Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to synchronize your watches. Thomas Vanek is back in the 716, and the Buffalo Sabres have exactly one season to convince their leading scorer that he should remain adorned in the blue and the gold.
Some background: Vanek recently arrived in Buffalo after spending much of the summer working out in Minneapolis, and on Tuesday, Paul Hamilton at WGR 550 had the chance to sit down and chat with Vanek about his summer and his future with the Sabres organization. I’m not going to regurgitate everything Hamilton had to say about his sit-down with Vanek (read more here; hear more here!), but there are two things that he said during the
interview that I will repeat in this post.
Interesting tidbit #1:“Is a rebuild what I wanted, no, but I’m open to it and I want to see where it leads to first.”
Interesting tidbit #2: “No, I never asked to be traded so when people do mention it, I’m surprised. Did I think I was going to get traded, no because I never once went in there and said I don’t want to be here. I said, ‘Right now I’m not looking for an extension, but not saying that I wouldn’t want one down the road, but right now I just want to see where it goes’. We’re a young team, we’re rebuilding and those are my words, so I’m keeping my options open.”
The not-so-good news? The Buffalo Sabres have no more, and possibly quite less, than one season to convince Vanek that Buffalo is where he wants to play during the 2014-2015 season.
Don’t accuse me of reading into what he said, or putting words in his mouth: it’s right there, plain as day: “I want to see where it leads first . . . I’m keeping my options open.” The fact that Vanek did not ask for an extension tells you all you need to know about his mindset: with the Sabres in the midst of a rebuild, and Vanek only having one year left on his current contract, he is content to begin the 2013-2014 season as a member of the Sabres and get a feel for how the rebuild is going to go down. If the rebuild goes quickly, and Vanek sees a playoff-caliber team being built in Buffalo, he may consider a new contract with the Sabres. If the rebuild process is slow and painful, kiss Thomas Vanek good-bye, Buffalo.
So, assuming the Sabres want to keep Vanek in Buffalo, what does the organization have to do in order to (practically) guarantee that they will retain his services? Frankly, what they should have been doing all along: facilitating the rebuilding process by using all of the tools at their disposal. Using the entry draft to stockpile on prospects is great, and Buffalo has a well-respected batch of young talent, but young talent alone will not entice Mr. Vanek to stay. Besides, what percentage of young talent actually translates into players who enjoy successful NHL careers? I won’t even profess to have a reliable number handy, but some quick research tells me it’s less that 25% (especially once you get beyond the first round). Do the Sabres honestly think Thomas Vanek is going to remain in Buffalo because 2-3 of the players drafted in the past few seasons MIGHT become full-time members of the team?
No, counting on the draft to cure all of Buffalo’s woes is foolhardy. What the Sabres’ front office needs to do is to turn to free agency and trade in an attempt to speed up the process and give Vanek some proven players who will push the team one step closer to making the playoffs. Are the Sabres reluctant to pursue these options because they have been snake-bit recently? Who cares? This is a professional sports franchise we are discussing; upper management cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand just because a few free agent acquisitions have not worked out. Vanek has spoken; now, if the Buffalo Sabres truly intend to keep one of their all-time best scorers dressed in their sweater, they are going to have put a lot more effort into showing him that they want to turn the team around NOW, not five years from now.
Otherwise, we’ll be checking the NHL schedule to determine when Thomas Vanek will be returning to the First Niagara Center as a member of an opposing team sooner than many of us are ready.
Ideas/suggestions on how the Sabres can keep Vanek in town? Leave ‘em below, or fire them to @theamazingMrS. We’ll chat!