TWC Top-to-Bottom Review: Thomas Vanek

(This is the second post in a series which will evaluate the Sabres organization, one man at a time.  On Friday, Larry Quinn announced that 5% of the internal review was complete, and that his findings led to the decision to keep both Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier on board for next year, a decision which cements Larry’s review as the Official Worst Top-To-Bottom Review EVER.  I’m conducting my own review, to show Larry how it’s done.)

Name: Thomas Vanek, aka Slag-Faced Whore, aka Slaggy Sir Fantastico

Position: forward

number of years with Sabres organization: drafted 5th overall by the Sabres in 2003, Thomas has been a Sabre for 3 years.

Career high point: signing a kazillion dollar offer sheer from the Oilers, forcing the Sabres to match in July 2007.

Career low point: being benched in the 2006 playoffs; also, meeting Derek Roy

2008-09 grade: B+   At times this season Thomas Vanek single-handedly carried the Sabres offense, but he also disappeared for long stretches and refused to drill a blowhole when he broke his jaw.

Areas of strength: craftiness, ability to protect the puck with the strength of his upper body while carrying it around the opposition’s net, bank account, origami, making a better door than a window in front of the goalie, grimacing, scoring “dirty” goals, and playing Edelweiss on the clarinet.

Areas of weakness: jaw, consistent determination, shootouts, spelling

General comments: Thomas Vanek is a mystery, wrapped in prosciutto and smothered in club sauce.  One month he’s the best hockey player you’ve ever seen (and STILL blaming himself for every loss in post-game interviews), and the next month he’s lolling around on the couch all day, hopped up on Vicodin, whimpering about his shattered jaw, and refusing to drill a blowhole.

Overall, Vanek had a very strong season in 08-09, but it’s my belief that the Buffalo Sabres will never be a truly good team until Thomas is able to step into a leadership role in the locker room.

Thomas’ game is not perfect, but it’s not chopped liver, and it’s certainly the best we’ve got.  In order to increase Thomas’ overall effectiveness we need him to be a leader, and in order to be a leader he must increase his credibility with his teammates.

There are two areas in which I believe Thomas Vanek MUST improve:

1. He must work harder, longer, and with more consistency.  I would never go so far as to call Thomas Vanek lazy, but there is a certain oafish lackadaisical quality to him.  He looks a little doughy sometimes, he doesn’t always appear to be skating full force, and for reasons beyond the scope of my comprehension, every time he falls down he looks like my grandmother trying to get out of her Lazyboy as he hoists himself back onto his feet.  I’m not saying that Thomas Vanek is actually out of shape (at all), but I am saying that sometimes he exudes a quality of laziness, and he needs to knock it off.

Vanek must learn to lead by confident example so that when he is carrying the team on his back, he’s got the credibility in the locker room to be all, “You bitches need to stop expecting me to do all the work around here.  Get off your asses and score a few goals.”  He can’t do that until he eliminates the laziness from his game.

2. He must chill the fuck out.

Honestly, it often seems like Vanek just needs to lighten up.  I know, I know, he’s Austrian. He’s not boisterous, he’s not playful, and he’s not demonstrative with his emotions off-ice.  His interviews are incredibly bland, which ordinarily I have no problem with (See: Drury, Chris), but in Thomas’ case, I think his taciturn disposition is masking a deeply rooted problem.

There is not much joy evident in his game.  I’m not asking that he turn into Ovechkin (eww) and get all goofy with his goal celebrations, but I do believe he’d be a better player if he dialed down the “grim” and dialed up the swagger.

Things are going well for him, you know?  Why all the angst?

REQUIRED SUMMER HOMEWORK:  Thomas Vanek must complete the following tasks before returning to Buffalo in the fall.  Some of these tasks may seem contradictory.  This is by design.

1. Boot camp.  I’m not talking about the boot camp class down at the JCC.  I’m talking about real, honest to God, boot camp- with an evil drill sergeant, and forced push-ups.  Truthfully, I’m not sure if Thomas Vanek is actually lazy, but he often appears lazy, so he is sentenced to boot camp, just in case.

2.Write a book of poetry.  Everyone needs an outlet for their feelings.  I think if Thomas writes some poetry he might feel less weighed down by the painful burden of being a 25-year-old multimillionaire.

3. Give away a million dollars.  I’ve written about this before. Thomas, don’t you dare come back to Buffalo until you’ve given away *putting pinky to corner of mouth* one miiiiilllion dolllllars.  I’m serious.

4. Clown School.  If clown school fails to lighten him up, Thomas will be required to undergo tickle therapy, which is exactly what it sounds like, and any rational person would avoid it at all costs.  This kid will lighten up, even if it kills him.

5. Chose a Sabre at random and beat the shit out of him.  Enough of this Mr-Nice-Guy-I’m-Just-Trying-To-Focus-On-My-Game routine.  It’s time to lay down the law.

