The dog days of summer are almost over for hockey fans. With training camp just two weeks away, I'll have actual stories to write about. What fun! However, since I haven't written in what feels like forever, here's my latest piece on why Thomas Vanek should be named the Sabres next captain. The Sabres captain history has been pretty shady since the 07-08 season. It started with the famed Lindy Ruff rotating captain system, which saw everyone from Jaroslav Spacek to Jochen Hecht getting a chance to wear the "C". That garnered a lot of criticism. A lot of fans thought it gave the team no real identity.
In the 2008 offseason, the team got some identity. The Sabres acquired defenseman Craig Rivet, and he was elected team captain by the players. However, the Sabres didn't find a lot of success with him as captain, his play slipped, and he ended his career playing in Columbus and attacking former teammate Tyler Ennis in the last game of the season against the Sabres. Yikes.
Now, it's a new era. Terry Pegula has taken over and the future looks all bright and shiny. The one missing piece right now is a team captain. Will the team use rotating captains again? That's not the answer. The team is in a transitional period and there is one man who should lead the team as captain during this time: number 26, Thomas Vanek.
A lot of people may question this call. Vanek has had a lot of negative words attached to his game like "lazy" and people have called him a "floater." However, that's the old Vanek. Plus he's never really been lazy. He played well his first few years and then came the huge offer sheet. That huge contract came with huge expectations that a young Vanek couldn't fill immediately. He filled the 40 goal expectations in the 08-09 season, but then struggled through the next season until the end and the playoffs. Then this season was his new breakout season.
It was another slow start for Vanek, but once Derek Roy went down with a knee injury in December, Vanek took off. He scored at an alarming rate. However, it wasn't just goals, he developed into a fine a play maker but also kept his goal scoring ability. He showed flashes brilliance early in the season (see: his OT winner versus Washington) but this was a new Vanek, he took over the team.
With Roy out of the picture, Vanek was the one who had to carry the puck up ice. Not only was he finishing play, he was starting them. He still showed flashes of the classic Vanek, standing in front of the net and putting away rebounds. However, he did so with a new attitude, a second wind of sorts.
Vanek's efforts did not go unnoticed. Lindy Ruff began giving Vanek the alternate captain "A". It was well earned. He often put up big numbers in critical games. He wasn't just scoring, he was scoring when it mattered. He was leading by example and doing everything he could to help his team win. He capped off his wildly successful, 73-point regular season with a bang. He scored one of the best goals of the season. He went coast-to-coast against Philidelphia in overtime. He also scored 5 goals in 7 playoff games.
That's why for the upcoming season, Vanek should be captain. He's gotten a complete game together and has learned to put it all out on the ice every shift. He still shows anger when he misses a chance, but he shows maturity by shaking it off instead of dwelling on it. There a lot fewer cold streaks and a lot more hot streaks. He's playing for the team rather than himself. He'll be one of the most dangerous players in the league this season because of his expanded skill set.
Vanek is home grown player who has the respect of all his teammates. He's learned to play with a swagger that all the greats have. He's become a top performer and will be among the NHL's elite next season. And he should do so leading the way as the Buffalo Sabres' next captain.