The Debate is Over: The Buffalo Sabres Must Make Thomas Vanek Their 2013-2014 Captain

Fellow Buffalo Sabres fans, when it comes to the topic of who should wear the ‘C’ for the Sabres at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, I have deliberately steered clear of the debate, for one simple reason:

In my eyes, there is no debate.

Apr 19, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek (26) during the game against the New York Rangers at the First Niagara Center. Rangers beat the Sabres 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, Steve Ott is a popular choice to wear the ‘C’ next season, because he has quickly endeared himself to the Buffalo faithful.  And yes, Christian Ehrhoff has garnered some votes, because he was perhaps the Sabres’ most consistent player last year.  All of the talk devoted to why either of these two gentlemen should be the next captain, however, amounts to arguing over who should be the runner-up in the next Stanley Cup Finals.  These two guys are, and always have been, running for second place.

Thomas Vanek should be the captain of the Buffalo Sabres when the 2013-2014 season begins, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Now, I could tell you Vanek deserves the ‘C’ because he has demonstrated superior leadership qualities – but I won’t, because from what I have seen he is not that sort of guy.  I could tell you that the Sabres should make Vanek captain as a show of faith in order to help persuade him to resign with Buffalo once his contract expires next year – but come on: there is exactly a 1% chance that Vanek will choose to remain a Sabre when the 2013-2014 season ends.  (I picked that number because there is never a 0% chance, but in this case, it is as close to 0% as possible.)   A player of Vanek’s talents and age wants to be able to compete for the Stanley Cup, and unless the Sabres can prove to him that they will be ready to do that in a short period of time, he will be looking elsewhere next summer.  Can’t say I blame him, and can’t say I think that his imminent departure is a good reason to deprive him of wearing the ‘C’ next year.

So if the Sabres should not use the captaincy to sway Vanek to remain in town, and if he’s not the team’s best leader, why do I think there is no debate over his wearing the ‘C’?   Simple – it’s the right thing to do.

In a day and age where many teams are slapping the ‘C’ on a young player’s chest, I believe the Sabres should reward Vanek with the position because he is their best player and he has (so-far) dedicated his entire NHL career to the team.  He is about to enter his 9th season with the Sabres, and regardless of the fact that it almost certainly will be his last, he has represented the city of Buffalo and the team exceptionally well.   He has already established himself as one of the top 20 (or top 25, depending on who you talk to) players to ever suit up for the Sabres, and whether he strives to be or not, he is an inspiration to the players who have recently joined the Sabres’ system.  As one of the longest-tenured Sabres on the roster right now, Vanek has earned the captaincy more than the likes of Ehrhoff or Ott, and it would be the ultimate sign of respect and gratitude for the Sabres organization to place the ‘C’ on Vanek’s sweater for his years of service.

Apr 22, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek (26) shoots on Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) and defenseman Ron Hainsey (6) defends during the game at the First Niagara Center. The Jets beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

I know my reasoning is grounded mostly in emotion, and that a player’s skill and years of service are not usually the criteria examined when deciding who should be the team captain – but in the case of Thomas Vanek, I’m relying on emotion over cold, hard logic.  Respect may be dying a slow death in the world of professional sports, but I still believe in deferring to your vets and rewarding them for their dedication.  Vanek might not be the kind of guy to perform fiery locker room speeches, and he sure isn’t the guy who is going to lay out an opposing player to send a message, but he has given a lot to the organization and handled himself well on and off the ice.  He is the sort of player the Sabres should be proud to have, and a player prospects should respect and emulate in many ways.  To me, there is no debate: the Buffalo Sabres must place the ‘C’ on Thomas Vanek’s sweater when the 2013-2014 season opens.

Agree?  Disagree?  Have a good recipe you would like to share?  (Wait a minute . . . .)  Leave your comments below, or fire them to me @theamazingMrS.

Topics: Buffalo Sabres, Thomas Vanek

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  • jimbobv2

    I don’t believe the Sabres should give the C to Vanek or Ott if they aren’t signed beyond this season.

    This team needs more stability than to give the C to a lame duck player. Especially one like Vanek that you seem resigned to the fact that he most likely won’t be here after the trade deadline.

    Although, I always like letting the players vote on the letters….

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      I understand your rationale. I just think teams owe it to players who have put their time in, like Vanek has. Besides, in the midst of this rebuild there really is no promise of consistency, unless the Sabres want to hand Hodgson the C once they sign him, which is a move I would not support.

      • jimbobv2

        Teams owe players nothing and players owe teams nothing beyond each living up to their end of the contract.

        There are guys they could give the C to in this spot. Ehrhoff and Weber are two guys that they could slap the C on that would make some sense.

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          Ah – that’s where you and I disagree! I think players and teams do each owe the other something. it’s an old-fashioned notion, but it’s what I feel.

          I like Ehrhoff, and I’m not going to complain if he gets the C. He’s just not the guy I would personally pick.

          • jimbobv2

            By that logic, Vanek should owe the Sabres and take the hometown discount to re-sign.

            Or he shouldn’t have signed the RFA OS with the Oilers years ago.

            Why should the team owe Vanek anything given the OS situation and the rumors that he is already talking about playing for the Wild next season?

            It can’t be a one way street…

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            I’m not talking about a lifetime of debt here! Vanek has put in his time and played well; giving him the C isn’t a giant commitment, just a sign of respect for what he has done. It’s never a one-way street – players have to play injured, play for terrible teams that don’t make the playoffs. I would argue his play has earned him one letter C on a sweater for a year over Ehrhoff, Ott or whomever else is a popular choice.

          • jimbobv2

            I guess I think giving a player a C is a bigger deal than you do.

            This is a team in transition. But, I don’t like the message if the team selects a lame duck captain, be it Vanek, Ott, or someone else.

            If they go the team vote way and the players vote to make Vanek the captain, that’s one thing.

            But, if it’s an organizational decision on who gets it, I think it needs to be someone you expect to be here for the next two or three seasons.

            The C shouldn’t be a lifetime achievement award.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            It’s okay – I’m a bit old-fashioned, so we’ll agree to disagree here. I thought the Boston Celtics should have allowed Paul Pierce to retire a Celtic, too – I wish there was more loyalty in the game, because even with the business side, it’s still just a game.

          • jimbobv2

            Beer league is a game.

            Minor hockey is a game.

            The NHL (& NBA & NFL & every other pro league) is the entertainment business.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            That’s the 21st century talking!

  • qwicwted

    I’m on the fence about giving Vanek the C – I want my captain to be “the man” – not only lead the team, but mentor and most of all “Own it”. I don’t think any player is owed – that is what they negotiate and make the big bucks. I’ve never heard of a team awarding a C based on a player negotiating that point into his contract or because he put in 10 years. Believe me Rich – Thomas Vanek was not committed to the Sabres – he was committed to Thomas Vanek and happened to sign a committment. I guess we could give him the C because he hasn’t decided to retire and play for the KHL. He has honored the contract that he signed. But the thing is – why does he deserve something for fulfilling his contract – he got paid. Leadership is earned, the Captaincy is earned – not because you score goals, or play x amount of minutes – but because you believe in the team, can inspire and motivate other team members. I want someone who will step up – and as you yourself have said “be the man”. Someone who will take our youngsters under their wing, mentor them and believe in them – that is what I’m saying.