SUNRISE, Fla. - For a fourth consecutive season, the Florida Panthers were buyers at the NHL's trade deadline.
When the dust on one of the NHL's busiest days settled, the club had completed three trades. The biggest of those was the acquisition of scoring winger Thomas Vanek from the Detroit Red Wings, acquired in exchange for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a conditional 2017 third-round draft pick.
"Thomas is a proven scorer in this league who will add some offensive savvy and experience to our young group of forwards," Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. "We believe strongly in our group and we're confident that he will help our power play and supplement our core effectively."
In trading for Vanek, the Panthers have acquired an exceptionally gifted offensive player at a very modest price. The 33-year-old winger, a prolific one-shot scorer throughout his NHL career, has been a dynamic producer this season and currently ranks fifth in the league in 5-on-5 point production (2.80 points per 60 minutes). At the time of the trade, Vanek was leading the Red Wings in total goals (15) and power-play goals (5), tied for the most power-play points (11), and ranked second in total assists (23).
"The Panthers showed last year that they're capable of making the payoffs," Vanek said via teleconference Wednesday. "They're a young team with a lot of talent, a great d-core, solid goaltending. For me, it's exciting to join that team and make a push."
Over 865 career NHL games, Vanek, the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, has recorded 687 points (331-356-687) for Detroit (2016-17), Minnesota (2014-16), Montreal (2014), New York Islanders (2013-14) and Buffalo Sabres (2005-2013).
"At this point in my career, I think teams know my game and what I'm about," Vanek said. "I think I'm a good leader in the room, so [the future] isn't on my mind. My mindset right now is to play good hockey and help this team out."
A native of Vienna, Austria, Vanek's move to South Florida also affords him the special opportunity to play alongside one of his childhood heroes - Jaromir Jagr.
"As a kid I just watched the Penguins a lot," Vanek said. "Jaromir and Mario [Lemiux] were my favorite players. I had posters all over. His career is amazing. I'm not the youngest guy anymore, but at 33 to get a chance to be his teammate is kind of surreal."
With 20 games left to go in their regular season, the Panthers currently have 68 points, placing them one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and four points back of the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division with one game in hand.
"The games mean a lot more with the Panthers here going forward," said Vanek, who has tallied 34 points (20-14-34) in 63 career playoff games. "Obviously with the games as tight as they are and the standings as tight as they are, these next 20 games are going to be very important."
The Panthers are 7-4-0 and have scored 3.18 goals per game since Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov returned to the lineup from injury on Feb. 3, and the addition of Vanek should be exactly what the team needs to maintain that same torrid pace down the home stretch.
"It's a good addition to our team without interrupting our team and not giving up any of our young prospects," Tallon said. "All in all, you know, once again buying and improving and adding to the roster to make us better. That's a real positive step for the organization."
In addition to adding a top-six scoring winger, the Panthers made a series of American League level deals - acquiring promising young goaltender Chris Wilcox from the Tampa Bay Lightning for veteran Mike McKenna and defenseman Reese Scarlet from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Shane Harper.
Clearly, Tallon is pleased with how the Panthers performed on deadline day. He believes that the team's acquisition of Vanek is exactly what the organization needs in order to return to the playoffs in consecutive seasons for just the second time in franchise history.
"All of our scouts pulled together and did a really nice job," said Tallon, who also commended the work of Assistant General Managers Eric Joyce and Steve Werier. "We've got an exciting young team. We've had some ups and downs, but considering what's happened injury-wise, we've put ourselves in a good position to be successful and win games. Let's go get it and see what we can do."