“At the end of the year, we’ll be in the top eight, and that’s all that matters for right now”- Thomas Vanek, 2/17/08
He said it, and I’m still okay with it. In fact, he said it again today.
One of the big terms we’ve thrown around this year has been leadership. We’ve lost both captains to free agency and since that day many have wondered who will take over leadership on this team. Each new moon we look to the alphabet to tell us who is leading this team, on ice or otherwise. We all have opinions on the issue, but one thing we do know is this:
Thomas Vanek has balls.
Whether you agree with him giving “the Namath” or not, you have to admit the surge in confidence we’ve seen from him can only be good. It also is a form of leadership we haven’t seen on this team all year. There have been so many times games have been chalked up to bad bounces or tired legs, Vanek is the first person I’ve seen step up and say flat out that they are a playoff team. It’s a pretty startling change from a player who started out so flat in October.
Vanek has grown a lot this year, and each game that goes by makes me feel better and better about the events of this summer. We were bamboozled into signing Vanek to a huge deal, and yes, he isn’t worth $10 mill this year, but after next year a $6.4/mil per year deal doesn’t seem so bad. If he continues to grow we may be more than okay with those initial signing bonuses he got during the warm months.
I think it’s pretty obvious that his contract has worn on him, the status as “the man” being too much to take so young. He also started his family last summer, a huge undertaking in anyone’s life. The stress was there, and no one put more pressure on Thomas Vanek then he put on himself. Those f-bombs we joked around about so much was his frustration in what he wasn’t doing, not just unsighted anger.
So what changed? Hell, I have no idea. What I do know is that the change is evident, both in his words and his play on ice. Seeing him rip that shot past Ray Emery last Tuesday was an epiphany of sorts. Vanek’s numbers are creeping up, and while they won’t get anywhere near last year’s breakout figures his line has been a force on ice lately. If that continues I have absolute no complaints about what Vanek has to say, if only because he will be playing us right into the postseason.
According to Mirtle, the Sabres only need to go 14-9 to make the playoffs. The Sabres have games in hand, a relatively easy schedule, and a fairly healthy team that is starting to peak at the right time.
I say forget this weekend, move past all that contract garbage we fans talk so much about, and do it. Make Thomas Vanek right. He may not have a letter on the uniform, but he just set the bar for this team.