Vanek brings offense to Canucks, but he could be most useful as trade bait

The Canucks’ addition of Thomas Vanek is sure to help their woeful offense, but Vanek could serve a larger purpose as the trade deadline draws near.

On the surface, the Canucks’ signing of Thomas Vanek serves one purpose: to add some firepower to a lineup nearly devoid of it.

Last season, Vancouver’s offense was downright awful. They managed 178 goals, the second-fewest in the league, and posted just 13 more markers than the lowly Colorado Avalanche. The Canucks had only one 20-goal scorer, Bo Horvat, and only two players, Horvat and Henrik Sedin, who cracked the 50-point plateau. It was an attack that looked hapless at times, managing a league-worst 27.7 shots per game and an ugly 14.1 percent success rate with the power play.

Now, few would go ahead and imply that Vanek is a cure-all for what ails the Canucks’ offense, but the fact of the matter is the 33-year-old can still provide some punch. While he’s far removed from the days when he was a surefire 30-goal and potential 40-goal scorer, Vanek has still shown a certain scoring knack in recent years. This past season, for instance, Vanek scored 17 goals in 68 games, firing along at a nearly 13 percent shooting clip in limited minutes, and he’s managed to light the lamp 56 times in his past 222 games. Top scorer? Not quite. But he’s still effective.

And when it comes to that dreadful power play, Vanek should be able to help. Few will confuse him with Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos, two of the game’s premier power play triggermen, but Vanek has scored 16 goals with the extra man over the past three seasons, and his five power play goals last season would have put him in second spot on the Canucks.

“That’s one of my specialties,” Vanek said, according to’s Kevin Woodley. “I think I am still very good in front of the net and tipping pucks and reading other players and finding that open space, so it’s definitely in my mindset to come in there and work for that power play time.”

But to suggest that Vanek is only in town for his scoring prowess doesn’t seem quite right, because while he might be there to beef up the offense and make the Canucks look a bit more threatening when on the attack, he’s just as useful in Vancouver from a longer-term, team-building perspective.

While that may seem a bizarre assessment of a one-year deal handed to a veteran winger in the back-nine of his career, consider the way GMs have utilized similar contracts in recent years. What we’ve seen over the past several seasons from a number of teams looking to rebuild, either full-scale or from within, are these short-term, easy-to-flip contracts wherein players are locked up for one year with an eye on the trade deadline. The reasoning is simple enough, too. Moving an asset out at the deadline, when every team in the playoff hunt is looking for an edge, can garner a pick or a prospect that can be used to brighten the future.

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And isn’t that exactly what the Canucks should be doing with any player possible?

Over the past four seasons, Vancouver has missed the post-season three times and there aren’t many — or frankly any — who would go ahead and label this year’s Canucks squad as a team with surefire playoff potential. And given that’s the case, the goal for Vancouver, especially once the playoffs are indeed out of reach, should be to do whatever necessary to build for next season and beyond.

As far as shipping out talent to land the picks necessary to build a deeper prospect pool, there are several skaters who would qualify. The Sedins, of course, would provide the biggest return, but a move at the deadline doesn’t exactly seem to be a given at this point, so that turns attention to Anton Rodin, Jayson Megna, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Biega and Patrick Wiercioch, each of whom will become unrestricted free agents at the end of the campaign. There may not be a name among those, however, that excites the league’s 30 other GMs enough to land the Canucks anything worthwhile. That said, Vanek might be able to bring back a decent return, especially if he’s able to produce.

He should have that chance, too. On a roster that’s not exactly the picture of depth, Vanek will have ample opportunity land himself a major role and if that were to happen — or, best-case scenario, were he to catch fire alongside the Sedins — Vanek could be headed for one of the best seasons he’s had in a few years. Say he repeats his performance from this past season and scores another 17 goals and 48 points, that could be worth better than a mid-round pick under the right circumstances. And if he were to produce at a rate better than he did last season? Maybe a second-round selection could even come the Canucks’ way.

It’s not a scenario or a circumstance that Vanek is all too familiar performing under, either. Just last season the Detroit Red Wings brought Vanek aboard on a one-year deal and he was flipped to the Florida Panthers at the deadline for a third-round pick. One year later, it appears Vanek finds himself in a similar situation, because he could already be a prime trade deadline candidate before he’s even skated a single stride in a Canucks uniform.

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