Apr 26, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek (26) during the game against the New York Islanders at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres Must Trade Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller to Create A Culture of Winning

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re reading this, chances are you fit into one of two categories:

1. You absolutely agree with me, and came to show your support; or

2. You absolutely despise me right now, and came to rip me a new one.

Either way, I’m good.  Let’s do this.

The other day, I wrote a little piece about what the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals are showing me about the Buffalo Sabres – namely, the Sabres don’t have the desire, leadership, and winning mindset that a team like the Boston Bruins possess.  The Sabres have talent, but lost focus too often this season, failed to show up for big games, and never seemed to receive the sort of veteran leadership a team needs in order to band together and make a desperate push to make the playoffs.  At the end of that article, I wrote, ” the Buffao Sabres CANNOT expect to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup any time soon . . . unless major changes take place in the 716.”

Here’s your first major change, Western New York: the Buffalo Sabres absolutely MUST trade Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek in order to take that first step toward develop a culture of winning.

Most Sabres fans have probably already resigned themselves to the fact that Vanek and Miller will be gone soon, if not this summer, then the summer that they become UFAs.  However, the fact that these two players will not be wearing Sabres’ jerseys for much longer doesn’t sit well with many fans.  Apparently, it doesn’t sit well with Sabres owner Terry Pegula, either, as he went on the air Tuesday and proclaimed to anyone listening that he wants these two cornerstone players to remain in Buffalo next season, and possibly beyond.  If anyone is a bigger fan of the Buffalo Sabres than Terry Pegula, I haven’t met him, so it is safe to say that Pegula’s feelings toward keeping these two players represent how a number – possibly, the majority – of Sabres fans feel.

Except, Pegula and the rest of you fans that feel this way are flat-out wrong.  (Pegula was wrong a number of times during his on-air time, in my opinion, but more on that tomorrow.)

Don’t get caught up on the talent angle – yes, both Miller and Vanek make the Sabres a better team on paper, and their abilities will be sorely missed and tough to replace.  I recognize that much, so I’m not a total fool.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

But, while replacing their talent will be  problematic, the larger – and frankly, painfully obvious – problem here is that neither Miller nor Vanek want to play in Buffalo any more, and anyone who argues that their talent outweighs any dissension these two guys may be causing in the locker room obviously has no idea how team sports work.

The minute a player – or even worse, players – starts to worry about himself instead of the team, it’s time to move on.  Every player has to sit down and negotiate a contract from time to time – that’s not what I’m talking about.  The business side of the sport is unfortunate, but everyone gets it.  What players don’t get, however, is how a player can gripe to the media about not wanting to be around during a rebuild, or whining about not being a part of the team core, and still come to the arena claiming to be dedicated to the team.  Maybe I’m wrong – maybe the Buffalo players DO get the perspectives of Miller and Vanek.  In which case, we may need to ship a whole bunch of players out of town, because any player who can be led by, or even play alongside, a teammate who thinks it is okay to publicly express an interest in leaving the organization is just the next cancer waiting to grow.

Take some time to read about a team like the Boston Celtics.  (I do like some Boston teams!)  When a player comes to play for the Boston Celtics, they become a Celtic.  They immerse themselves in the tradition.  They fight to remain a part of it.  Heck, they even fight to persuade other players to come to Boston, and lobby for management to do whatever it takes to keep the players on the roster.  In short, the Boston Celtics have built a culture of winning that its players buy into, and feel strongly about.  There’s a reason why current Celtics players feel personally stung by the fact that Ray Allen left the team to play for the Miami Heat – basketball may be a business, but the Celtics are a family, and Ray Allen slapped them in the face.

Compare the Celtics to the Buffalo Sabres.  You won’t like what you find.  If you want to see this team build a legitimate contender for Lord Stanley’s Cup, you need to fill this roster with players who buy into a system, will sacrifice everything to win, and who want to be in Buffalo more than anywhere.   I’ll refer to the Boston Bruins only once here: notice how they handled Tim Thomas.   He didn’t want to commit to the Bruins for a season, so they shipped him out.  His talent was difficult to replace, but he was no longer part of their winning culture, so out the door he went.   Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek no longer want to be in Buffalo; the Sabres should oblige them and bring in players who do.

