Red Wings send Vanek to Panthers for pick, McIlrath

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Vancouver, British Columbia — Thomas Vanek’s brief stay with the Red Wings is over.

The Red Wings traded Vanek to the Florida Panthers for minor league defenseman Dylan McIlrath, a 2017 third-round draft pick (which could turn into Arizona’s third-round round, which Florida owns, if the Panthers make the playoffs), and retaining 50 percent of Vanek’s salary.

The Red Wings traded defenseman Brendan Smith and forwards Steve Ott and Tomas Jurco during the last week, acquiring draft picks in the process.

Vanek, 33, was signed by the Red Wings last summer to a one-year contract (worth $2.6 million) in a move many analysts felt was a no-risk gamble.

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The gamble paid off nicely, as Vanek produced 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 48 games with a plus-2 rating.

Many Red Wings fans and analysts were underwhelmed by what the Red Wings could get back for Vanek, but Holland was satisfied.

After the flurry of trades the Red Wings now own 11 picks in June’s Entry Draft — including four in the third round (Chicago, Florida, Toronto (acquired when coach Mike Babcock signed there) and New York Rangers).

“We worked the phones and got the best we could in the marketplace,” Holland said. “When we looked at where we are in the standings, it was an opportunity to get back draft picks. We’ve traded away so many draft picks over the years.

“We got an opportunity to stockpile some draft picks, an opportunity for our scouts to find players, or if there’s a trade out there to strengthen our team, maybe move picks that way.

“It gives us flexibility and options.”

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Holland is disappointed with the Red Wings’ current position in the standings, but is optimistic things can change quickly heading into next season.

“I’d rather be a buyer than a seller,” said Holland of the unique position for the Red Wings this season. “There’s so much parity in the league. We feel we’re right there. Our plan is to be right back in the mix next season.”

Vanek is on his way to an 11th 20-goal season in his career, only missing last season when he scored 18 in Minnesota.

The Wild bought Vanek out of his contract last summer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Florida is hoping Vanek can produce a similar shot in the arm offensively, but the veteran has a history of not producing as well in the playoffs (63 games, with 20 goals and 14 assists).

Vanek told Canadian sports network TSN he was happy in his time with Detroit but was looking forward to joining the Panthers for the stretch run.

“It’s a place I really enjoyed playing,” Vanek said. “I liked it, my family liked it, and it’s a great culture. Obviously the year hasn’t gone the way we wanted. I’m excited to join Florida and make a push for the playoffs.”

McIlrath, 24, is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hand shooting defenseman who was a former first-round selection by the New York Rangers (2010, 10th overall).

But McIlrath was never able to earn a regular job with the Rangers and was dealt to the Panthers this season, where he’s split time in the minor leagues.

McIlrath has size and can play a physical game, but has had trouble with foot speed.

McIlrath will join the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The Red Wings recalled forward Mitch Callahan Wednesday to give the Red Wings 12 available forwards — Gustav Nyquist’s suspension ends Saturday, in time for the game in Edmonton — but Holland said no other player will immediately be recalled by the Red Wings.

Holland doesn’t want any prospect to be promoted, then likely sit in the NHL rather than play major minutes in the minor leagues.