I'll bet many of you have the same Thomas Vanek story as I do.
The first time I saw him play was during the 2003 Frozen Four at then HSBC Arena when he led the University of Minnesota to a national championship. He was named Most Outstanding Player after scoring the game winning goal in both the semi-finals and the final. A few months later he was property of the Buffalo Sabres.
The trade of number 26 brings to a close one of the finest careers by a forward in Sabres franchise history. Vanek leaves with regular season totals of 254 goals(5th all time), and 497 points(10th all time) in 598 games.
The native of Austria is also 4th all time for the Blue and Gold in power play goals, 4th in game winning goals and 6th in hat tricks.
Vanek had a stretch where he led the team in goals for five consecutive seasons, a franchise record. No player prior to Vanek had accomplished that feat for more than three straight years.
In his seven full seasons with the Sabres, Vanek topped 40 goals twice, 30 goals twice and 20 goals three times. He never scored fewer than 25 goals in any of those years.
I've always enjoyed watching Vanek who I felt was under appreciated by too many Sabres fans. I think he's a tremendously talented offensive player.
He always had the goal scoring ability but Vanek worked to become a better all around player and improve the two way part of his game.
Vanek became more of a leader over the course of his Sabres career and just this season was given the honor of wearing the "C" along with Steve Ott.
Vanek would play hurt if necessary. He took a pounding standing in front of the net on the power play yet over those seven full seasons, Vanek played in all but 27 games.
I was trying to think of a signature game for Vanek as we put the wraps on his Sabres career. I decided to go with a game from last season, January 31st in Boston. Vanek played out of his mind with a three goal, two assist performance in a 7-4 Sabres victory. Vanek averaged just over a point a game in his career against the Bruins.
I was also thinking about a signature goal but opted instead for a move. His "around the world", circle the stick around the puck maneuver during shootout attempts.