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Vanek deserves respect

I have seen plenty of hate from media and fans alike for Thomas Vanek. He doesn't hustle, he doesn't try, he's overpaid, he doesn't score enough, he's not physical, he doesn't play defense, we could've kept Drury and Briere but instead we got him.

Well I'm here to defend the guy. He may not be the superstar goal-scorer people thought he would be, but he's the best all around skater on the Buffalo Sabres right now.

He is second to Drew Stafford on the team with 27 goals and leads the team in assists with 38, that adds up to 65 points with six games left, the second-highest points total of his career.

Here's what I've noticed about Vanek that I've really liked. He has gradually developed into a complete player. Look at guys like Jason Pominville or Tim Connolly, these guys were seen as young stars with great potential when they first came into the league, but since they have hit a plateau, or even disappointed. Vanek keeps improving.

Vanek has had the role of leading goal scorer on the team for a number of years now and his specialty used to be screening the goalie on the power play and getting tip-ins or rebounds. He can still do that well, but it isn't necessarily his trademark anymore. He now plays a central and diverse role in the offense, making beautiful passes in the opponents zone to set up scoring chances, skating with the puck to elude defenders, and even unleashing a surprisingly acurate slapshot on occasion.

Compared to someone like Tyler Ennis, Vanek looks slow when handling the puck but he's actually quite efficient, if he know that he has half a second to collect the puck cleanly and take a shot, he will utilize that half second. Take his goal a the end of the first period tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was a nice passing play, but Jochen Hecht's pass wasn't perfect, if it was, Vanek might have shot a one-timer. Instead he calmly got the puck where he wanted it and snapped it into the corner of the net. The Sabres ended up losing the game but that goal was still a huge momentum shifter and confidence builder for the team. He may not have the reputation as delivering in the clutch yet, but if he scores more goals like that, he will soon enough.

People say he doesn't hustle, but that is because they his game isn't based on effort alone it has a lot to do with seeing the play develop and being in the right place at the right time. Guys like Patrick Kaleta base their entrire game on hustle and passion, and that is great, but let them do their thing and let Vanek do his thing.

But here's the main reason people have an issue with Vanek. He, nor the rest of the team, can live up to the epic season they had in 2006-2007. It was four years ago now and Sabres fans still remember it like it was last year. I don't want to get into the woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of talk, but it was a great season. The team won the president's trophy and went all the way to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.

That team had great chemistry and it generated a lot of offense. Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and Vanek all had career seasons in terms of scoring. Vanek, who was only in his second season, exploded onto the scene that year with 43 goals and 84 points, two totals he has yet to match and won't reach this year. He seemed to be a budding superstar, a player who could score 50 goals like, he was in a class with Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

So, in the offseason the Sabres management made the much criticized decision to sign Vanek to big contract and let the aging, but beloved, co-captains Briere and Drury leave to free ageny. Had Vanek turned into the kind of offensive juggernaut who would score goals constantly regardless of his supporting cast, maybe fans would be over the loss of those co-captains. But instead we got a quality forward who is a great team player, but hasn't provided the team with the kind of leadership, scoring or magical moments that the fans would have hoped for.

Assuming the Sabres get into the playoffs, all you haters keep a close eye on Thomas, because I have a feeling he's going to turn some heads this post-season.



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