We know that Thomas Vanek leaves this weekend with an NHL leading 19 points, that news has been well covered. He has carried this team on his back, in a year where the rest of the team, sans Pominville, is struggling to find their offense. This isn’t unusual for Vanek. He is notoriously a fast starter. In fact, over his career, he has more than a point per game average in the first 10 games that he plays in each season. In the 78 games that fit that category, he has scored 43 goals and has 45 assists for 88 points. All of those averages are well above his career averages.
But let’s take a look at how this year’s start compares to those of Sabres greats, past and present. Unfortunately, game logs for the NHL are only available starting in the 1987-88 season. That excludes the entire French Connection, Danny Gare, Don Luce, and some of Mike Foligno, Phil Housley, and Dave Andreychuk’s seasons. If anyone knows where I can find game logs for seasons prior to 87-88, please let me know and I’ll be happy to run those comparisons too. On to the action…
Below are the top two season starts (through 8 games played) for 16 of the best to wear the blue and gold (or black and red) sweaters in the last 25 years, ordered by career goals scored for the Sabres. Please note, these numbers are based on the player’s first 8 games, not necessarily the team’s first 8.
As you can see, Vanek’s start to this season has very few equals. Only hockey Hall of Famer Pat Lafontaine’s incredible start to the 1992-93 season surpasses it. That year Pat had 16 points through the first 7 games (same as Vanek) but then erupted with 5 points (2G, 3A) against San Jose in the 8th game. Vanek could manage only 3 points in his 8th game. What a bum! LaFontaine went on to score 53 goals and have a Franchise record 148 points that season. He was joined on that team by a pretty good cast of characters that included Alexander Mogilny (76 goals and 127 points) and Dale Hawerchuk (96 points). Vanek doesn’t exactly have that type of company.
Chris Drury and the diminutive Donald Audette (9 goals each) had more goals scored than anyone over the first 8 games but Vanek’s 8 markers ranks right up there too. Chris Drury went on to score 37 goals in 06-07 and Audette netted 12 in an injury shortened season that only allowed him to play 23 games.
Bottom line: Thomas Vanek is off to one of the best starts in recent Sabres memory. Most Sabres fans don’t realize how good this guy really is. Forget Drury and Briere, Vanek is the best skater the Sabres have had in the last decade plus. He continues to climb up the franchise leaderboards. He’s now 10th all time in points with 466, 7th in goals with 238, 4th in powerplay goals with 99, and 4th in game winning goals with 39.
In fact, his career goal scoring averages are right there with some of the all time greats to play in Buffalo. Franchise goals leader, Gilbert Perreault, has a career goals per game of .430. Thomas Vanek’s career goals per game is .429. If he continues the good start he’s had this season, he could finish the year as high as 5th in franchise goals. He trails Mike Foligno for 6th by 9 goals and Craig Ramsay for 5th by 14 goals.
While Vanek is doing his part to help the team succeed, unfortunately, the majority of the team is still in lockout mode and they currently find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture. It seems like a broken record that has been played each year since the Presidents Cup team in 06-07 rolled a balanced scoring attack, but if Buffalo can find some secondary scoring, they could show some promise in a shortened season.
Clearly the top line is doing their part, now it’s up to the rest of the team to pull their weight. That of course leads us to the most important stat of all. The team has only 7 points (3-5-1) through their first 9 games. That’s not going to cut it. Time for guys like Stafford, Ennis, and Ott to step up and be counted.
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LET’S GO BUFFALO!