There’s a unique state of limbo reserved only for NHL players in the final year of their current contracts. It’s not uncommon to begin the season with one club, join a second for (fingers crossed) a playoff run, only to sign with a third in the offseason. More rare, but not entirely unheard of, is representing four NHL teams in a calendar year. Just ask two former members of the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.
Many, if not most, of your favorite NHL pundits favor Vanek to sign with the Wild this summer. Not only did Vanek play college hockey with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but his wife is from the state. From a fantasy perspective -- and that’s what we’re all about here -- there’s undeniable appeal in the thought of the versatile winger skating on a Wild top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Or, with Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund. Plus, youngsters Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are only getting better ... you get the idea. There’s plenty of flexibility in finding the right fit and chemistry for Vanek in Minnesota.
That being said, a long playoff run may go a long way in maybe convincing Vanek to re-sign with the Canadiens. That wouldn’t make for such a bad fantasy future, either. Competing with linemates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, Vanek has 14 points in 15 games (as of April 9), and that was after a sluggish start with his new club. Whether he sticks in Montreal or signs with the Wild, Vanek faces an exceptionally bright fantasy future next season.
Meanwhile, Moulson’s offseason options appear more varied and less predictable. Beyond helping the Wild challenge in the playoffs, the former Sabre and Islander seems uncommitted to his new squad long term. At last check, he also essentially ruled out a return to Long Island. So while there’s talk the Florida Panthers might pursue the goal scorer, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings and others, the fact is that Moulson’s future remains up in the air. That’s where we’ll leave it for now, except for pointing out the coincidence that Vanek might end up replacing Moulson on an NHL roster, this time indirectly in Minnesota, for the second time in eight months.
As free-agent forwards with unpredictable playing futures, Vanek and Moulson are hardly alone.