Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Thomas Vanek Problem

As Ryan and co. over at The Goose's Roost are quick to point out, Thomas Vanek is one of the important Sabres, if not the most important Sabre.  When he is good, he is really good.  Like, top five player in the NHL good.  There have been countless times when he has hoisted the Sabres on his back much like his TGR nickname, Atlas.

And then there are other times.  Shots don't go in, he passes when he should normally shoot, and people start questioning his contract.  When you adjust for ice time, Vanek is 5th in goals per 60 minutes since the lockout in the entire NHL and 17th in points per 60 minutes over that same time frame.  He should be mentioned in the same breath as players like Crosby, Stamkos, and Ovehckin because statistically, he is among them.  What is the deal?  Why isn't Vanek more of an impact player more often?  I tend to think the reason is twofold. 

Reason 1 - Ice time
For whatever reason, Vanek had never gotten a huge amount of ice time.  Now early in his career, that was understandable since he was buried beneath the Briere and Drury lines and playing well with Afinogenov and Roy anyways.  Now, with the contract and the perception that he is The Guy, he's only playing about forty seconds more per game than he was in 06-07.  Everyone says that Vanek has confidence problems at times, but it seems to me that Ruff is the one with the confidence issue.

A lot of people say that it's because Vanek's conditioning and therefore his endurance isn't great.  I tend to think that's horseshit.  About a dozen games in the season, Vanek started getting more and more ice time.  It seemed that Lindy was putting him out there for more shifts, and letting him stay out longer as well.  In the Washington game on November 13th, Vanek scored the game winning goal at the end of a shift in a game in which he'd already played 21:30.  He was actually third in TOI in that game behind Myers and Leopold, and the only forward to top 20 minutes.  It's not like he isn't capable.

Reason 2 - The Linemates
So often this season, it has looked like Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy have been playing 2 on 3 against the other teams forwards regardless of who their partner has been (maybe 2.5 on 3 with Ennis).  They just don't have that guy who has been able to complete that line.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't think it has to be a major scoring talent, just someone who has the right combination of skill, size, heart, and hustle.  Drew Stafford isn't that player, Nathan Gerbe sure as hell isn't, and Tyler Ennis has been close, but I don't think he's there yet, if he gets there at all.

I even question Derek Roy's consistency and ability to be a top line talent.  He has cooled considerably in the past few weeks (3 points in the last 7 games).  I feel like maybe he's more of a 1.5 liner than a true first line center.  He's certainly not a Nicklas Backstrom type player, where he can make his high profile linemate all the more frightening.  If you want visual evidence, you can point to the handful of great chances on passes from Thomas Vanek that Roy has failed to put away.

Vanek tends to make me think of Rick Nash.  A legitimate top line threat whose help from his teammates is occasional at best.  Skilled, but buried in terms of national media attention due to those facts.  (Though Vanek is probably a better passer.)  I bet if you asked players around the league about Vanek, you'd hear universal praise and respect.  Watching Sabres games, I've noticed that when they go on the power play, it seems that about 90% of the oppositions' gameplan is "goddamnit, cover Thomas Vanek."  I think one of the reasons the power play has struggled is the rest of the skaters aren't skilled enough to make teams pay for that overcompensation.

The Bottom Line:
I think everyone knows by now that Vanek is my favorite player and thus I am typically very high on him.  However watching him play, and looking at the statistics I feel that my praise is justified.  I hope that the Sabres can find that final top line guy so that everyone else can see it as well.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, said by a fellow Vanek fan. :)

    I am always stunned by Vanek's passing abilities. Also, as we had discussed last night or the night before, Vanek has accounted for A LOT of goals that he does not get any credit on whether it be standing in front of the net or making another play that doesn't land him an assist. People fail to notice those things.