6. Learn to play the banjo.  As the Steve Martin monolouge goes, “The banjo is such a happy instrument–you can’t play a sad song on the banjo – it always comes out so cheerful.”

20 Responses to “TWC Top-to-Bottom Review: Thomas Vanek”

  1. 1 Amy April 21, 2009 at 7:33 am

    At least Vanek can put his skill of playing Edelweiss on the clarinet to good use as a lullaby for Toddler Vanek.

    Chose a Sabre at random and beat the shit out of him.

    Ha! Let’s hope he uses some sense and doesn’t go after Rivet, Crunchy or Goose. All three could leave Vanek in a pile of bleeding pulp on the locker room floor.

  2. 2 Katebits April 21, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I bet Goose would let Vanek win. Not Crunchy though. Crunchy would go directly for his eyes. :P

  3. 3 Shauna April 21, 2009 at 10:15 am

    As an Oiler fan, I do feel the need to apologize for the whole “Vanek signing” thing. So sorry! At the time, I believed desperate time – desperate measure. But rest assured, charma’s a bitch and the voodoo sent our way totally worked. We got Penner for a kazillion bucks and right now would be willing to trade his lazy ass for his weight in pucks, cause who couldn’t use 800lbs of pucks?

  4. 4 danielleia April 21, 2009 at 10:24 am

    smothered in… radsauce he is!

  5. 5 Jonathan April 21, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I think you inspired a new bit

    Thomas Vanek’s fight club

    First rule of TVFC

    No hitting in the face. Especially the jaw area.

    This is how Tallinder misses the season, when he breaks into a thousand pieces.

  6. 6 Norm April 21, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I’m not trying to make excuses for the guy, but I think some of the reason he looks lazy is because he has an incredibly long stride. Even when he’s skating hard, he doesn’t look like it. Contrast it with a guy like Max, whose legs are always moving 111 MPH, even if he’s just coasting.

    I don’t have a reason for the “fallen Grandma” routine though. That does get irritating. It takes me less time to get up and I’m fat and decrepit.

    I agree that he could benefit from a little “lighten up”. It seems to me that since the big contract, he’s put the entire weight of the team on his shoulders. Until he realizes that he can live up to the deal without being the “be-all, end-all” every night, he’s not going to have a lot of fun – and probably won’t reach his full potential as a result.

    Since he can play the clarinet, lets skip the banjo and just swap the clarinet for a trumpet. Then the tunes will be upbeat AND inspirational.

  7. 7 Katebits April 21, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Norm, I tried to take Vanek’s skating style into account, because I agree, some of what I perceive as “laziness” might just be his style, but it’s more than just how he skates. There is often a lack of intensity or focus in his game and in his interviews. It often looks to me like he is going through the motions. I also find a lot of his “I need to be better” in interviews to be disingenuous.

    Now, with Vanek, “going through the motions” is still pretty spectacular, but I really believe he is capable or more. I also really believe that until he takes a leadership position, this team will not realize its potential.

    Shauna, no need to apologize! Yeah, we’re paying Vanek a bit more than I’m comfortable with, but the offer sheet forced Darcy to lock him up for a lot longer than he would have otherwise, and for that, I’m actually quite grateful to the Oilers. :D

    Jonathan, I can actually hear Vanek being all, “not the face, dude”.

  8. 8 Jaime April 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Eidelweiss is one of my favorite songs so that gives Thomas a thumbs up in my book. As for his “laziness” factor I think you hit the nail right on the head. I knew something about him bothered me and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I also didn’t feel like giving Vanek any of my brain space to consider what I might dislike about him. I just rememeber after that awful Caps game where Goose and Crunchy were angry and they showed it. I was scared through the TV screen. Vanek said the exact same things but he seemed like he was ready for a nap, not an ass-kicking. He just needs to do some scream therapy. When I’m mad or frustrated I just scream as loudly as I can and I get out of my funk.

  9. 9 Heather B. April 21, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I agree, Kate that Vanek’s focus seems to come and go but Norm, I do agree with you too. I think some of the criticism directed at Vanek is the result of him just not being a particularly strong skater. He looks slow and lumbering because he is slow and lumbering.

