Monday, January 28, 2013

Can Thomas Vanek Win The Rocket Richard?

Thomas Vanek became a star in Buffalo even before the Sabres selected him fifth overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.  Just months prior, Vanek stole the show at the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament held in Buffalo that year leading his University of Minnesota team to its fifth national championship in school history and was ultimately crowned tournament MVP.

Vanek spent the first year of his entry-level contract riding out the 2004 lockout with the Rochester Americans where he notched 42 goals in 74 games.  The following year, he earned a spot on the Sabres opening night roster and played all but one game that season finishing with 25 goals.  Immediately, expectations were set high for the young Austrian winger.

But Vanek’s production fell off during the Sabres’ dramatic playoff run.  He only netted 2 goals in just 10 games and eventually found himself in the press box.  Vanek’s poor performance in the clutch created an army of doubters that have followed him ever since.

However, Thomas Vanek proved he excels at tuning out his critics.  He’s also proved he excels at one other thing--putting the puck in the net.

Among his many criticisms such as being “lazy” or “soft,” he is often scrutinized for being “inconsistent.”

Vanek’s  career high came in 2006 when he tallied 43 goals and his career worse (and I use that term loosely) came in his rookie year with 25.  His career goals per game is .42 which is close to almost a goal every 2.5 games.  Vanek has averaged 33 goals a season over his seven year career with a median goal total of 32.  The slim margin between his average and median goal totals shows that he has been fairly consistent when it comes to scoring.

Vanek has clearly demonstrated that he is good at scoring goals.  But the question is can he be the best at it?

Only two Sabres have ever led the league in goals since the franchise’s inception, Danny Gare (1979) and Alexander Mogilny (1992) with 56 and 76 respectively.  Both tied with someone else; Gare with Charlie Simmer and Mogilny with the Finnish rookie sensation Teemu Selanne.

Neither player was awarded the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy which first began being awarded to the NHL’s annual goal leader in 1998.

That being said, no Sabre has ever won the Rocket Richard.  Can Thomas Vanek be the first?

It’s safe to say that he has the closest shot out of anyone on the roster.  He has twice finished in the top-10 in goals.

He currently has three in just four games this season which is six off San Jose’s Patrick Marleau’s lead of nine.  However, Marleau has played two more games than Vanek and is scoring at a record-setting pace that can’t continue for an entire season (or should I say half season?).  As of now, Marleau is on pace for 86 goals and Vanek 36 goals, but realistically neither will amass those totals.

If Vanek is to match his career average in this shortened season, he would need to pot around 20 goals.  20 goals is certainly not out of the question for Vanek, especially if the superb play of the top line of Vanek, Hodgson, and Pominville continues when Vanek returns from injury.

Since the 2004 lockout (funny that I had to specify which lockout), the winner of the Richard Trophy has scored on average 55 goals.  In a 48 game season, that is equivalent to 32 goals.

I would guess that this year’s winner is going to need at least 30 goals to secure the title.

Does Vanek have ten extra goals in him this year?  Time will tell.

With the amount of talent that is embedded in the NHL’s  superstars, the odds are certainly stacked against Vanek to win the Rocket Richard.  But,  there’s a slight possibility we could see Vanek in Las Vegas at the NHL Awards Ceremony in June if he continues to dominate.

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