First off, my apologies on an extended absence in this space. The good folks at Buffalo.com and the Associated Press, amongst others, have taken care of me this early Buffalo sports season, which hasn’t prevented me from this space. As for time for this space, yes. Preventive. Quite so.
So let me get you up to speed on where my head is at in terms of the Sabres, Bills and UB amongst other things. This post will center on the now…Vanek-less Sabres
For the first time in my young son’s life he’ll be attending a Sabres game, one that seems predestined to be a competitive event. The Stars are better than the Sabres but many of Buffalo’s players will be fired up to play against their former boss, Lindy Ruff. Combine that with Dallas heading up North a few thousand miles, not to mention that Buffalo’s never gone eight home games into a season without a win, and I’ll say the game’s a push. Call it Dallas, 3-2.
But what’s more awkward is that I feel my son — who surely won’t remember a ton about this evening (he’ll turn three in 2 weeks) — has missed out on seeing one of the franchise’s all-time greats. To me, given his teammates and production, Thomas Vanek is one of the five best Sabres forwards in history (Perreault’s No. 1, then a gulf before Martin, Vanek, Ramsay and Gare).
Like Jason Pominville on a much more talented scale, Vanek has been overlooked and under-appreciated by a wild number of Sabre fans since his time here began in earnest in 2005. He got off to a relatively-poor start as a professional — would you take 25 goals from a Sabres rookie this season? — and, seeing as he’s not North American, never got his due for being an elite and intelligent gamer who scored in the clutch and took an absolute beating. His smarts and skills are off the charts, and I’m officially rooting for an Isles/Wild final this year. Could you imagine typical Buffalo sports honk handling a Pominville v. Vanek for hardware competition? Tremendous.
Still at this point there’s a lather built up by some of you. Vanek? An all-time Sabre? Did you drink bleach on your lunch break, Mendola?
Yes, and it was deliciously deadly.
Thomas Vanek has played in nearly half the games of the franchise’s all-time hero, Perreault, and the figures are shockingly similar (x2) aside from centerman Perreault’s lopsided and unmesswithable assist numbers.
(814? That’s 10 more assists than Sabres No. 2 scorer Dave Andreychuk had points. He also played in almost 1200 games here but holy smokes).
Given the other mentioned wingers’ era — GOOOOOALS — Vanek’s similar numbers are a credit to the big man. No. 26 is:
— 11th in games played (598, 10 behind Lindy Ruff)
— 5th in goals (254, 13 behind Danny Gare)
— 11th in assists (243, 21 behind Mike Foligno)
— 9th in points (497, three behind Gare)
— 4th in power play goals (106, eight behind Martin)
— 4th in game-winning goals (41, two behind Foligno)
His number 26 will one day join 2, 7, 11, 14, 16, 18 and 39 in the rafters. Also, look at the names he stands near at this point in his career:
He’s outpacing many of those Sabres legends, despite rarely having that top-notch center and playing in a close-to-dead-puck era (which also elevates Spezza and Gaborik on that list). There are plenty of little stories to support his status — being the only skating Sabre to show up for a playoff series against Boston despite skating on a pummeled leg for Game Five — but the fact is that many in the area never got over his finicky rookie season and the contract he never asked for.
I have to believe the whispers that Vanek didn’t have a lot of interest for coming back here unless the team looked great this year, and I also believe that a “max” contract was offered his way this season or offseason. General manager Darcy Regier loves high draft picks and certainly wouldn’t want to get rid of a 5th overall talent just into his prime (He’s 29. TWENTY-NINE).
As for giving Regier tons of high-fives for his haul in this deal (as well as the Pominville case)… pretty laughable. How often do players who’ve scored more goals than 99 percent of the league become available before the age of 30? You’re damn right he’s getting a first, second and producer (Please don’t be the people saying Moulson’s comparable to Vanek. Tavares). That said, what Regier got for Paul Gaustad is still mind-boggling.
Goodbye, Thomas Vanek. You’ve done the unthinkable: made me care about the Islanders.