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It’s no secret that the New Jersey Devils are looking to add extra scoring this offseason. Much like the free agent class for defensemen, there are limited forward options as well. Alex Radulov will headline the class, and that’s even if he makes it to July 1st. After that, it’s hard to find a match that makes sense for the Devils. In recent articles by the Bergen Record’s Andrew Gross and USA TODAY’s Kevin Allen, it had been mentioned Ray Shero could look to Thomas Vanek as a short-term option to fill their scoring woes. He may not be in his prime anymore, but still has some offensive upside. Although, he doesn’t come without his shortcomings- specifically on defense.
Vanek had a rough 2015-16 season, tallying just 41 points in 78 games, but rebounded nicely this past season with 48 points in 68 games. He had some nice offensive numbers at 5-on-5, averaging 2.61 points per 60 minutes, which was fifth best in the league for a forward with 750+ minutes at 5-on-5. Both Florida and Detroit scored more when Vanek was getting ice time, averaging 3.16 goals for per 60 minutes when he was on the ice. This is where his value lies and is what he’d add most to the Devils.
Having said that, Vanek’s defensive and possession numbers leave a lot to be desired. While in Detroit, Vanek had a 50.4% possession mark but after he was traded to Florida, it fell by 5%. For the season, his Corsi For was 47.8% split between both teams. What’s troubling with the drop in his possession is that the latter team was clearly better than the former. Vanek spent most of his time in Florida with Jonathan Marchessault and Nick Bjugstad, a trio that didn’t fare well 5-on-5. They gave up a lot of shots, averaging around 62.7 attempts against per 60 minutes (and were well in the red in possession). Vanek has never been a driver of play throughout his career, but it’s still a bit concerning at the rate which he gave up shots.
This is where the problem lies with Vanek. He’s given up a lot of shots in recent seasons, averaging around 57.9 shot attempts against per 60 minutes. He’s still got value offensively, but John Hynes would have to be extra cautious when deploying Vanek since his defensive game is lacking. There’s no need to look further than Jeff Blashill’s utilization of Vanek in Detroit. His zone start rate was 57.7% in the offensive zone and he spent almost 80% of his ice time in the offensive zone. I’d imagine it’d take that kind of proportional usage by John Hynes to get the most out of Vanek, which can be difficult to do.
Given the Devils issues on defense, signing Vanek would not help in that regard. He’s still a good player offensively, but needs to be used by the coaching staff with extra caution. You’re not going to want to have Vanek out there in high leverage defensive situations because chances are, it won’t end well. He gives up a lot of shots and fair amount of scoring chances when on the ice. The Devils do need to add goal scoring, but may or may not be able to live with the negatives of Vanek’s two-way game.
Andrew Gross said in his article Wednesday, he believes Vanek could fetch a one-year deal around $2.5 mil, similar to what he signed last summer. One year deals have very little risk. Worst case scenario, the Devils can ship him off at the trade deadline and fetch some additional assets. I’d be hesitant to sign Vanek because of his defensive lapses, but on a generally low-risk one year deal, I’m guessing it’s something the Devils would be willing to live with and truth be told, they can do a lot worse than him. If he plays to what he did this past season, they’ll be able to reap some of the rewards of what he can provide on offense, which would be a nice boost for a team in need of some offensive punch.
Advanced stats are from Hockey Analysis