What if Wild fans didn’t have to wait nearly that long, though?
Granted, five months isn’t exactly a lifetime. However, for the Wild, who are in a daily dogfight just to remain in the Western Conference playoff picture, it will probably end up feeling like five years instead.
If the Wild do make it to the postseason, it will likely be because general manager Chuck Fletcher was able to add to his team’s depth chart before the March 5 trade deadline.
Whether or not it would be at forward remains to be seen. With Josh Harding out, Minnesota could probably also use an upgrade in net.
One way or another, there is no question the team could use some more firepower. The Wild have scored just 145 goals in 59 games, good for third-worst in the West. So, if Fletcher does decide to add to his offense, he might as well go after the purest offensive talent out there in Vanek.
There really would be no better fit relative to the other free agents out there. Here's a quick breakdown of who might be available:
- Buffalo Sabre Matt Moulson? Injured.
- Columbus Blue Jacket Marian Gaborik? Been there. Done that. And, yes, he’s injured too, if you needed to ask and were completely unfamiliar with his injury—er, playing—history up to this point.
- Boston Bruin Jarome Iginla? Not exactly on the trade market with the Bruins leading the Atlantic Division.
- Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny? Maybe, but only if by “Paul Stastny” you meant “P.A. Parenteau,” politely suggests Colorado Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman.
- Calgary Flame Michael Cammalleri? Just a tad overrated…and a lot undersized.
- Nashville Predator David Legwand? The Wild already have a David Legwand, and a better one at that, in captain Mikko Koivu.
- Dallas Star Ray Whitney? He’s about as old as head coach Mike Yeo, and by “about as old,” I mean older.
- Two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley? While Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports he is available and his current employer can’t be rid of him soon enough, do the Wild really want to be paying a fourth-line has-been upwards of $5 million per season??? Oh, right…
Meanwhile, Vanek? Not only did he go to the University of Minnesota, but Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News reports that the winger's wife is a Minnesotan. His family also lives in the state during the summer.
As such, just like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter did before him, Vanek is poised to return home so to speak—that is if similar money is there for him.
According to Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press, Minnesota is losing significant money. Will owner Craig Leipold shell out his third similarly structured, massive contract in as many seasons when $20 million of the $30 million the team lost last season went to Parise and Suter? This is a fair question to ask.
All things considered, it makes sense to give this whole prearranged (by the fans) marriage a trial run. True, the Wild would likely have to give up a prospect and a first-round pick at the very least to make it happen, but the health of the franchise could be at stake.
The Wild already boast a lineup that includes players like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin and Darcy Kuemper, each of whom is 23 or younger.
They can afford to sacrifice a blue-chip prospect without hindering the franchise’s long-term future, at least to the degree that another Heatley would.
In spite of all Vanek will bring, buyer beware: He has only scored more than a point per game once in his career. Even Heatley managed to accomplish that feat a handful of times and the Wild do not need another, less capable Heatley signed long-term—especially not one who’s only three years younger.
Hell, a good case can be made that they don’t need another Parise or Suter.
The twin $98 million contracts handed out to Parise and Suter were huge investments, both of which, while paying off to varying degrees currently, are poised to become huger headaches by the time the twilights of their careers come about.
That is why Minnesota has to be absolutely sure that Vanek is as good of a fit on the ice as he is off it.
That Fletcher would in theory be acquiring Vanek to push the Wild over the edge as far as the playoffs this year are concerned? All the more reason to take the leap sooner rather than later.