Rumor Roundup: Is Thomas Vanek destined to join the Minnesota Wild?

Lyle Richardson

The return of former Sabres captain Jason Pominville to Buffalo for the first time since he was dealt to the Minnesota Wild fuelled speculation about the future of Pominville’s friend and former teammate Thomas Vanek.

Pominville recently joked about how often he is asked about Vanek, who’s in the final season of his contract with the Sabres, but declined to discuss his friend’s future. There’s a good reason for that, as it could be construed as violating the league’s anti-tampering rules.

Vanek’s friendship with Pominville and his already-close ties to the state of Minnesota – where he played his college hockey, met his wife and lives in the off-season – has some pundits anticipating he’ll sign with the Wild as a free agent next July.

Since the summer it’s been expected the Sabres would attempt to trade Vanek, but his $7.14 million cap hit combined with the declining salary cap hurt his market value.

That hasn’t kept Vanek’s name out of the early season rumor mill. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers could all take a run at the 29-year-old, claiming the new ownerships of those teams want to “make a splash.”

CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, however, believes the perception Vanek will sign with the Wild makes it difficult for the Sabres to move him.

Interested clubs could request to speak with Vanek’s agent about a new contract before making a serious trade offer.

Vanek’s significant cap hit (and $6.4 million in real salary for this season) remains a stumbling block for an early-season trade. The Sabres’ best chance to move him is near the trade deadline, when most of his salary will be paid out and playoff contenders are shopping for scoring punch.

The Wild could be among that group. After all, the two teams have a recent trade history and the Wild remain loaded with promising young talent to tempt the Sabres.

Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher could try to get the jump on Vanek by acquiring him at the deadline and giving the Wild exclusive negotiation rights to the Austrian until July 1. Fletcher would have to shed some cap space to comfortably absorb the remainder of Vanek’s salary, though the Sabres could sweeten the deal by absorbing some of it as well.

With more than $51 million invested in 17 players for next season and the salary cap anticipated to rise, the Wild can afford to sign Vanek, but they already have more than $30 million tied up in Pominville, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom.

Even if Vanek agreed to a slight discount, the Wild could be looking at around $37 million invested in just six players.

If they’re willing to keep pace with a rising cap ceiling, it shouldn’t be an issue. Otherwise, they risk difficulty down the road in re-signing promising players such as Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin.

For his part, Vanek says he wants to judge the performance of the Sabres and their young players this season before deciding if he’ll re-sign or test the free agent market.

As the Buffalo News’ John Vogl observed, Vanek will remain a trade candidate this season until he’s dealt or is re-signed.