More than any sport, NHL hockey is a team-based sport.  Aside from a supremely hot goalie, teams win championships less because of the superstars on

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

their team, and more because they have assembled a group of guys who will fight, sweat, bleed, and work themselves practically to death for the other guys in the locker room.  Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are great players, who may have been 100% dedicated to this organization at one point in their amazing careers.   However, their willingness to leave Buffalo will continue to prevent the Buffalo Sabres from instilling a sense of pride and fierce dedication toward the organization in its players.  It’s not the only thing the Sabres must do in order to begin crafting a culture of winning, but it is a necessary first step: the Buffalo Sabres must trade Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, as soon as possible.

Whether you think I am a genius, or find yourself wishing you knew where I lived so you can punch me in the face, be sure to leave a comment below, or hit me up @theamazingMrS!

Tags: Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller Thomas Vanek

  • Kevin

    I am with you Rich, as you may already know. I say if they don’t want to play here and commit 100%, Out the door they go. It has to be done. Now, do I believe the Sabres organization can by some stretch of the imagination patch things up between the parties involved? Yes. Will It? I doubt it.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      And if they do patch things up, is that still how you build a rock-solid, in-it-to-win-it organization? I don’t want a guy who is only 60% invested.

      • Kevin

        Well by patching things up I mean like you got what you want and everything is all smiles and ready to give 100% type thing. I think over the course of a season players have peaks and valleys the same as we do in our jobs. Difference being the players have a second seasons to play for. That is probably what your speaking of. And as far as that goes, no one can ever be sure where a players mind is at.

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          Ok – I see. There’s two types of patching things up, in my mind: one is where you have regular negotiations, take care of the business side of things, and make the player feel financially appreciated. Then there’s the “We don’t like the direction the franchise is headed in” type of patching up, to which I say, head somewhere else! :)

  • davidmuscalo

    First, Vanek’s and Miller’s abilities are not difficult to replace, they are impossible to replace – players with their abilities would never come to Buffalo to play. That said, if you are correct in your assessment that they do not want to play in Buffalo, they will have to leave. If that happens, you can kiss the playoffs goodbye for at least the next five years.

    In the dismal future, I see the Sabre’s organization as a place for young players to develop their talents and then leave for greener pastures when their entry level contracts expire. Sorry to say, but the Sabres are following the Bills’ blueprint for failure.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      David – I know Miller and Vanek are Buffalo’s two best players. Having said that, no player is impossible to replace. Some franchises always seem to be in the thick of things, but for the most part, success comes and goes, in streaks. Are the Sabres attractive to free agents right now? Not necessarily – but that doesn’t need to be the case forever. I have another post coming soon that presents the other big change that Ifeel the Sabres must make in order to develop this winning tradition to which I refer!

  • wolfdoctor

    Why keep them if they want out? Trade them to whomever offers the most.

  • acpilkin

    Falso. Vanek’s abilities are almost impossible to replace. From lockout to lockout, he is number 8 on the goal scoring list. As in number 8 out of every single playing in the NHL. Add to that his growing creativity and willingness to make exceptional passes to others to allow them to score, you can’t just trade him away and expect to be able to replace even half of his production. Who is going to score goals for the Sabres? Hodgson and…? If Miller has to go, then he has to go. Vanek cannot go.

    Also. Who are you to say they don’t want to play in Buffalo anymore? What if the Sabres make a one year turnaround like the Blue Jackets? Every one is always talking about a long rebuild, but most of the pieces are in place. A good draft and couple good signings and they are a good hockey team.

    • wolfdoctor

      What if Vanek won’t sign a new contract? Let him go for nothing?

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      It’s not me saying they don’t want to stay here in Buffalo. Vanek has made it very clear that he does not want to be a part of a lengthy rebuilding process, and the Sabres have already said they are going to try and build this team the right way. I didn’t make Vanek go public with those comments, and when players start talking about why they will or will not stay, you’re not going to get a full commitment out of them. I am aware of Vanek’s talent, but many players get to the point where they need a change of scenery. Trade him while he still has extreme value – there are always ways to replace a goal scorer.

  • PaulR

    Vanek has great skill, but he needs to be paired with a big center who can battle to get him the puck. My fantasy-hockey line combination? Imagine Vanek playing on a line with Ryan Getzlaf!

    On another note, I don’t think Vanek and Miller have as many options as people believe. The cap is going down. Teams are buying out expensive players. I don’t see many teams who will want to pay Miller and Vanek their $6 and $7 million per year, especially for new deals after the 2013-2014 season.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Yeah, I’d take Getzlaf. :D I spent half of last season lobbying for the Sabres to go after Ryan O’Reilly out in Colorado – he may still be available come March of 2014. The Avs were begging someone to make them a good offer!

