Minnesota Wild again go without Thomas Vanek during playoff push

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The Minnesota Wild are planning to scratch underachieving forward Thomas Vanek on Tuesday for their game against the Los Angeles Kings.

Wild coach John Torchetti said he’s “not happy that I haven’t gotten Vanek to play at the level I think he can play at.” 

Vanek has sat the team's last two games. His last game was March 17, when he was a minus-2 against the New Jersey Devils and had no points. Vanek has just three points in his last 10 games. He hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 25 at the Philadelphia Flyers.

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A former two-time 40-goal scorer, Vanek is in the second season of a three-year deal that pays him $6.5 million per-year. Vanek has 41 points and 18 goals in 70 games this year. His 0.59 points per-game are the lowest since his rookie year.

Vanek was scratched earlier in the season as well, but that was reportedly more to send a message. At this point in the year, Torchetti has said he’s trying to ice the lineup that can best help his team win.

Vanek recently opened up about his struggles this season to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I think at this point there’s no need to talk,” Vanek said. “We’re trying to win games, and if that’s what he thinks is the best lineup, I’ve got to respect that. Am I happy about it? Of course not. I still feel like I can make a difference in this league."

The Wild replaced former coach Mike Yeo with Torchetti on an interim basis in mid-February and early on it appeared he was starting to get through to Vanek, who had five points in a four-game stretch in late February.

“Any time a coach change happens I think it gives everyone a kind of re-start button and I think you can see it,” Vanek said after the team’s Stadium Series win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 21. “I think everyone is making plays where a week ago maybe we weren’t making plays, myself included.” 

The Wild are currently fighting with the Colorado Avalanche for the final Wild Card spot. Going into Tuesday’s game against the Kings, Minnesota was one point back of the Avs with each team having nine games left. Torchetti’s decision to not use Vanek during important games brings up questions as to whether the Wild could buy out the winger in the offseason, according to The Hockey Writers.

If the Wild were to buyout the remaining year of Vanek’s contract it would immediately free up $5 million of cap space.  That’s a significant number that can be used to sign other high tiered free-agent forwards that will most likely demand somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-6 million a season. This might seem like a must do, but as with all buyouts though there is still some retained cap hit that will make a dead money situation.  In the case of Vanek’s contract the Wild would see $1.5 million in dead money next season, and $2.5 million the season after that.  This money becomes money that can’t be used for any salaries but counts towards the team’s overall salary cap number.

As of now, it’s unclear how the Wild will move forward with Vanek this season and beyond, but the two haven’t been as solid a fit as they hoped when Vanek signed with the team two summers ago. Vanek has also been the subject of off-ice legal drama the last several years. Vanek's future is another issue general manager Chuck Fletcher will have to address in what could be a busy offseason for the team. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!