Everyone knows that Thomas Vanek leads the league in goals thus far, and everyone knows how well he’s been playing. Still, when I look back on the past year and see how much has changed I can’t help but be blown away by what has happened to him. Since it’s pretty evident I’ve been quite the downer around these parts over the past month, I thought we should all take a moment to gush about our boy Atlas to get back into a cheerful mood.
Let’s start with the obvious: Thomas Vanek has been playing some freaking phenomenal hockey as of late, and when he plays like this consistently I look forward to hockey games like a giggling schoolboy looks forward to recess. The clock ticks towards noon and you just know you’re going to torch the 4th graders at soccer, so the excitement is palpable amongst your 5th grade brethren.
That’s life with Thomas Vanek these days. Vanek is the exchange student from Italy that grew up on pasta and free kicks, and Tampa Bay is the rag-tag group of 4th graders with serious self-confidence issues. Sure, they may get a lead and get excited for a minute or two, but Vanek is going to be there to provide the dagger sooner or later, and those 4th graders won’t have the moxy to talk to girls for at least another five years.
Thomas Vanek is one of the only reasons hockey is fun around here these days, but it wasn’t always like that. Remember when Thomas Vanek looked like this?
A year ago Thomas Vanek was cold and underachieving with a huge contract and even bigger expectations. Every shift was laced with lazy penalties, profanity, and missed chances. He wasn’t having fun, and he certainly wasn’t playing well. I openly worried about his future on the team, and we looked at the prior summer as the biggest disaster in Sabres history. It was beginning to look like we had an albatross on the roster, and not the good golfing one, either.
And here were sit now. Vanek has six multigoal games and absolutely no one outside of the 716 seems to notice this. Meanwhile I’ve been calling him “Atlas” for months and he’s morphed into the kind of hockey player you’d commit fratricide for. He plays hard on both ends, backchecks like the opposition kidnapped his only child, and is making plays every single shift. I expect him to score every time he’s on the ice, and that’s not an exaggeration, nor is it expecting too much.
Let’s face it, people, Thomas Vanek is a special, special person right now. His hockey IQ is off the charts, and watching him over the last few months has been an absolute gift. That backhand last night was out of this world. People (myself included) rave about Crosby’s backhand and how much power he gets on it, but I’ve never seen someone operate so close to the net with that much skill.
When did this all happen? I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime last year everything came together and he started playing the best hockey of his career. Hat trick against Tampa. Ottawa. Tampa again. Boston. It was as if the summer didn’t exist, because he came right out of the gate on fire again this season. He’s only had two goal scoring streaks longer than two games this year, but doesn’t it feel like he’s put one in every night?
To put into perspective how well he has played this year, consider this: Vanek has made Kevin Lowe look smart. That offer sheet is still a disaster, but I’d be hard pressed to find a Sabres fan who would prefer Vanek playing like this for Edmonton while we have Marek Zagrapan as our leading scorer. Exaggeration, I know, but that disaster of an off season sure feels a bit better with Atlas going off.
So in conclusion, Thomas Vanek is playing the best hockey of his life, and I’ve enjoyed watching every minute of it. Please join me in this lovefest by adding your own accolades in the comments, so I won’t feel guilty for loving an awkward-looking Austrian this much.
Also, for 289: