DETROIT – Ken Holland thinks the Red Wings got a player with something to prove, while newly acquired center Frans Nielsen believes Detroit snagged the best available player in this year's free-agency pool.
Both Holland and Nielsen spoke highly of Thomas Vanek, the 32-year-old unrestricted free agent who agreed to a one-year contract with the Red Wings late Friday afternoon.
“He’s definitely gonna bring some offense,” Nielsen said. “He played with (John) Tavares and (Kyle) Okposo here on a line and when he’s on his game he’s up there with Tavares skill wise. He could be the steal of this free agency. “
Nielsen and Vanek played together with the New York Islanders during the second half of the 2013-14 season. It was that season when Vanek played for three different teams, starting out with Buffalo – the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2003 – and finishing with Montreal.
In between, Vanek scored 17 goals and added 27 assists in 47 games, which was good enough to finish fourth in scoring among Islanders teammates.
“He definitely has all the talent, he can score goals, he’s good on the power play,” said Nielsen, who earlier in the day agreed to a six-year deal with the Red Wings. “I hope you’re gonna see the old Vanek here because he’s a top, top talent in this league.”
Since 2005-06, when Vanek entered the league, he is seventh among active players in scoring, potting 316 goals in 817 regular-season games. Only Alex Ovechkin (525), Jarome Iginla (361), Sidney Crosby (338), Rick Nash (335), Corey Perry (330) and Patrick Marleau (328) have scored more goals in the past 11 seasons.
But last month, the Minnesota Wild bought out the final season of Vanek’s original three-year deal that was valued at $19.5 million.
For the 32-year-old Vanek, the Red Wings will be his fifth team in four seasons. He’s also played for the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and the Wild.
Holland hopes the Wings landed a highly motivated athlete, who is seeking to prove his detractors wrong. Vanek will be reunited with John Torchetti, who was the Wild’s interim head coach at the end of last season and led the team into the playoffs. Torchetti is now an assistant coach with the Red Wings.
“Risk and reward,” Holland said. “We’re taking a one-year contract on Thomas and we’re hoping it turns out to be a real reward for us. A one-year deal at $2.6 (million), there’s always some risk but you have to take some risk if you want to try to get some reward. So I think we’re getting a real motivated athlete. He’s a big, heavy body, shoots right (handed). He’s a real good net-front presence on the power play and the hope is we’re going to get a guy in here that’s motivated to be one of those veteran players that were looking at long-term deals today, that he’s going to have a real good year for us and parlay it into a second half of his contract, so I think that certainly was the thinking.”
The first Austrian-born player in Red Wings history, Vanek has compiled 333 assists and 649 points with a plus-26 rating. He finished fifth in league goal scoring twice – scoring 43 goals in 2006-07 and 40 goals in 2008-09.
Vanek also ranks eighth among active players with 124 power-play goals.