking to upgrade their scoring depth. Vanek is now 33 years old but had a successful campaign with the Red Wings, registering 38 points in 48 games. However, his production fell after a deadline trade to Florida. In 20 games after the deadline, the veteran winger recorded only 2 goals and 8 assists.

Tale of the Tape

Age: 33
2016-17 Season: 17 goals, 31 assists, 48 points
Career: (BUF, NYI, MTL, MIN, DET, FLA) 333 goals, 264 assists, 697 points in 885 games
2016-17 Advanced Stats: 47.5% Corsi For, 102.37 PDO, 48.26% zone starts, 53.42% goals for
2016-17 Salary: $2,600,000
Contract Ending: 1 year, $2.6 million, $2.6 million AAV, signed July 1, 2016 (UFA)

Making the Case

Thomas Vanek has been productive throughout his entire 12-year career. In every season he has registered at least 17 goals and 41 points. Vanek played well with Detroit’s top line and was the most creative player on a struggling team. Over the 2016-17 Vanek registered 2.61 points per 60 minutes played, which ranks sixth over the regular season. The season was a bounce back over 2015-16, which saw his lowest point totals since the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13.

Vanek would bring immediate scoring to the Canes where he would slot in the top six. Not only does he score, he has developed into more of a playmaker in the most recent years. Having another playmaking forward would either replace Lee Stempniak if he is selected in the expansion draft or slot in where Joakim Nordstrom played last season on a line with Victor Rask and Teuvo Teravainen. This would force teams to play more balanced which could give Teravainen more space on the ice.

One point that shouldn’t be lost about Vanek is that he’s still getting $2.5 million for the next two seasons from a contract that was bought out by the Minnesota Wild. This gives him more flexibility in picking a destination and the total term of his next contract.

On the Other Hand…

Vanek is entering the last phase of his career, and it is much more likely he will regress at the age of 34 than progress. The Canes need to make sure that they don’t get suckered into paying too much or giving him more than one year in a contract. At the deadline this season there wasn’t a lot of interest in him, so if the Canes may not have the option to trade him for picks like they did with Viktor Stalberg. There are a lot of young guys trying to make the roster, and it might not make sense in the long run to use a roster spot on a player who is making his final push in the league over a younger player with more potential.

The Final Verdict

Vanek could be a good signing to fill out three full scoring lines and push the Canes over the edge for this year. However, there is a lot more risk than there is possible reward for signing an aging winger like Vanek. If Francis can get Vanek to a one-year deal for $2 million or under, it may be worth the risk. Any more and the Canes should look elsewhere to upgrade their top six for the long term.