It’s been 226 days since Thomas Vanek last played a game in a Buffalo Sabres uniform. After spending more than eight seasons in Buffalo, he was traded to the New York Islanders and then had a stint with the Montreal Canadiens. Now, he’s headed to the free agent market this offseason. Could the Buffalo Sabres be interested in bringing Vanek back — and should they consider it?
This season was a hit-or-miss one for Vanek. He had nine points (4-5) in 13 games with the Sabres and was one of two co-captains before the trade. His production with the Islanders was steady, garnering 44 points in 47 games. But in February, Vanek turned down a contract extension from the Islanders, intent on testing his value at the free agent market.
March would see Vanek traded for the second time in his NHL career – and the second time in a matter of less than five months. This time, he was off to the Montreal Canadiens, traded for a draft pick and a prospect.
Initially, Vanek seemed to find his stride with the Habs, racking up 15 points in 18 regular season games. But something just wasn’t working out, and he struggled late in the offseason. Vanek failed to register even a point in the Habs’ four-game series against the NY Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and at some points, there was even a question of whether or not Vanek would be scratched for some of the ECF games.
Of course, this raised speculation about a possible injury, but those claims were denied. Instead, Vanek blamed a lack of chemistry after he was taken off Montreal’s top line. Is that a fair complaint? I think if you’re going to be a star player, you need to be able to put up points regardless of who you’re on a line with. Being removed from the top line doesn’t have to mean your production declines; if that’s the case, you’ll never make it back to the top line again.
Vanek finished the postseason with 10 points in 17 games, which is obviously not bad, but his collapse at the end just won’t do. It was a disappointing finish, and one that left a sour taste in many mouths in Montreal – including in the opinion of Guy Lafleur.
“Guys like Vanek and Pacioretty, you can’t keep them on your team. They can stay home if they are not willing to pay the price,” Lafleur said in an interview with La Presse, a French reference information site. “Your team is never going to win with players like them who disappear when they face adversity.”
As the Habs cleaned out their lockers after their elimination from the playoffs, Vanek reiterated his intention to hit the free agent market.
The 30-year-old will likely have several offers this postseason. Could he end up signing back with the Sabres? Or is he more likely to end up elsewhere – perhaps in Minnesota, returning to his Gophers days? Vanek really grew up as a player in Buffalo. He was 21 when he played his first game as a member of the Sabres, and 29 at his last. Buffalo was a developmental organization for him; his tenure here saw him win a league plus-minus award, play in his first NHL All-Star Game, and wear the C as a co-captain until his trade.
When July rolls around, however, it’s likely time for both parties to keep moving on. Vanek was traded under the Regier regime, but I’m not sure if Tim Murray would be interested in backtracking like that. Meanwhile, Vanek will probably entertain offers from several teams and end up wherever he feels he has the “best chance of winning.”
So what do you think? Should the Sabres consider making Vanek an offer?