Kukla's Korner Hockey

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Brooks: Thomas Vanek serves as a free agency 'test case'

06/01/2014 at 12:10am EDT

The New York Post's Larry Brooks was very busy on Saturday evening, pondering the fates of Brian Boyle and the Rangers' unrestricted and restricted free agents-to-be, as well as positing a thorough set of NHL notes. The main topic of his latter work may be a well-tread-upon (trodden-upon?) subject, but it bears repeating.

On July 1st, we know that Thomas Vanek will earn a boatload of money. What we don't know is how much he's going to earn, nor do we know whether his spectacularly mediocre playoff run with the Montreal Canadiens has changed NHL general managers' minds as to whether Vanek is in fact a game-breaking player, or whether he's the kind of "specialist" player who needs to be placed amidst both a strong supporting cast and a set of doing-the-hard-work-for-him linemates who must pave the way for someone who might not be the natural goal-scoring machine everyone thought he was prior to his trade to the Islanders last December.

Is Vanek worth the investment that somebody is more likely than not to put into someone who either is a game-breaker or is in fact the modern-day Ray Sheppard? Brooks isn't sure:

[There's no] evidence at all the winger is remotely worth the seven-year, $50 million deal he rejected from the Islanders before being sent to Montreal at the deadline. No evidence he is anyone’s missing piece to a playoff puzzle.

And yet, the rule of the NHL market is — or has been: Players don’t pay a price for having underperformed and teams indeed will pay the manufacturer’s sticker price, regardless.

See: Semin, Alex for a prime example. Another: Thornton, Joe.

Vanek, the former Gopher with family ties to Minnesota, has been linked for months to the Wild, who appear to be the proverbial one or two players away from being able to break into the Chicago-Los Angeles Western monopoly, but that would be one or two players who can get them through.

Minnesota hit it big two summers ago by giving monopoly money to free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, a pair of character players who qualify as both get-in and get-through guys. But Vanek doesn’t fit that category.

Free agency is a supply-and-demand business. The demand this summer for difference-makers will far exceed the supply. On the wing, the marquee names are Vanek, Marian Gaborik, Matt Moulson (who had his own get-through issues as a rental for the Wild), Mike Cammalleri and Ryan Callahan. At center, it is Paul Stastny, perhaps to be joined by Brad Richards. On defense, Dan Boyle, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.

Other than for the occasional shift, Vanek was dreadful against the Rangers; barely noticeable. One would think the Wild — or any other team fancying itself as a Cup contender — noticed. But we’ll see. We’ll find out on July 1.

Brooks continues at extended length...

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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