“Sports fan” and “logical” are two words that seem to be in direct conflict with one another.
Sports fans are passionate; they invest emotionally in their favorite teams, often with a hometown connection, and don’t want to see that investment repaid with awful games and no championships from their team. They demand someone, ANYONE, pay for the transgression of losing.
Occasionally, though, there are a few logical ones. The ones who can see when a team may not be winning on the field/ice/court, but is improving the structure of the organization.
I find myself in the latter category these days, though admittedly, it’s getting harder to suppress the “emotional fan” side from rising up and taking power. Such is the life of a Buffalo Sabres fan.
The Thomas Vanek trade struck a nerve with me, but not the way it probably did most other Sabres fans. While everyone else was upset – we’re trading our only star! Fire Darcy! Etc – I was rationalizing it, making it okay in my head. It was the right move, after all. Vanek and the Sabres weren’t winning anything with him in town and his departure netted valuable assets towards the rebuild.
Still, I understood the other side of it.
I had fallen out of love with hockey gradually at the turn of the millennium. Starting in with Hasek’s departure, I began to care less and less about the sport. Granted, I was a teenager and had other things going on, but the game was slipping from me and the Sabres being awful didn’t help.
Slowly, things started to turn. Vanek’s selection, fifth overall in 2003, didn’t raise my eyebrows much – I’d noticed, but didn’t really care – and when the lockout came, taking the 2004/05 season away, I was slow to get back into the fold when the game finally returned the next year.
But Vanek and that upstart team that was one game, ONE GAME, away from the Stanley Cup Final captured my interest and the interests of Western New York once again. And that’s what people like me are upset about.
If I’m upset at all by his departure, it has nothing to do with the Sabres of this season. I knew they were going to be bad and so did you. Anyone really upset with the way this season has gone doesn’t understand how and why teams rebuild and what comes with it.
No, it’s because Vanek was the last piece of those exciting Sabres teams that got me back to loving hockey. Those teams that we all had hope for – justified, real hope. He’s the last memory of when hockey was fun in Buffalo. Before expectations crushed the life out of the team, before the ugliness of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere walking away and the backlash of the contract Vanek was given in their wake. Before I just felt bad for veterans like Vanek and Ryan Miller for being stuck with bad teams when they should get a shot to win.
So when Thomas Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders, it felt like the end of an era even though that era died years ago. Vanek was the last glimpse at a time of happiness for me and most Sabres fans.
There will be others like him in the future (I hope): guys like Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov. Someone from that group, if not all of them, will be there a few years from now, when the Sabres are respectable again, making us love this team again.
Until then, I’ll remember Thomas Vanek and the team that made me care again.
Ryan is a lead writer for The Hockey Writers as well as editor for Mile High Sticking and co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things puck, Bills football, or his hatred of all things Philly.