BUFFALO -- The Minnesota Wild bought out the final year of Thomas Vanek's contract on Friday, giving the veteran forward an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
By buying out Vanek, the Wild will save $5 million against the NHL salary cap for next season, leaving them with approximately $14 million in space under the $73 million cap, according to general manager Chuck Fletcher.
The Wild still have to try to re-sign restricted free agents, including forward Jason Zucker, defenseman Matt Dumba and backup goalie Darcy Kuemper, but the cap savings with the Vanek buyout gives them room to try to acquire a top-six forward, which Fletcher has stated is a need.
Vanek will count $1.5 million on the Wild's cap next season and $2.5 million in 2017-18. He signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Wild on July 1, 2014. He played at the University of Minnesota.
"Thomas came here for all the right reasons and we all hoped it would work out really well, but unfortunately in our situation right now we needed to clear some cap space and that was the easiest way for us to get the space we feel we need to move forward this summer," Fletcher said prior to the start of the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN). "Thomas is a tremendous person, a great hockey player obviously, a guy tremendously knowledgeable about the game. Obviously he's disappointed, but hopefully by exercising the buyout now it gives him some time to get ahead of the market, maybe talk to some teams."
Vanek, 32, never was the player in Minnesota that the Wild were hoping he'd be. He scored 39 goals and had 93 points with a minus-16 rating in 154 games over his two seasons. He had 18 goals and 41 points this season after scoring 21 goals and 52 points in 2014-15.
"I think the obvious thing is we had a difficult time finding the right role for him, for his talents," Fletcher said. "We just didn't seem to find the right chemistry with some of our top players and Thomas. Certainly that was a consideration. Thomas played hard. He worked extremely hard last summer to come back from injury. He came to camp in great shape, had a great start to the season. Our entire team had such a disappointing last few months, but economics were a large part of this decision. It's a decision we made and we'll move forward."