I'm not one to toot my own horn or say "I told you so," but I did tell you so.
At the end of last season, when the Sabres narrowly missed out on the playoffs after making back-to-back runs to the Conference Finals, I noticed something and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.
All year long, Thomas Vanek had been called "overrated" and a waste of the $10 million salary he was receiving. Now, don't get me wrong. No player is worth $10 million a year, but Vanek was expected the world. It's not his fault he got the deal he did. GM Darcy Regier was cornered into keeping Vanek after Chris Drury and Daniel Briere walked out the door via free agency.
Vanek was supposed to be the leader, the star of the team last season and take the Sabres on his back. But one has to remember that he was just 23 when last year began. That's an awful lot to ask and Vanek struggled.
When he started his surge in February, some doubted it. I, however, was convinced. Vanek was back and he was going to carry the Sabres in 2008-09.
And he hasn't disappointed.
Through the first five games, in which Buffalo is 4-0-1, Vanek has a league-high seven goals and is second in points with nine. He makes plays even when they don't show up on the scoreboard.
His strength lies in his size and ability to disrupt. He's been superb around the net, hammering in rebounds and charging to the net whenever there is a shot on goal. This is what he's being paid to do.
Though he may cool off in the future, I don't expect long slumps out of Vanek. He's finally woken up, shed the burden from his shoulders, and started to score goals the best way he knows how. He can be truly scary once Derek Roy and Ales Kotalik/Drew Stafford (the cycling linemates) pick their games up.
And the fans in Buffalo couldn't be happier.