12 games after his acquisition at the trade deadline, Thomas Vanek has shut up all his critics after showing his solid offensive play with his new line-mates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, the team's best line since they have been reunited. Since his arrival with the Bleu Blanc Rouge, Vanek has scored six goals and five assists for 11 points to go along with a +6 rating.
The 30-year-old Austrian now has 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points in 72 games with the Canadiens, the Islanders and the Sabres this season. The 6'2'', 205-lb, winger is an impending free agent at season's end, but with the way he is playing with Desharnais and Pacioretty, who knows if the sniper might decide to re-sign with Montreal.
The creative and intelligent Austrian has given head coach Michel Therrien a true NHL first line that can score on a regular basis. Heck that line scored the team's four goals last night in a 4-1 win against the hapless Florida Panthers. A true offensive sniper, Vanek can float at times in the defensive zone, but his puck-possession skills are excellent and he has always a knack to get at the right place at the right time to bury his scoring chances. The Habs are now 5-0 in their last five games and 8-2 in their last ten games with Vanek on the team's top line. The line is a combined 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in their last seven games, talk about domination.
With now 93 points (43-26-7) in 76 games, the Habs are basically qualified for the playoffs and they are currently battling with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second place in the Altanta Division and home ice advantage. With Tomas Plekanec now centering the team's second line with youngters Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, the Habs can count on two offensive lines to do damage, while the third line of veterans Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere and Brian Gionta can play an effective two-way game.
Let's hope that this red-hot line remains together until the end of the season and manages to find the back of the net on a regular basis against the Lightning who can count on several offensive weapons such as Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Teddy Purcell, as well as rookies Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and rearguard Victor Hedman.
Finally, don't get your hopes too high Habs fans, as Thomas Vaenk is most likely to test free agency comes July 1st after rejecting a seven-year, $50 million offer from the New York Islanders prior to the NHL trade deadline. Still, this doesn't mean that Thomas Vanek will not re-sign long term with Montreal, it just means that the Austrian sniper is likely to test his value on the market before making a decision regarding his long-term future.
Should Vanek and GM Marc Bergevin find a common ground and are able to keep the top-end sniper in Montreal, the organization will have to get creative as the team needs to re-sign UFA Andrei Markov and RFA P.K. Subban to expensive deals before the summer as these two players are the cornerstones of the Habs' blue line.
Should Bergevin re-sign Thomas Vanek to a long-term deal or simply let him walk away come July 1st?
Who should the team let go to make room for the Austrian sniper? Brian Gionta? Lars Eller?
No Foolin' Fred Poulin