    • Timothy Redinger

      I don’t think Vanek needs a big Center – Vanek can take the punishment in front of the net. What we need is a team that can cycle the puck and take shots from the point that get through to him to use his hands.

  • qwksndmonster

    I think the Sabres are going to trade Vanek and Miller because of Darcy’s year end presser (the suffering one). Darcy came out and flat out admitted that we’re going to suck. Well of course Miller and Vanek are going to be open about leaving. On the other hand, if Darcy was able to turn the roster around this summer (tough, I know, but if Mon-rey-ahh can do it so can we (well, maybe not Darcy)) and the Sabres start winning next year, there’s no doubt in my mind that Miller and Vanek could be a big part in building a culture of winning. A culture of winning comes from how the players approach the game, how much they buy into their coach/system, and how accountable players are held/hold eachother. Miller and Vanek reacting the way anybody would to the Suffering Plan means absolutely nothing if this team were to be turned around by October.

    @PaulR Sabres can retain up to half of the cap hit for any player they trade, and are likely to do so considering the fact that we’re rich (Pegs is, anyways), and we’re likely going to suck next year (so who cares about dead cap space). Vanek will be in incredibly high demand and there will definitely be a market for Miller.

  • Troy Berkely

    Can’t really add to this article, as it succinctly articulates my observations as well. Love Vanek, but it is obvious that this team has way more problems that go beyond players, such as a GM who has no clue on how to put a team together, and a owner who simply does not bring the killer instinct to be objective to make the right decisions, IE: I am a Sabres fan, therefore I want to keep everybody, despite the fact they have not achieved much in winning a championship. I am sure Vanek and Miller know this intimately and have grown tired of the same lip service year in and year out! Complacency is a disease, and until it is eradicated the ineptness to be objective and bringing in winners will unfortunately continue as status quo! Nice article Rich couldn’t agree more!

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Thanks, Troy! I plan on addressing another round of changes the Sabres need to consider – hope to get that piece cooking today or tomorrow!

      • Troy Berkely

        Look forward to reading it! Its nice to see writers such as yourself not being complicit with the lap dogs of this organization but telling it like it is! Kudos!

  • The Man__Oss

    I have to say, this post takes courage. Not the regular type of courage to stand up to others, but the courage to identify that the change of direction needs to start with removing the “cancerous” types no matter who they may be or how difficult to let them walk away.
    I applaud you for candor and I support you completely. The culture of hockey in Buffalo needs to change and as you identified, this is the right place to start.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Appreciate it! I have more changes to discuss (I’ve only hinted at that twenty times now!) because I truly want the Sabres to become an organization that is respected and expects success every single year.

  • Kallinan

    It’s a well thought out article. Both Miller & Vanek are hard to replace. And if either one does wants to sign a reasonably priced extension to stay in Buffalo, by all means we should give it to them. I’m not entirely convinced that Vanek in particular wants to leave.

    But if they’re not really keen on a future in Buffalo, by all means, trade them to the highest bidder.

  • kevin kresse

    why would are reasons for reading this piece be an either/or. i was curious what you had to say on the matter, nothing more nor less. to be honest, i find it a real turn off when the writer immediately starts out by telling the readers why they would be interested in reading what they wrote. give readers more credit.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      I certainly wasn’t trying to insult the readers – I was simply acknowledging that this is a very polarizing topic. Very few Sabres fans are on the fence when it comes to this topic, that’s all! Thanks.

  • Justin Tosczak

    Great article.

  • qwicwted

    Agreed – Vanek has always been a whiner and Lindy kept his immaturity under control. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Vanek shipped to Dallas or Vancouver? At one point I wanted Vanek to stay, but when it came time to step up and be a leader – he just wasn’t there. For years Lindy and Darcy have shielded him from the media while he has played the petulant child – now its time to get as much as we can for him. Maybe do a trade and try to get Bobby Ryan. As for Miller, doesn’t matter to me if he goes or stays. While some people believe Miller is an “elite” goalie – I don’t really put him in that category. He good, but it seems he just can’t win the “big” one – he’s always the bridesmaid and let’s face it….Sid has his #.
    I wonder if Thomas and Ryan are waiting to see what Darcy does over the next couple of weeks and will make their decision on whether to go or stay. I think if the Sabres can resign Briere, it might give them a better perspective on the team. But the attitude in the locker room has to change, especially with Vanek and Miller. If they can’t do it within themselves, then let’s find someone to trade for that can.

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