    While I’m enjoying meeting Derek Roy being everyone’s low point (funny cause it’s true) I do wonder about Lindy and Vanek. Sometimes I feel like Lindy is handling him well – holding him to high standards, demanding a lot from him, benching him when his effort is lacking (I’d actually be fine with him doing that with MORE players) – but sometimes I think Lindy doesn’t have a good handle on Vanek’s personality. Some of his remarks regarding Vanek are extremely critical and he doesn’t seem like the type to respond well to that. I’m talking completely out of my ass here, btw :P

  10. 10 Katebits April 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I completely, completely agree with you about how Lindy handles Vanek, Heather. Truthfully, I’m being to question my perspective when it comes to Lindy (basically, I think it’s ALL HIS FAULT :P) so I decided to leave the Lindy stuff out of Vanek’s review. I think Lindy’s waaaay too quick to staple Vanek to the bench. Vanek needs to grow up, and in order to do that he needs a bit more space. I think his production has earned him the right to Lindy’s trust. I mean, for GOD’S SAKE, Lindy’s assistant captains were HECHT AND POMINVILLE. He never benched them, and he never took away their letters…because he like those guys. Meanwhile, you have a 40 goal scorer sitting on the bench in the third period because he passed the puck instead of shooting on a 2 on 1. I really believe that Vanek has a lot more to give, but Lindy is failing to get it. We are lucky to have Vanek signed for the next five years, but we are eating into his prime production years right now. The fact that our once young and promising team is aging without improving is a big reason why I think Lindy should be canned, and why I hate the “one more year” philosophy.

  11. 11 Heather B. April 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I don’t have a problem with Vanek being benched here and there – though I could agree that Lindy overdoes it sometimes – as long as that’s how everyone is treated. As you pointed out, that’s not the case. Hecht got “benched” for half of the first period one night and Roy evidently has to kill someone to see the bench. I think it’s good that Lindy expects a lot of Vanek but of all people Roy should be held to those same standards and again, as you said, young players have to make mistakes. I think there’s a better balance there than what Lindy is doing right now.

    So I guess that was my long-winded way of saying, I agree.

  12. 12 Katebits April 21, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I’m going to need you to type “I think Lindy should be fired,” Heather. You should probably get it notarized too. :D

  13. 13 Amy April 21, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Lindy’s assistant captains were HECHT AND POMINVILLE. He never benched them, and he never took away their letters…because he like those guys.

    If Lindy – or the other players – keep letters on Hecht and Pommers, it’s going to be on like Donkey Kong. Neither one really speaks out to the media. I’m sure most of us could give Pommer’s standard postgame interview by now, since it never seems to change no matter what the result of the game is. They also don’t strike me as putting fear into the hearts of their teammates when they’re pissed. Rivet, Gaustad, Miller all do angry very well. Hecht and Pommers don’t.

  14. 14 Heather B. April 21, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I’m going to need you to type “I think Lindy should be fired,” Heather. You should probably get it notarized too. :D

    Oh, I didn’t mean I agreed with THAT part :P Just that the relationship between Vanek and Lindy appears to sometimes be unhealthy. But I’m edging more toward your POV because while I’m willing to part with Roy-Z for Lindy, I think Vanek can absolutely be a really special player, one that an organization would be crazy to part with in his prime. The Sabres would be smart to find a coach he can function with if there is trouble between him and Lindy.

    So… I kind of think maybe it wouldn’t be absurd to fire Lindy if the choice is between him and Vanek. That’s closer, right? :P

  15. 15 Katebits April 21, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Hee! Now we’re getting there, Heather! :D

  16. 16 CrotchetyOriginalSam April 21, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I would just like to submit that asking an Austrian to “step into a leadership role in the locker room” might possibly stretch the bounds of what is possible in today’s NHL.

    Also, for more on “laziness + easily breakable vs. long skating stride,” please see “Marian Gaborik.” Not taking a side, just saying – those central Europeans with mad skillz seem to have long strides and extreme breakability.

  17. 17 Katebits April 21, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Busted jaw excepted, Vanek is actually quite hardy and brute strength is a big part of his game. His skating style definitely creates the illusion of slowness, but I’m telling you, it’s not just that. The kid is not consistently focused, and his determination is questionable.

    You might be right though that asking him to be a leader is going too far. But he should have thought of that before he signed a kazillion dollar offer sheet. We need him to be a leader because we can’t afford anyone else. :P

  18. 18 Debby April 22, 2009 at 5:46 am


    THis response is no about hockey. Its about warnings- when I read that line about Vanek reminding you of your grandmother getting out of her laz-y-boy I sprayed coffee all over my laptop. Is there some type of ‘put aside hot liquids’ label you could be attaching to these posts? When appropriate?

  19. 19 wnylibrarian April 25, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Here’s the thing. After only 5% of the internal “review” was complete Larry Quinn decided to keep Regier and Ruff. I’m guessing here that after 1% was completed Quinn felt he himself should remain at his post…and there you have the problem. I’m not a Ruff-guy…I think he should go. I’m willing to give Darcy the benefit of the doubt considering he’s operating with one hand tied behind his back. So that leaves only 95% more to go which, again I’m guessing, will take place on either the front or back nine of Somewhere Country Club that I can’t afford to play at. I think everyone has come to their own evaluation of the club Larry and the club’s problems, and they’ve determined it’s you.

  1. 1 Just You Wait. « The Willful Caboose Trackback on December 5, 2009 at 3:32 pm

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