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!

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Tags: Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller Thomas Vanek

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