Last week there was a considerable amount of fallout on Twitter over a post on Trending Buffalo suggesting Thomas Vanek should be the next Sabre on the chopping block.
In the other corner, Alexander Bauer pieced together his own take on Black, Blue and Gold as a follow up.
Since then, the one thing that struck me in the aftermath of both pieces was the amount of Sabres fans so eager to jettison a player who has been, by most accounts, the team’s most impressive player since Danny Briere and Chris Drury bolted town five seasons ago. So, naturally, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and lay out a few of my own thoughts on the debate.
Before we get started, I’d like to preface this post by stating I am in no way the president of the Thomas Vanek fan club hopelessly dedicating my life to protecting the rights and reputations of Austrian-born players. This post is simply designed to silence the crowd which believes a team that can’t score is better off without its best scorer.
Here’s five reasons why …
1. He’s better than you think
Most of you who will disagree with this article will likely structure your rebuttal based around the premise that Vanek is not really that good at playing hockey. At least, not $7 million good. But I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
You can say he doesn’t play physical. Fine. Or that he’s only as good as the linemates he plays with. Maybe. But you couldn’t be more wrong when you downplay his worth solely because the Sabres haven’t won much since July 1, 2007, when Darcy Regier handed Vanek the keys to the team and said, “Drive.”
What’s more is suggesting Vanek be dealt solely because he merely finished last season tied for 49th in scoring — once again “not meeting expectations.”
But what’s one season? For more accuracy in evaluating talent, especially in hockey where even the best players have one or two statistically off years throughout their careers, you need to take a look at the big picture, and the big picture holds Vanek in a much brighter light.
Besides, how can you really take away much of anything from last year’s Sabres team? They were terrible — and shorthanded — for an overwhelming majority of games throughout last season. It’s like judging a girl’s attractiveness immediately after she rolls out of bed in the morning before she has a chance to throw herself together (We’re all a bunch of shallow jackasses after all, aren’t we?).
Yes, 48 players outscored Vanek last season. Of those 48, exactly half have averaged more points than the 62.8 No. 26 has averaged per season since 2007-08. Their names?
Alex Ovechkin (96.2), Henrik Sedin (89), Evgeni Malkin (88.4), Martin St. Louis (86), Joe Thornton (83.6), Daniel Sedin (82.4), Steven Stamkos* (82.3), Jerome Iginla (81.8), Ilya Kovalchuk (81.2), Pavel Datsyuk (78), Henrik Zetterberg (76.8), Eric Staal (74.6), Anze Kopitar (74.6), Patrick Kane (73.8), Jason Spezza (72.6), Mike Ribeiro (69.6), Brad Richards (68.8), Patrick Marleau (67.8), John Tavares* (67.3), Jason Pominville (66.6), Ray Whitney (66), Patrick Elias (64.2), Marian Gaborik (63.2) and Zach Parise (63.2).
* Stamkos has only played four full seasons since 07-08, and Tavares has only played three, compared to the five taken into account for all other players.
(By the way, did you all notice Jason Pominville made that list? Incredible! And you thought that worthless bum has done nothing throughout his career. I suppose that’s a debate for a different day. For an argument for today, anyone else notice the Sabres have two players who make this list? The only other teams with multiple players in this top 25: Detroit, Vancouver, New York Rangers, San Jose, Washington, New Jersey… Hmm.)
That’s it. In other words, of the top 48 scorers from last season, only 24 have been better than Vanek over the past five seasons.
Considering the hundreds of players who are rostered by NHL teams year after year, and that the aforementioned 24 players are not enough to accommodate all 30 teams, meaning not every team can say they have a player like Vanek, I’d say that puts him in relatively good company.
These are the biggest names in the game, folks. In the NHL, if you should happen to stumble across one of these guys, you keep them and you build your team around them.
If you haven’t noticed, that list does not include Bobby Ryan or Rick Nash — two of the biggest names coming out of everyone’s mouths this summer.
In fact, Nash’s career numbers are nearly identical to Vanek’s. You want to gauge Vanek’s worth on the trade market? Look at what Columbus hauled in for Nash. If that doesn’t scream …
2. You almost never receive equal value in a trade
… I don’t know what does.
Nash brought Columbus a good haul, but I’m not sure you’ll find anyone who will tell you the Blue Jackets are a better team with Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon than they were with Nash. Not this year, anyway. Each player lacks the potential to ever reach the status Nash currently holds.
And you know, after months of drawn-out trade discussion, that Scott Howson almost certainly milked all that he could out of the Rangers for Nash — which is a little discouraging if you’re another team seeking a king’s ransom, or even equal value, in return for your star player.
If we’ve learned anything from the stalled trade talks this season it’s that teams just aren’t ponying up for the big names like their GMs are hoping. Even beyond Nash, look at Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, Ryan in Anaheim or any other juicy name trade mongers are eating up. Good, old fashioned hockey trades no longer exist in today’s NHL, so why trade Vanek unless he brings in a player significantly better? Based on the stats above, there aren’t many of those players in the league, which renders the “star-for-a-star” type deal pointless.
Thumb through the list above and conjure up your own trade. How many players can you find whose teams would be willing to part with to bring in Vanek? A realistic scenario does not exist.
It’s almost silly, really, to even compare the Blue Jackets and Sabres here because each team’s situation this offseason is vastly different, but I’m going to for sake of argument. The difference is Columbus did what they had to do in dealing Nash. They’ve been at the bottom of the league for years, and while the Sabres haven’t lived up to our hopes and dreams, they’ve at least been in or right around a playoff spot with Vanek as the go-to guy eahc of the past five seasons.
