Former Captains Return to Buffalo

The Buffalo Sabres will meet the Detroit Red Wings for the first time this season on Wednesday evening at KeyBank Center.

The meeting marks the return of former Sabres captains Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott. Both players signed with Detroit as unrestricted free agents this past summer. Vanek and Ott were important players for Buffalo and Sabres fans will get their first look at the duo as members of the Red Wings.

The Blue and Gold have a lot to prove against Detroit after struggling in the 2015-16 season series. Buffalo finished last season with a 1-3-1 record against the Red Wings. The Sabres scored 11 goals in five games against Detroit last season. Buffalo enters Wednesday’s contest against the Red Wings seeking to build upon a four-goal performance from earlier this week against the Calgary Flames.

The Return of Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek Sabres
Thomas Vanek began his career in Buffalo during the 2005-06 season and continued playing for the Sabres through the 2013-14 season. (Jerome Davis/Icon SMI)

After a difficult season 2015-16 campaign with the Minnesota Wild, Thomas Vanek is reviving his game in Detroit. Vanek signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings this summer and he has found some success in the early-going of the 2016-17 season.

Vanek was a member of the Sabres for nine seasons. To date, his most productive season in his career was the 2006-07 season when Buffalo won the Presidents’ Trophy. During that season, Vanek tallied 43 goals and 84 points, and he earned an impressive plus-47 rating.

The Sabres traded Vanek during the 2013-14 season in the trade that brought forward Matt Moulson into the fold. Buffalo also acquired a first-round pick in the Vanek deal that was later used to acquire goaltender Robin Lehner and former Sabres forward David Legwand. Vanek spent time with the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and the Wild before signing with Detroit.

The former Sabres captain has had a strong start to the 2016-17 season. The veteran notched four goals and eight points in his first seven appearances for the Red Wings. However, Vanek recently missed 11 games with a lower-body injury. Vanek returned to action in Detroit’s recent game against Calgary where he was held off the scoresheet. Buffalo needs to contain its former captain to prevent him from restoring the scoring touch that he found earlier this season.

Steve Ott: A New Divisional Foe

Steve Ott Sabres
Steve Ott was acquired by Buffalo in July 2012 from the Dallas Stars. (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Ott has carved out a unique role in the NHL. As many Sabres fans will recall, Ott’s on-ice antics make it difficult for his adversaries to remain focused on the game. Ott has brought a lot of energy throughout his career and he quickly became a fan-favorite while playing for the Blue and Gold.

Ott spent the past three seasons with the St. Louis Blues. Wednesday night’s game will be his first return to Buffalo as a member of a divisional foe. In 107 games over two seasons with the Sabres, Ott notched 18 goals, 44 points, and 148 penalty minutes.

The 34-year-old’s offensive production has slowed down in recent seasons. Ott scored just three goals and 17 points in the past three seasons with the Blues. The 2015-16 campaign was a very difficult season for the former Sabres captain. Ott suffered a horrific hamstring injury and he was later diagnosed with colitis, which sidelined him for several months. He made his return during the first round of the playoffs and ultimately appeared in nine playoff games for St. Louis in 2015-16.

The veteran signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings this past summer. Ott has appeared in 16 games for Detroit this season, where he’s tallied one goal and two points. The Red Wings currently are one point behind the Sabres in the standings. Consequently, Wednesday night’s contest will have some early implications for the Atlantic division as Buffalo tries for its third consecutive victory.