A Vanek Reunion?

Islander fans, if someone told you the team could add a dynamic winger this summer, one with a history of producing on a top line and with solid chemistry with your best two offensive players, would you say yes? Better yet, how quickly would you say yes? (Photo credit: flickr/Michael Cummo Photography)

So you probably already know who we’re talking about, but for those who don’t, it’s short-time Islander Thomas Vanek. Everyone in Islander-land knows the story about Vanek and the circumstances that led to his trade from Montreal. While for months many pundits have claimed that Vanek is heading to Minnesota this summer, well, what if he doesn’t? Has anyone asked the Wild its thoughts on the situation? Do they want to commit to another long-term contract?

If you’ve watched the Canadiens these playoffs, you’d see why Vanek is such a polarizing figure around the league. He has tantalizing ability with excellent offensive awareness. He is a consistent 65+ point player which is nothing to sneeze at. The man puts up points, plain and simple.

But there’s the other side of things too. Vanek has seen his minutes cut drastically and become the focal point of ire for Canadien fans who can’t believe they gave up uber-prospect Sebastian Collberg for the free-agent to be (okay, that last part is a lie). His disappearing act against the Rangers is highlighted at every whistle by NBC Sports Network, led by Pierre McGuire. Poor Pierre is about two more Vanek lackadaisical shifts away from jumping on the ice and strangling him with his headphones.

But you don’t need to be sitting ice-level to see the struggles Vanek is enduring. It’s blatant every time a number 20 Canadien jersey flashes by the screen, seemingly lost and out of the play.

So what’s wrong? Is he hurt? Is he just a bad fit for the up-tempo Canadiens? Does he dislike the city? Is the pressure of free agency finally starting to get to him? Honestly, we don’t know, but it does seem more and more likely that Vanek will look for the first opportunity to get the hell out of town.

So should the Islanders come back knocking? Despite his struggles, there are plenty of things to like. For one, he helped form one of the more dangerous and dynamic lines in hockey playing on a wing with Kyle Okposo and John Tavares. The trio put up points in bunches for the punch-less Islanders and was often the only line capable of generating any sort of offensive threat. He put up 44 points in just 47 games here (76 point pace over 82 game season) and helped elevate the play of his line mates.

We can’t neglect to mention the negatives with Vanek too. Go on any fan message board and the thoughts are the same: he’s a dog…he’s soft…he has no heart…he’s not a winner, etc. And to be fair, with his showing in these playoffs, it’s not like he’s making the argument difficult to make. He has played poorly for the most part, no question.

But he also wouldn’t be the first player to be successful in the regular season but struggle in the playoffs. Maybe we should ask Kings’ fans how they feel about Marian Gaborik in these playoffs? Do you think any of them are concerned after he struggled his past few post-seasons now? All those same negative things being said about Vanek were declared about Gaborik just a short time ago.

With the Islanders , money has to be an up-front discussion with any potential free-agent. It was reported that Vanek turned down a seven-year, $50 million contract extension with the Islanders before he was traded. Based on his recent play, it’s very possible that Vanek cost himself significant money from potential suitors. Would he command $50 million this summer? Or would a contract in the range of $36 million over six years be sufficient? Teams are getting scared off by Vanek and with teams wary of handing out big contracts to older players, it's safe to say that his market will be limited. Although it only takes one team to go crazy with an offer, it’s more likely than not that Vanek passed up the most money he was going to receive back with the Islanders.

So let’s say Vanek’s price tag dropped…is he worth it then? Vanek is already 30 and, while never known for his wheels, has started to show signs of age. However, losing a step on the ice doesn’t equate to being a bad hockey player and many good hockey players can still be effective even while losing a step or two (if you don’t believe me just check out guys like Jaromir Jagr or Teemu Selanne for proof). Plus being on a line with Okposo and Tavares would allow more room for Vanek to operate and allow the better board-players to do their thing.

Let’s also be realistic: almost every free agent signing at his age will decline over the life of the contract. It’s the cost of doing business in the NHL. The hope though is that he will produce over the first few years of the contract enough to outweigh the declining production the last few years. If he’s giving you 70 points in the first three or four years of the contract, you can live with 50 points the last two or three years, even at a big salary.

With all of that being said, should the Islanders make a serious run at him this summer? There’s no guarantee he’d come back even if they offered him the most money, but his recent play may have just left enough suitors with a sour taste that limits his market. Plus it’s not as if the Islanders are up against the cap so if they really wanted him, and money was the only issue, they could just about outbid any other team if they choose.

The team could use an offensive boost over the long-haul. Sure, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson showed some promising signs down the stretch, but the majority of their play came in meaningless games. While they both have the ability, the Islanders can ill-afford to rely solely on their progress going into next season. And that doesn’t even factor in that both are natural centers and after Okposo, the team has zero sure-fire top-6 wingers in the organization (and no, Josh Bailey isn’t included in the equation). Vanek would immediately deepen the Islanders’ attack.

The team is also in desperate need to make itself relevant ahead of Brooklyn in 2015. The team took a huge step forward by inking Jaroslav Halak to a four-year contract. With the possibility of a sale occurring soon, the team may finally be in a position to take a step forward with payroll. A player of Vanek’s ilk would not only boost the on-ice product, but would send a message to other players and fans that the Islanders are ready to step-up in weight class.

In my opinion I would like to see the Islanders make a serious push for Vanek again. Yes, he has his flaws, but then again, so do most players in the league. We don’t know why things have gone wrong for him in Montreal, but we do know that he played terrific hockey with Islanders, and quite frankly, that’s probably all most people reading this care about. He wouldn’t be considered “the savior” here, just a very good complimentary piece. And the Islanders need some of those.

So what about you Islander fans? Should we go for Vanek: Part Deux at the Coliseum next year?

Follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 and check out @TCLIsles for Islander news and analysis