We ended up having a chat with Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher on the way out of the draft Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
He talked about free agency and the desire to keep any deals the Wild might be involved with on a short-term basis.
How many times have NHL GMs pledged fiscal responsibility and not getting sucked into the free-agency abyss then gone willingly over the edge the moment the market opened?
Too many to count, that’s how many.
But credit to Fletcher, who surprised no one by inking talented free-agent winger Thomas Vanek on Tuesday afternoon but surprised many by getting Vanek to agree to a three-year deal worth $6.5 million annually.
No doubt it’s a lot of money if the Vanek who meandered his way through the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens this spring shows up in Minnesota for the next three years.
Vanek was acquired by Montreal from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline after the Islanders had nabbed the Austrian native from the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the season. While he was productive enough during the regular season with 27 goals and 68 points in spite of all that moving around, he was a major disappointment to a Canadiens team that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
He scored in just three postseason games (five goals in total) and was without a goal in the Canadiens’ final seven games, including the entire Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.
Minnesota will need Vanek to shake off that disappointing playoff performance to make this deal work.
The Wild have gone quickly from playoff bubble team to a team where expectations are to win playoff series and in the next few years challenge for a Stanley Cup.
They took a big step along that path this spring with a stirring comeback in the first round against Colorado after falling behind 2-0 and 3-2. They then gave the Chicago Blackhawks all they could handle in a six-game second-round loss.
Vanek, who went to the University of Minnesota, whose wife is from the State of Hockey and who has long been rumored to want to play for the Wild, has a chance now to be part of something special in Minnesota.
One imagines his desire to, in a way, come home went into accepting a much shorter term than he could have gotten when last season began.
Perhaps coming home will help Vanek grow into being not just a top-end point producer, but a leader and key contributor -- something that has been lacking from his résumé thus far.
But if it doesn’t turn out that way, this deal means the Wild’s future hasn’t been jeopardized by an albatross of a contract the likes of which some of Fletcher’s colleagues were doling out Tuesday.