BUFFALO — Five years after the Sabres matched the astonishing seven-year, $50 million offer sheet Edmonton awarded winger Thomas Vanek, the star expected to score 40 goals annually and flirt with 50 has averaged just 32 a season.
At times, Vanek still utterly dominates the game like few players can these days. See the beginning of 2008-09, the end of 2009-10 and the start of his past one season for proof.
For long stretches, however, the Austrian’s barely an above-average scorer, even invisible occasionally.
He had 23 goals two years ago before scoring five in the final two games, the same season he had only 53 points. In 2011-12, he suffered a stunning in-season decline following one of the NHL’s hottest starts.
Vanek had eight goals and 15 points during 10 October games and 18 goals and 39 points following an assist in his 38th appearance Dec. 31.
Then, suddenly, Vanek’s career season morphed into one of his worst. He scored four goals and 11 points over a 34-game winter stretch, becoming a non-factor most nights.
Clearly, Vanek, who endured two big hits and missed four games, was battling injuries (to his credit, he wouldn’t reveal anything after the season).
“I got an opinion about my game,” Vanek said in April. “I thought the first half was good, the second half I couldn’t find my game anymore. That’s my fault.”
At this point, as a veteran entering his eighth season, Vanek might never reach the superstardom many predicted for him earlier in his career.
But he’s still an asset, even with his mammoth contract. He did most of his early scoring as a third-liner in a more open game. He’s developed into a mature, two-way player who earned a letter last year.
Here’s a full look at the team’s wingers heading into the summer.