Under Pressure: Thomas Vanek

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A simple search of his last name in the PHT search box is all you need to realize that the 2013-14 season was a busy one for Thomas Vanek.

To recap:

Vanek started the season in Buffalo, before he was traded to the Islanders, before he rejected a big offer to sign long-term with the Isles, before he went to Sochi to compete for Austria at the Olympics, before he was part of a group of Austrians that was forced to apologize for partying too much, before he was traded to Montreal, before he was roundly criticized for his play during the playoffs, before he signed with Minnesota, before he was connected to a federal gambling investigation.

Are we missing anything? Probably.

Some of the above — his performance in the playoffs, especially — is perhaps why the 30-year-old winger didn’t get the kind of mega-deal that many predicted he would as an unrestricted free agent. In fact, it was reported in October that the Sabres were “willing to make him the highest-paid player in the NHL.” While that may have been a stretch, certainly nobody was thinking he’d end up with a modest (relatively speaking) three-year, $19.5 million deal.

Granted, it’s possible Vanek left money on the table to play in Minnesota, where most predicted all along the former Golden Gopher, with the wife from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, would end up.

“Thomas may be one of the only players to take a pay cut and a term cut to come anywhere,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher. “Everybody else is doubling and tripling their salary.”

Still, the Wild will be counting big-time on Vanek to give their 24th-ranked offense a lift.

“We feel we can defend,” said Fletcher, “but we only scored 2.4 goals per game, and with Thomas maybe that pushes us closer to 2.6 or 2.7 or whatever the number is — maybe some nights we have a little bit more breathing room. … Scoring goals is a big part of winning games and he’s a game breaker.”

Whether Vanek can be the “game breaker” that the Wild are hoping for remains to be seen. His highest goal-scoring year came when he was in his early 20s (43 goals for Buffalo in 2006-07). His second-highest was when he was in his mid-20s (40 goals for Buffalo in 2008-09). That’s the trend for most of the NHL’s top snipers. Once they reach their 30s, the legs get a little heavier, the body isn’t as fresh as it once was, and the goals become harder to come by. (See: Dany Heatley.)

Not that the Wild would be upset if Vanek could only muster 30 goals, or even just 25. But it doesn’t change the fact that he needs to perform, and he needs to do it under the spotlight of playing in his home state, which just so happens to be the State of Hockey.

“It’s awesome,” said Vanek. “The best thing is my career was winning an NCAA Championship with the Gophers. To be a part of the Wild now and go after the big prize, having a chance to do it here in Minnesota is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Penguins re-sign Ruhwedel to a two-year deal

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The depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense faced the ultimate test this spring, winning a Stanley Cup despite the absence of Kris Letang.

Among those depth blueliners asked to come in and help fill the void left by injuries on defense was Chad Ruhwedel. And on Thursday, Ruhwedel re-signed with the Penguins to a two-year deal.

The Penguins announced that this new deal has an average annual value of $650,000 — a modest raise from his one-year, $575,000 deal for last season, but still certainly affordable for a Pittsburgh team that needs to get restricted free agents Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary under contract.

In his first season with the Penguins, Ruhwedel split his time between Pittsburgh and the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He scored twice with 10 points in 34 games with Pittsburgh, and then appeared in six postseason games as injuries continued to mount on the blue line.

His last game of the postseason came on May 19 versus Ottawa. He was diagnosed with a concussion, which was the result of a hit from Bobby Ryan in Game 4.

 

NHL announces 2017-18 regular season schedule

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The NHL released next year’s schedule on Thursday — one that cemented the league wouldn’t be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Games are scheduled right through the Olympic window, which runs from Feb. 9-25. You can view the entire schedule here.

Some dates of note:

• The Penguins will raise their Stanley Cup banner on opening night, Oct. 4, prior to their home date against the Blues.

• The league’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will play their first game on Oct. 6 in Dallas, and their first home game on Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

• Detroit will play its first game in Little Caesar’s Arena on Oct. 5, against the Wild.

• Ottawa and Colorado will play a pair of games in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 10 and 11.

• Ottawa and Montreal will play the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic outdoors, at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, on Dec. 16.

• The Rangers and Sabres will participate in the annual Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field.

• From Jan. 26-29, Tampa Bay will host the NHL All-Star weekend.

• On Mar. 3, Washington will host Toronto in an outdoor game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Marc-Andre Fleury, now a Golden Knight, will make his return to Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.

Jonathan Drouin, now a Montreal Canadien, will make his return to Tampa Bay on Dec. 28.

Jordan Eberle, now a New York Islander, will make his return to Edmonton on Mar. 8.

Eberle hopes to re-establish chemistry with John Tavares

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Jordan Eberle believes the trade to the New York Islanders will provide him with a fresh start — and possibly the opportunity to play alongside John Tavares.

In a blockbuster Thursday morning, the Oilers dealt Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome.

There is a history between the two talented forwards that famously dates back to the 2009 World Juniors.

Back then, the draft-eligible Tavares was expected to go No. 1 overall in a few months time. Eberle was a first-round pick from the year before. It was Tavares shoveling a backhand shot toward the net and Eberle scooping up the puck and putting it behind the Russian goalie in the final seconds of regulation to send the semifinal game into overtime.

It’s one of the iconic moments in Canadian World Juniors history.

They will be reunited with the Islanders, and potentially on the same line, in order to give Tavares a scoring winger.

“From me, you have to be confident in your ability and confident that you can be in a top-six role. I think I’ve shown in the past that I can score in this league and I’ve had previous chemistry with John,” said Eberle, who scored 20 goals and 51 points for the Oilers this past season.

“Obviously, he’s a very intelligent player and the way that he plays suits my game. Maybe, if that’s where I end up, our games suit each other well.”

Eberle goes from a team that had Connor McDavid, the 2017 Hart Trophy winner, to Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009, an Olympian, and a player with two 80-plus point seasons under his belt.

They are both, as Eberle said, generational players. But with two totally different styles on the ice.

“I think you look at their attributes as players. I think Connor, the first one that sticks out to mind, is his speed. He’s maybe one of the fastest guys with the puck and you have to be able to keep up with that,” said Eberle. “John thinks the game, maybe, better than any other player in the league.

“Each does his thing in their own way, but gets the job done. For me, it’s more of, in my mind, to get ready to the best ability that I can to get into camp and hopefully fit in.”

Welcome Jason Demers to the trade rumor mill

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Florida’s season ended on April 9. Since then, the Panthers:

— Made a coaching change from Tom Rowe to Bob Boughner

Re-instilled Dale Tallon as GM

Lost leading goalscorer Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft

Traded Reilly Smith to Las Vegas.

And they might not be done shaking things up.

Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, defenseman Jason Demers — who was left unprotected at the expansion draft — is now available for trade. The news comes just one year after Demers signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Florida in free agency, one of the biggest moves in the club’s defensive overhaul from the season prior.

The 29-year-old was a lineup fixture in Florida last year. He appeared in 81 of 82 games, scoring nine goals and 28 points while averaging 19:37 TOI.

If anything, today’s news suggests Tallon might be trying to undo the work Rowe did during his stint as GM. It was Rowe, don’t forget, that inked Smith to his five-year, $25 million deal last July. Smith went on to have a subpar year — just 15 goals and 37 points — and, in one of his final noteworthy acts as head coach, Rowe called Smith out for his lacklustre play towards the end of the season.