Each day from now until July 1, the day free agency begins, Sarah Baicker and Tim Riday will profile some of the NHL's top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.
Thomas Vanek, left wing
Last team: Montreal Canadiens
2013-14 cap hit: $7.1 million
Vanek, who was selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the fifth-overall pick at the 2003 NHL draft, is a natural goal-scorer with an incredible shot and good size to fight through traffic and battle in front of opposing goalies. He's eclipsed the 20-goal plateau in each of his nine NHL seasons and has registered 60 points or more six times. Vanek is also a very good passer. He's got great hands and sees the ice very well. You can always count on him to be in the right spot in the offensive zone.
After starting last season with Buffalo, Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders in late October and was immediately inserted onto the team's top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. In February, Vanek confirmed he turned down a contract extension offer from the Isles that was reportedly worth $50 million over seven years. At the trade deadline, Vanek was shipped to Montreal. He had 10 points in 17 playoff games for the Canadiens, but his production tailed off in the Eastern Conference Final.
Vanek is one of those names that gets tossed around every year, it seems, in terms of possible trades that make sense for the Flyers. Of course, now that he's an unrestricted free agent, his name has popped up in Flyers discussions once again. After all, he's pretty much exactly what they need on offense -- a pretty dependable 20-plus goal-scorer who, at 30 years old, still has a lot left in the tank. But ... and yeah, I'm beginning to sound like a broken record here ... he's not going to come cheap. Vanek's last contract was a seven-year, $50 million deal, and chances are, he'll want another long-term deal wherever he signs next. If you take Ron Hextall at face value, and you believe the Flyers' new GM really wants to focus on development, long-term deals to veterans simply can't be in the cards. It's for that reason that I don't see Vanek fitting in with the Flyers at this point, even though it's undeniable they're in need of a sniper.
Vanek is arguably the best available forward this offseason. He's in the prime of his career, so it's going to take a lot of money to reel him in. As we all know, the Flyers don't have a lot money to spend this offseason. They would have to clear up a ton of cap space to even have a shot at landing Vanek, who will have plenty of suitors lining up for his services. It's also worth mentioning that Vanek is one of the streakiest scorers in the league. He always seems to get off to incredible starts, but struggles to consistently produce throughout an entire season. However, Vanek is a true sniper and would make the Flyers' offense much more dangerous. Nine seasons with 20 or more goals. Who wouldn't want that?
As much as I'd like to see Vanek line up with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek next season, I just don't see it happening. It would take a lot of finagling to get a deal done. Ron Hextall has said he doesn't plan to make a big splash in his first season as Flyers general manager. I'd put my money on Hextall staying true to his word.