Is Thomas Vanek's Time as a Buffalo Sabre Coming to an End?

Matt Clouden@@mattcloudenCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 24:  Thomas Vanek #26 of the Buffalo Sabres passes during an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on January 24, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Last week I stumbled upon something interesting in the Twittersphere. 

The much-maligned, anonymous "trade-breaker" @HockeyyInsiderr tweeted that the Buffalo Sabres and the Colorado Avalanche were discussing a Thomas Vanek for Paul Stastny swap.

Now say what you will about the source of the information, but it does make you wonder if Thomas Vanek's time as a Sabre is ending. 

Vanek has been a divisive player since he arrived in Buffalo after the lockout. He was widely disparaged in the Buffalo media after being benched for the stretch run of the 2005-2006 playoffs. His 43 goal season in 2006-2007 was attributed more to his linemate Danny Briere than his goal scoring acumen. He is so widely thought to be a "lazy" player that there is even a Twitter account dedicated to it

Yet, at the same time, one cannot overlook what Vanek has brought to the table in terms of production since he started with the team. 

It is also unfair to criticize him for his salary. Many seem to forget that Vanek was the target of Kevin Lowe's ridiculous offer sheet after his 84-point season in 2006-2007. Yes, Vanek would have been making a good amount of money, but certainly not the $7 million-plus per year he's currently earning. And after the loss of both Briere and Chris Drury that offseason, Darcy Regier couldn't afford to lose another star from the team. 

Of course there's always the "we would have had four first round picks from the Oilers" argument. Assuming Vanek didn't change the Oilers' fortunes drastically in the last four seasons, the Sabres would have had the chance to draft Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, two of the most gifted young players in the league. But that argument is inherently flawed due to the fact that Vanek may have drastically changed their fortunes. So, beyond the fact that the Sabres would have had four more first rounders, it's all speculation.

But regardless of what your opinion of him may be, Vanek is one of the most talented Sabres, if not the most talented. 

Yes, his play is notoriously streaky, but he can impact a game like no other Sabre by taking harmless looking plays and turning them into highlight reel goals. There were times last season when a debate would erupt as to how close Vanek would get to 50 goals. He also co-championed the Sabres through the first half of the season with Jason Pominville. 

Then he "disappeared." He looked slow, and he wasn't his usual ominous presence in front of the opposition's net. Many have pointed to his midseason shoulder injury, in addition to various other ailments, as the reason for his decline in the second half. Others have gone to the usual lazy and streaky arguments. 

So the question is now starting to be asked: Are Vanek's days numbered?

Conventional wisdom says no. 

Vanek will always have a seat reserved in the infamous Lindy Ruff doghouse, but given the amount of time the two have spent in a player-coach relationship, that will always be the case.

And Vanek is one of the team's oldest (as in years with the team) and most talented players. It's certainly hard to say goodbye to that type of player.

Sure, Derek Roy was just traded and he certainly fit the same bill, but his situation was different. Roy blatantly called out Ruff on locker room clean out day; Vanek has never done anything like that, and he has handled the media scrutiny extremely well. 

Roy is also a completely different player in both style and physique than Vanek. Roy is a shifty playmaker that tends to shy away from the rough areas of the ice. Vanek is a power forward, always trying to get to the net and always battling in the corners. Roy is 5'8, 185 lbs. Vanek is 6'2, 210 lbs.

The organization as a whole, as proven by the drafting of centers Mikhail Grigorenko (6'2, 190 lbs.) and Zemgus Girgensons  (6'1, 185 lbs.), is trying to move away from the smaller, skilled front line as a whole. Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson fit that bill, and do not need any more company. Roy was becoming obsolete, something that cannot be said about Vanek.

But despite all that, Regier seems hell-bent on landing a top centerman and Vanek may be the only movable piece to get that done. 

Paul Stastny certainly fits that bill, and he may be Colorado's Vanek as the Colorado media has acknowledged theirs and fans' frustrations with his "up and down" play the last few seasons. (I have even written about how much Stastny makes sense for the Sabres)

However, a straight-up swap of Vanek for Stastny is not what the Sabres need right now. Vanek scores goals. He simply needs a center like Stastny or Cody Hodgson to get him the biscuit. Paired with Vanek, Stastny would easily reach 50 apples. Vanek is the exact reason why a number-one center is so important - he needs someone to get him the puck on a regular basis.

Are there potential deals that would work that involve Vanek and Stastny? Sure. But they would have to sweeten the pot considerably to have the deal make any sense for Buffalo. 

Stastny certainly has the potential of a number-one center, but he needs to play with players like Vanek to reach that potential. His demotion to the third line this year behind Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly surely impacted his production. 

With Vanek in Buffalo, the top three lines would be incredibly deep allowing for Stastny to succeed with pretty much any pair of wings. 

So, while Vanek's name may be thrown around in potential trades, and while there may be a deal out there that could spell the end of Vanek's time in Buffalo, expect to see him in the blue and gold next season. 


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