Sometimes high-profile players serve as a lightning rod for the fans. This past season, Thomas Vanek was that player for the Minnesota Wild.
During the 2014-15 season, Vanek took a lot of heat from Wild fans about his on-ice performance. At times, Vanek was referred to as lazy and a liability in the defensive zone. During the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Vanek was a non-factor. One had to wonder if he was slowed by injury.
Vanek was signed by the Wild during the 2014 NHL free agent signing period. The former Minnesota Gophers All-American agreed to a hefty three-year contract worth $19,500,000. Vanek’s deal made him the Wild’s fourth-highest paid player. Vanek’s addition was supposed to bolster the Wild’s offense and also solidify the Wild’s top-six forward positions.
During the 2014-15 regular season, Vanek finished third in points for the Wild scoring (21g-31a—52pts). Vanek’s 21 goals were the second lowest goal total during his 10-year NHL career. Vanek scored 20 goals during the lockout shorted 2012-13 season.
Vanek’s performance slipped substantially during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he scored (0g-4a—4pts) in 10 games.
In their second-round series against the Blackhawks, the Wild were surgically taken apart. When the Wild made a mistake in the defensive zone, the Blackhawks cashed in on the Wild’s miscues. In the end, the Wild looked slow and out-of-place. The Wild lost most of the puck battles and they had no answer for the Blackhawks speed.
After the Wild were bounced by the Blackhawks, some Wild fans were quick to compare Vanek to former Wild forward Dany Heatley. I am not sure that’s a fair comparison. During the series against the Blackhawks, Vanek did look a step slow, but comparing him to Heatley is a bit of a stretch.
Wild’s Vanek has sports hernia surgery
At the Wild’s season-ending media day, Vanek acknowledged that he had a poor postseason performance.
“It wasn’t great,” Vanek said of his performance. “I mean, I didn’t score a goal,” he added, “so obviously when you don’t produce and you lose, you’re going to take some heat, and that’s part of this business. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses why. I should have been better.”
Apparently, there was a valid reason for Vanek’s decreased production during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Monday, it was announced by Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher that Vanek had undergone surgery in Philadelphia to repair a sports hernia.
“It bothered him for a lot of the second half,” Fletcher said. “We gave it some rest, but it didn’t seem to be getting better, so we opted for the surgical route. We expect him to be 100 percent by training camp.”
Finally, Fletcher’s announcement could explain Vanek’s drop off in production during the final 29 games of the season (playoffs included) where he scored (8g-9a—17pts). That point total averages out to .586 points per game. It will be interesting to see how Vanek plays after he heals from his offseason surgery. During the second half of the season, it does appear that he was slowed by a sports hernia. Lastly, do you think Vanek can return to form during the 2015-16 season?
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.