The point is, yes, there’s plenty left to be desired, both from Vanek and the team as a whole, but there’s not a whole lot of ground for the Sabres to make up here, and a lateral move makes zero sense from where they stand at this point in time. Most will agree the team is just another Vanek (aka 60-80 point player) away from taking a serious run at this thing.
Instead of subtracting Vanek for player x, you find ways to bring that player to Buffalo by other means, whether it be via trade (Bobby Ryan) or free agency (no longer a viable option this year). Besides …
3. The help Vanek needs may be right under our noses
… in the form of a pair of 22-year-old centers.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Sabres’ deficiencies down the middle. Unquestionably, it still remains the team’s glaring flaw now that a little sandpaper has been applied, and it might not be realistic to say that will change this season, but there’s still plenty of reason for optimism so long as Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson are on the roster.
Everyone will say, “But Vanek still needs a No. 1 center! He’ll will never be good until he has a No. 1!” But I’ll say it appears the Sabres’ brass are very content with Hodgson and Ennis as their interchangeable 1-2 punch heading into the season. Whether that’s the right approach or not, who knows? But I’m willing to give the pair of 22-year-olds, both of which have yet to complete a second full season in the NHL, a season to show us what they can do before I suggest they can’t be the centers this team has been missing.
And why can’t they be? Neither Hodgson or Ennis have given us any reason to doubt they won’t fill out their potential. In fact, Hodgson played especially well alongside Vanek in a small sample size toward the end of last season. They seemed to click together at times, which is encouraging given they’ll likely be given many more opportunities to succeed together this season.
Look, we can all agree this team’s a work in progress, but they’re certainly not rebuilding. Not yet. The only time you should consider trading a player like Vanek is when you raise the white flag and press the do-over button. For now the Sabres are retooling and Vanek is a tool that still functions at a high level. So …
4. If it’s not rotten, why throw it away?
Especially when you can’t name another player on the Sabres’ roster capable of performing at the level Vanek gets on when at his best.
The best cases made for trading Vanek center around the Sabres’ greater needs. Those who say trade Vanek for Ryan emphasize the three-year age difference or that Ryan brings more physicality to his game without the loss of scoring. Those shouting for a center in return say the position is a greater need; that good wingers essentially grow on trees when you pair them with the right center.
Both are valid arguments.
But you can’t make the case Vanek is done growing as a player. After all, he is still just 27 years old. For most players, when you’re 27, you’re just entering into the prime of your career. Yes, Vanek’s a seven-year veteran who hasn’t led his team to much success, but you don’t trade a player who has yet to hit full stride. Especially if there’s nothing broken.
Fact is, players like Vanek don’t grow on trees, which is pretty much the crux of this entire piece. If you’re looking to shake up the Sabres’ core, trading Vanek is not the place to begin. That need left with Derek Roy upon his departure to Dallas. If you ask me, Roy was essentially the final piece of the puzzle worth fixing, aside from maybe a Drew Stafford. For now, trading Roy will do. Should the team fall apart again this season, then I can get behind a full-on demolition.
It seems people ride Vanek because he hasn’t scored 40 goals since 2009. But there’s so much more worth to a player than goals, especially when he’s the only player scoring them, and in the playoffs, too, nonetheless (Vanek has 15 goials and 20 points in 35 career playoff games).
Some will scoff at a 60-point season, but 60 points is 20 goals and 40 assists, or 30 goals and 30 assists, however you want to put it. I’ll take that. That’s not top-tier production, but those numbers are incredibly respectable, and Vanek posts them more consistently than most other players in the league.
You’ll say it shouldn’t matter. A player who is considered a “star” should be able to make everyone around him better. But that’s such a tired, misconceived method of evaluating a player’s worth to a team. I think we can all agree Vanek is not, nor will he likely ever be, that guy. But, really, there’s only a handful of players around the league who truly qualify for that exclusive distinction.
So is it right for us to expect that much?
Has he been a disappointment relative to the seven-year, $50 million contact he signed via Edmonton’s offer sheet five season ago? Sure. But you can’t fault him for signing on the dotted line. Had the offer sheet never happened, his cap hit would likely be a little more team-friendly, and expectations might not be as high.
I mean, did we really think he would become a superstar? Those expectations were pretty lofty. Surround Vanek with the right talent, and he becomes a top-15 scorer year after year. Don’t trade him for something similar simply for the sake of making a move. Which leads to the most important point of this entire argument; the No. 1 rule in front offices around the sports world …
5. Never make trades just to make them
And you don’t trade Thomas Vanek just because you’re sick of waiting for the Sabres to be something more.
For this, I’ll use an exerpt from Alex’s post, because I couldn’t say it better myself.
Fact #3 – Just because you’re bored because there has been relatively little action lately doesn’t mean anyone is, or should be on the chopping block. Moves for the sake of making moves are bad, which is what every single suggestion to move Vanek has been.
Exactly. Every little Vanek trade cry, no matter how sensible or absurd, stems from one of two common seeds — boredom and/or irrational cynicism.
There’s no debating Vanek is the most talented player on the Sabres’ roster. We get it — the Sabres are no longer the cute, cuddly team everyone loved back in 2006 and 2007. Obviously, patience is beginning to wear thin with the remainder of the team’s core. But hasty decisions almost never turn out as planned. So, for now, I’m content with watching where this team winds up at the end of this season.
Should they come up short again, I’m not sure there’s a name on the team that shouldn’t be mentioned in trade talk. Until then, though, there’s no scenario in which a Thomas Vanek-less Sabres team is a Sabres team better off.
You almost certainly don’t agree with Brandon’s opinion on this matter, so please, let him hear about it in the comment box or be sure to follow him on Twitter @B_Schlag and express your distaste.