The Buffalo Sabres Are on the Clock When It Comes to Thomas Vanek

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

April 23, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek (26) at the face-off circle against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Buffalo Sabres won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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 good news that was unearthed during the course of this interview?  Thomas Vanek never requested that the Buffalo Sabres attempt to trade him.

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?

Apr 26, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Brian Flynn (65) celebrates his goal against New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20) with left wing Thomas Vanek (26) during the second period at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

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!

Topics: Buffalo Sabres, Thomas Vanek

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  • 40plusyearsfrustration

    Guess I will take first shot at comments.
    The article pretty much states what I have been trying to say in past comments; a draft of “maybes” does not make said “gm” a genius all if a sudden. If <25% of licks make it, where will rest of players come from.
    I for one don't see said gm with too many successful trades for players in his resume. He may have gotten a Coue in 16 years; but alas, if he was such a genjlus, where are all of our all star draft picks and super star Ayers we have traded for. Same said for free agency.
    So again here we are "praying" he hit 100% on his draft. LOL, as history shows, ain't gonna happen.
    I wish Vanek would stay, but I have s feeling he will be elsewhere sooner rather than later.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Based on what the Sabres have done, I would predict he will either be open to a trade come the middle of the season, or will leave in search of a playoff contender. The Sabres have done nothing to make their best player want to remain in town, so far.

  • PaulR

    At first I thought – the Blackhawks turned their drafts of the mid 2000′s into a cup by 2010, so turning a bad team into a good team can be done in relatively short time.

    Then, I started to look at the details – It started with Duncan Keith in 2002, Seabrook/Crawford 2003, Bolland/Bickell 2004, Hjalmarsson 2005, Toews 2006 and Kane 2007 – no one of note in the past few years, except for Saad in 2011.

    Nearly all of the Hawks top picks from early-mid 2000′s are starting players – and Cup Winners. They did an absolutely fantastic job of drafting over a multi-year period, starting about 10 years ago. The best comparison to such continuous success I can see is the Sabres of 1970 – started first with Perrault and quickly led to Martin, Ramsey, Luce, Gare, Don Edwards, etc…

    Can Darcy and the Sabres have such a string of excellent drafts? Its a huge mountain to climb and the odds are against them.

    The Sabres draft-picks over the last 10 years have been pretty much a bust – with Vanek the only star. Stafford, Kaleta, Enroth, Weber, Myers and Ennis are those picks who remain on the team.

  • davidmuscalo

    Unfortunately, with Regier as GM, I am all but certain we will lose Vanek to a more deserving team. With the current staff, the team is not even close to being a playoff team and Regier will never be able to bring in enough free agents to make this team competitive. The only hope I have is that some of the former under producers, such as, Myers, Stafford and Foligno start producing and the defense improves vastly over last seasons debacle. We are not going to get a lot of help from the outside, it going to have to come from within, and Rolston is going to have to make it happen.

  • Al Willig

    They may as well trade Vanek. He’s going to sign with the Wild when his contract is up.

    • don

      And where with they be getting all this cap space from? Will they be letting Pominville go to free up space? I dont see that working out and I really dont see there owner dropping mega amounts of money on another massive contract. Even if they could it would tie them up in cap hell for next 7-8 years.

      • Al Willig

        Heatley’s contract is up.

  • Jes

    Honestly we are rebuilding lets just get draft picks and young assets for Vanek and Miller. I’m open to having Vanek stay here but not for the money he is seeking. He honestly disappears a lot and his stats get bumped up quite substantially when he has a 5 point game here and a 3 point game there. I think for him to stay here we will have to pay him near the max and have to be a playoff team. Darcy has been stupid in the past with contracts so the money thing won’t be a problem but playoffs are a long shot right now. Vanek in all likelihood will be gone by trade deadline and if Darcy doesn’t lower his asking price for Miller he will leave via free agency. Right now we have the youngest team in the NHL. We will be in the basement for at least a couple years which will translate into great picks. Right now my focus is on McDavid lol. But the Sabres have a tonne of young talent that is basically all NHL ready I wouldn’t be too surprised if we breakout this year, so that IMO will make Vanek want to stay. I honestly see Vanek being traded to Minnesota for Heatley, Granlund, another top notch prospect and a couple of picks.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Sorry Jes, but I disagree. The Sabres will be lucky if half of their first-round picks wind up enjoying significant NHL careers. The numbers drop off significantly for players drafted in the second round and beyond. Yes, drafting wisely is a necessary component, but it is only 1/3 of the rebuilding process. Why endorse a strategy that ignores 2/3 of what it takes to build a team?

