With 20 games remaining, the Panthers feel they have the team to make a run at the postseason.
On Wednesday, they got a little help.
Florida made perhaps the biggest splash on the NHL’s trade deadline day by picking up veteran forward Thomas Vanek from the Detroit Red Wings.
While the price tag on players seemed high, the Panthers got Vanek — whose 15 goals led Detroit and would be fourth among Florida scorers — relatively cheap.
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Florida gave up a third-round pick and defenseman Dylan McIlrath (who has been playing in the AHL) for Vanek.
Detroit will pick up half of Vanek’s remaining money owed through the end of the season; by trading McIlrath and having Detroit pick up his salary, the Panthers will pay Vanek just $112,000 through the end of the season.
Both players are free agents at the end of the season.
Florida came into Wednesday a point back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and four points back of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division.
“We made our team deeper as far as a balanced attack goes,” said Dale Tallon, Florida’s president of hockey operations who is believed to have swung the deal with Detroit general manager Ken Holland.
“We have three lines which can score, multiple options on the power play, special teams and the shootout. [Vanek’s] a real good addition to our team without interrupting our team and not giving up a young prospect.
“We’re buying and improving our roster again and that’s great for our organization.”
Vanek, 33, played well for Detroit this season after signing a one-year deal with the disappointing Red Wings who, it appears, will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
A former All-Star, Vanek rose to prominence in Buffalo before being traded to the Islanders (and later Montreal) in 2013.
Vanek then signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal with Minnesota that ended last summer when the Wild bought out the final year of the contract because of salary cap concerns.
Then a free agent, Vanek signed a one-year deal with Detroit a few days later.
Vanek was in Vancouver when the trade went down and was said to be on his way east to meet the Panthers in Philadelphia sometime Wednesday night.
Vanek is expected to be in the lineup Thursday against the Flyers — perhaps on Florida’s second line with Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith or the third line with Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Marchessault.
In parts of 12 NHL seasons with the Sabres, Islanders, Canadiens, Wild and Red Wings, he has 331 goals and 687 points in 865 NHL games.
“I’ve been moved before so seeing how things were going in Detroit and it doesn’t look like we’re going to make the playoffs, I kind of figured this would happen,” Vanek told reporters on a conference call from the Vancouver airport.
“[The Panthers] showed last year that they’re capable of making the playoffs. They’re a young team, a lot of talent, a talented defensive core, solid goaltending. I’m excited to join that team and make the push.”
Florida also made a few minor moves with veteran goalie Mike McKenna going from the Panthers’ AHL team in Springfield, Massachusetts, to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
The Panthers also traded away forward Shane Harper to the New Jersey Devils.
Harper made his NHL debut with the Panthers on opening night and scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 22 when he scored twice in a win over Colorado. Harper was sent to Springfield a few weeks later.
“A lot of teams were still in it, so it took a little longer to get things going,” Tallon said leading into the trade deadline. “We started talking along the way; if we weren’t in it, we probably would have done things differently. You never know when things are going to click.”
THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT FLYERS
▪ When, where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
▪ TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
▪ Series: Philadelphia leads 50-34-7.
▪ Scouting report: The Flyers have won both meetings against the Panthers this season yet come into Thursday’s game three points back of Florida. Philadelphia had lost four of five before beating the sinking Avalanche 4-0 on Tuesday.