During the early 2000s, Thomas Vanek was considered one of the Buffalo Sabres‘ top players. He was a key contributor to the team’s success in the mid-2000s, especially in 2006-07 when he scored 43 goals (fourth-best) and 81 points, as they won the Presidents’ Trophy. Overall, he recorded 254 goals and 243 assists in 598 games with the Sabres. On his 38th birthday, we take a look at Vanek’s greatest moments in Buffalo.
Vanek a Shootout Master
Vanek was known for his goal-scoring abilities, especially the shootout. He is notorious for coming in hot down the ice and unleashing his wicked slapshot. His shot was a nightmare for goaltenders, and he found the back of the net more often than not.
His most memorable shootout moment was the “Around the World” goal he scored against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 4, 2006. The Senators were a bitter rival, and both teams were considered playoff contenders, and it was a signature moment that Sabres fans remember well. His natural scoring ability is missed today, and the Sabres are hoping to find the “Next Vanek” sooner rather than later.
Edmonton Oilers Offer Sheet
When Vanek became a restricted free agent (RFA) in the summer of 2007, he was determined to sign a long-term deal. However, that deal came from the Edmonton Oilers who extended him an offer sheet worth seven years and $50 million, which he signed. If the Sabres had not matched the offer, they would have received four first-round picks between 2008-11.
However, Buffalo had lost both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, so it was a no-brainer to sign the 23-year-old for what he was worth. It also showed that the organization had complete trust and confidence in their new star player, and he was paid according to his abilities. The Sabres and their fans recognized how important Vanek was to the franchise.
Vanek Clinches Playoff Berth in 2011
The last time the Sabres were in the playoffs, Vanek was on the team. In the 2010-11 season, he recorded 32 goals and 41 assists in 80 games as the team finished with a 43-29-10 record to rank seventh in the Eastern Conference.
On April 8, 2011, Buffalo needed just one point against the Philadelphia Flyers to clinch a playoff berth, which they earned when the game went to overtime. However, the Sabres won the game off Vanek’s breakaway goal. The arena erupted with cheers. Not only was the team in the playoffs, but they also had a chance to finish as a higher seed. No one knew it would be their last playoff appearance, and this moment goes down as one of the “Vanek Greats.”
Becoming Co-Captain of the Sabres
On Oct. 1, 2013, the Sabres named Vanek co-captain with Steve Ott; Ott wore the “C” for road games, while Vanek wore the “C” for home games. Unfortunately, his captaincy didn’t last long as he was traded to the New York Islanders on Oct. 27, 2013, for Matt Moulson, a 2014 protected first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick.
Fans were happy to see Vanek earn the “C” and were equally disappointed when he was traded. Still, the well-deserved captaincy was a sign of respect for his contributions to the franchise and their amazing run during the 2000s.
Buffalo’s Perception of Vanek
Despite the disappointment, there were no hard feelings when he was traded. Everyone knew Buffalo was entering a “rebuild,” and they would move on from his great talent. However, he is still recognized as a “Sabre Great” for his work with the team and as a player who meant a lot to the franchise.
Joe is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW who recently received his bachelor’s degree at SUNY Fredonia. He is new to the world of sports media but is extremely eager to make an impact with his writing. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, he is an avid Sabres fan, and has been following them all of his life.