The Minnesota Wild signed Thomas Vanek to a lucrative deal with this in mind: they finally wanted to get over the hump against the Chicago Blackhawks. Vanek’s detractors would counter that he was the last guy who would accomplish such a task.
Unfortunately for the Wild, Vanek-haters seem to be correct, at least for one season. At least if you look at the results.
Even Vanek is disappointed with his play, as the Pioneer Press’ Chad Graff reports.
“I knew I only needed one to get going and I didn’t get it. I let them down,” Vanek said. “Their scorers scored when they needed to with timely goals and I didn’t.”
The 31-year-old didn’t just fail to score timely goals. He didn’t find the net in garbage time or merely to give Minnesota a little “insurance” either. In 10 playoff games, Vanek failed to score a single goal, settling for four assists.
Now, even the best snipers - a group Vanek belongs to, or at least once did - can hit a wall during the precious few games that make up a postseason. The 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs provide plenty of examples, from Steven Stamkos to Rick Nash. Marian Hossa’s struggles to get a bounce even flew under the radar, as his only goal of this playoff run so far came on an empty-netter in Game 4.
The key difference between Vanek and those other forwards is that, frankly, it’s tougher to gauge the effort from Vanek.
It’s not just a matter of puck luck failing him. Vanek only generated 19 shots on goal in 10 playoff games, and as flimsy as plus/minus can be, seeing him go pointless with a -4 mark in the last three contests isn’t promising. Unlike Hossa, Vanek doesn’t exactly draw rave reviews for his defensive play either, so it’s easy to understand the negativity surrounding the situation. NHL snipers don’t tend to age like fine wine, after all.
The key will be for him to play his game, and a big part of that is unleashing his shot with aplomb. Merely looking at his shot totals in 2013-14 (248 in 78 games with three different teams) versus this past season (just 171 in 80 contests with Minnesota), it’s reasonable to wonder if this was just an off year. Perhaps his off-the-ice issues were simply too much to overcome?
Whether it comes from within or from a coach saying the right words (Mike Yeo or perhaps someone else?), Vanek needs to turn things around.
At least he realizes as much, though.