Tomas Vanek Revisited: Near Miss Number One
Last season Tomas Vanek posted stellar counting numbers, and a plus-minus that was through the roof. Leading enough journalists to cast a Selke vote in his direction for him to finish 14th, just ahead of the rightful winner, Joe Sakic*. The fact that Tomas usually played sheltered ice time, and couldn't check his hat ... clearly not important for these voters.
Vanek, playing mostly with Derek Roy so far this season, is struggling mightily. Buffalo fans, which are an oddly knowledgeable bunch when it comes to context in a hockey game, are split cleanly on whether this is a function of playing against better opposition, or because, and I quote, "he's not giving 110%".
Lindy Ruff weighed in on the subject in the Buffalo News on Friday.
“He’s fighting a mental battle,” Ruff said. “He’s in a whole new situation. That line is in a whole new situation. They’ve got a tough challenge. They’re playing against good lines now, they’re pulling assignments against other teams’ top lines, and it isn’t as easy as last year.”There were several Buffalo fans who predicted this, though most of those people didn't expect such a severe impact. Apparently it never occurred to Kevin Lowe at all.
I think that Vanek, like Roy, is a good player. But not as good as his LupulAsADuck-like season made him appear. And certainly he is not a great player.
And to be fair, his EV+9 EV-15 looks worse than it is. The EVsave% behind #26 has been a horrific .815 so far, and last year he was lucky in this regard with .940 behind him during his icetime.
The fact is that there is precious little considered evidence that suggests that Vanek is a real difference-maker. And I find it hard to believe that the Oilers would be in a different place in the standings if Lowe's RFA offer sheet had been successful. The only difference is that the team would not have a first round draft pick for five more Junes.
As far as anecdotal evidence goes, when the Minnesota Gophers coaching staff comment on the difference between current #26 Jay Barriball, and former #26 Tomas Vanek ... the alarm with "Yashin" dyno-taped on it rings loudly.
As dodged bullets go, this one was cannon-size.
* It would have been hard to complain if Pahlsson (2nd), Drury (4th) or one of the New Jersey tandem had won the thing last season. The Brind'Amour selection is indefensible.