Buffalo Sabres Player Of The Week: 10/7-10/15

“When you pull on that jersey, the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back”- Herb Brooks (1980)

How can one argue with Herb Brooks? Of course, the man is right. Win as a team, lose as a team, play for THE TEAM. However, you still need individuals performing to their own highest levels. Whether it’s scoring, hitting, or making a save, individual efforts need to be recognized.

I wish my boss would read this.

Throughout the season, and it’s a long one, I will be recognizing a Buffalo Sabres “player of the week”. There shouldn’t be any one player who corners the market on such a “prestigious accolade”, as ours is a team replete with talent, skill and ability. Any one of these guys could be “the hero”. Ryan Miller is an obvious candidate week to week, for obvious reasons. The captain, Jason Pominville, has been solidly reminding me of the Pommers from a few years back. There’s no reason this guy can’t give us a 70 point season again. Christian Ehrhoff will certainly garner considerations if he keeps blasting away at terrified goalies, and with four assists in four games would have been given serious thought if it weren’t  for his glaring minus three rating (you’re welcome, DG). There could be some surprise winners, too. Andrej Sekera has been, in my eyes (and I never thought I’d say this), the best Sabres rearguard thus far this season. With a plus three rating and two assists, and tight defensive zone play, Reggie doesn’t look ready to split any playing time with Mike Weber or M-A Gragnani. Though, inconsistency has been Sekera’s achilles heel, so we’ll see if he can continue to hold steady. Finally, if I had a rookie of the week column, my boy Luke Adam wins hands down. Six points in four games, including three goals, and a plus two rating certainly has people talking. You’ve got a hold of it Luke, now don’t let it go.

I know, I know, get on with it already.

The Buffalo Sabres POTW for October 7th-15th is……

THOMAS VANEK

 

Watching Lindy Ruff‘s presentation of the captains’ jerseys on October 6th, there were some things I noticed, and some player reactions, that stuck with me for a few days.

The first player to get a letter was a well deserving Paul Gaustad. Nervous grins and applause filled the picture, including a seemingly genuine reaction from Thomas Vanek, who smiled and clapped for his friend. The very next sequence is what had me worried, though. Vanek’s name was called by the coach to come up and accept his assistant captain’s jersey.

It looked like someone kicked his dog.

The look on his face spoke a thousand words. What happened next spoke a thousand more. An obviously unhappy Vanek walked to the front of the room, went to take the jersey from his coach who, at that point, stuck out his hand in a congratulatory gesture. Vanek unenthusiastically grabbed Ruff’s hand and, while not making any sort of eye contact with his coach, gave a half-hearted shake. An unimpressed Ruff then responded by saying quietly, “A little firmer handshake next time, Thomas”.

Wow.

Was Van the man believing the hype and chatter around town that perhaps he deserved to captain this hockey team? Was it a forgone conclusion in his mind that the “C” was his to lose? Was I reading too much into all of this?

Perhaps he didn’t want a letter at all. Maybe that was why he looked so disappointed. Maybe he didn’t want the extra responsibilities. Yeah, I doubt it. I believe that Vanek knows he pretty much carried this team last year when his number one center, and long-time linemate, Derek Roy went down with a season-ending injury. Word had it that he had become a more vocal leader in the dressing room, that he’s matured a ton in the six years he’s been a Sabre. Vanek has always been a whipping boy of sorts for Ruff. I think the two, based on interactions I’ve seen, do genuinely like each other. What I see is a coach who knew he had a world-class talent, but didn’t always get the effort. Vanek had come across as being lazy at times, perhaps even a bit out of shape. One thing you could never deny, however, was his talent for finding the back of the net, or his willingness to take a beating in front of the cage. Coach wanted more. He tried an experiment with Vanek on the penalty kill a couple years ago, with mixed results. Vanek’s indifference on the back check often drove Ruff to fits, too. He always had that second gear when it came to his skating, but too often didn’t display that, either.

Something happened on the way to game number 37 last season.

Was it a realization that this team needed him to be the leader, and not just offensively? Did he see that a season that was about half over would end after game 82 if certain things weren’t ramped up a bit? There was a more conscious effort on Vanek’s part to do what had to be done to win the one-on-one battles, and to win games.  In the final 45 games, Vanek had 48 points and was a plus 13. He seemed to want it more so than I’ve ever seen. He was the defacto leader on a team that was fighting for their playoff lives. He popped in five more goals in the seven game series against the Philadelphia Flyers. There was a transformation in Vanek’s game.

He deserved the captaincy as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t alone, either.

However, coach Ruff felt otherwise, and ultimately I’m okay with Pominville as our captain. And the fact that Vanek was presented with an “A” shouldn’t be taken lightly either, I suppose. Ruff is acknowledging Vanek as a leader. Just not the leader. I was worried though, after the presentation in Europe, that Ruff had lost Vanek.

Lindy obviously knew what he was doing.

Through 4 games, Vanek has been his team’s best player. He looks leaner, stronger and has that second gear working full time. It seems to be an all-out effort shift to shift. He looks, well, pissed. He had a rough game in the loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, but many of his teammates did, as well. He was certainly man enough to pin the loss on himself after a dismal showing on Friday, and that shows leadership.

It’s still early, but Vanek seems to have found great chemistry with his linemates Adam and Pominville. The line has combined for 7 goals and 18 points in four games, and is a plus 5. Vanek has 3 of those goals, 2 on the power-play (his bread and butter), to go along with 4 assists for 7 points. His 20 shots is almost double what the next closest Sabre has put on net, and his 2 power-play goals pace the team. It’s his effort, though, not just his statistics. Vanek is standing up to the opposition when the rough stuff starts, and has been in his share of after-the-whistle scrums, pushing them right back. He ain’t takin’ no crap. Ruff has also gone back to using Vanek in some penalty killing situations, showing some confidence in his talented player.

Frankly, Vanek seems to be out to prove something (to somebody, perhaps?). If Vanek really wanted the captaincy, and is out to prove to his head coach that it should have been him that received it, then the team (and us, as fans) will be better for it. And Ruff will look like a genius.

Should I tell Vanek he has to share half of the award with his coach then?

 

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Tags: Buffalo Sabres Buffalo Sabres Captains Carolina Hurricanes Herb Brooks Lindy Ruff Luke Adam Paul Gaustad Sabres Scoring Leaders Thomas Vanek. Drew Stafford

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