      • Jes

        Well Rich I disagree with you. Look at past champions Chicago
        and Pittsburgh they are all built through the draft with the exception of a few players here and there. Even LA ad Boston main cores are from there draft. With LA and Boston I only see Carter, Richards, and Chara as really the only key contributors that were acquired through trade or free agency.

        Only way I see us being a contender in the future is if we build from the bottom of the draft. And only way we attract top notch UFA’s is if we outbid everyone and overbid, which would have been nice if we didn’t have a salary cap. Vanek’s not gonna stay anyway so no point on dwelling on this subject. Trade him or lose him to free agency. If I was 30+ years of age (I know he’s 29 but will turn 30 this season) and had a choice between a top notch team like the Wild who could be contending for the cup real soon and a rebuilding team like Buffalo I’d choose the Wild hands down.

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          Hey Jes! Nothing against using the draft, but the three names you mentioned were hugely instrumental in helping those teams win the Cup! And Pittsburgh acquired James Neal via trade, as well.

          • qwicwted

            Well, I don’t thnk Joe Nieuwendyk was the best GM – he who traded Michael Ryder and a draft pick for Erik Cole, Cody Eakin and a draft pick for Ribero, and Ott and Pardy for Derek Roy. Add to that the signing of Jagr, and then trading away Jagr, Morrow and Roy for draft picks. So, I don’t think we can really use the Neal trade as an example cause I think most every team that did a trade with Joe ended up benefitting.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            Ha ha! My only point is that pretty much every team uses a combination of draft, trades, and free agents. Waiting – or should I say hoping – for your prospect pool to be good enough to attract UFAs and such is too risky. Some players only go to teams they think will win the Cup immediately, but then there are a lot of players who will go to a team in order to become “the man,” the player who helps a team get over the hump. Some people still think I want the Sabres to sign someone just for the sake of saying, “We signed someone.” No – I want the Sabres to try and get more than just mentors for the young kids. The Sabres have enough mentor types; they need some players who will provide stability for when the young guns go through their rough stretches.

          • qwicwted

            That is why I would love for Vanek to step up and be “the man” and even though he is having a “I’ll wait and see” attitude – it speaks volumes to me that he “is ready to move on”.

            So, Rich we know you’d like to see ROR and I would like to see Stepan in a Sabres Uni – does anyone else have anyone on their wish list?

          • Jes

            Oh ya no worries Rich, I’m not taking it personally. Just a difference of opinion. Yes Neal was acquired through trade but wasn’t there for the cup. When they won the cup most of the players of any significance were all in house players minus maybe Gonchar? Once Pittsburgh’s GM got trigger happy they haven’t made it back. I’m just pointing those three out because those are really the only 3 that had any impact on the last 4 teams winning the cup that have been acquired through trade or free agency. Only way we should be going in on the bidding for high priced free agents are if they are franchise caliber players (which none of them were this year, and were not worth the money they received) not just a player that will just “be there” kind of thing. I see Clarkson being a player like that. But it all depends on if you want to make your team through draft or free agency.

        • qwicwted

          I have a feelng what we will see is a deal later in the year – Vanek for Heatly and maybe Mitchell or Granlund. I think for the deal to go down, it is going to have involve someone with some experience – keeping in mind that Heatly would just play until his contract is up. The one thing that we as fans should keep in mind is the fact that next year the UFA market is going to have a better quality of player and our youngsters will have a year of NHL experience under their belts.