(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
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.”