Yesterday, Buffalo Sabres forward and the man with one year left on his contract, Thomas Vanek, gave an interview to Minnesota news station KSTP, where he was asked a number of questions about the upcoming season and the potential of being traded.
WKBW in Buffalo picked up the short interview, which you can watch here.
Vanek's comments immediately drew the ire of Sabres fans, as he spoke honestly about the team's rebuilding and his outlook on the season and his career. However, as is the custom these days on the interwebs, overreaction was the name of the game, and I saw a number of people talking about how Vanek's interview constitutes a trade demand or that he's breathing fire at the Sabres front office.
This is simply not true, at least if you listen to what Vanek actually said instead of "reading between the lines", as so many professional sports psychoanalysts already have. Let's break this thing down to see why, while he didn't offer a ringing endorsement of the Sabres outlook this season, Vanek's honesty shouldn't raise any red flags just yet.
All comments in bold are Vanek's, italic statements are from the KSTP reporter:
It's frustrating, with the core we had, we couldn't accomplish...with Pominville coming coming here, I think the Wild got a very good player, which obviously hurt us, but again, we're rebuilding, and I'm hoping we have the right pieces to accomplish something.
Vanek speaks nothing that Sabres fans shouldn't already know - the "core" of him, Pommer, Miller, Stafford, Gaustad, etc. ultimately never reached their goal of winning the Cup, and in later years, couldn't even make a dent in the playoffs. Trading Pominville was a clear sign of the rebuild, which Vanek admits to, and he hopes what we all do - that the team has the right type of prospects to translate in to NHL success.
You like to be on a team where, going in to camp, you're contending.
This is the most obvious statement in the history of ever. Every NHL player wants to be contending for the Cup, so don't take Vanek's honesty as hostility towards the front office.
You can't guarantee to win the Cup, but right now, Buffalo, we're rebuilding, which is not the best case scenario for me. But at the same time, there's a lot of good young players, and hopefully we've picked the right ones.
Here's the comment that got everyone all hot and bothered, but again, this is just Vanek speaking honestly. The only people that a rebuilding scenario is good for are unproven players trying to make their case that they belong in the NHL. Quality veterans in the prime of their careers on a rebuilding team is "not the best case scenario" for them to be in, whether you're Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla, Brian Campbell, or Steven Stamkos. Again, a true statement spoken from a place of honesty is not an indictment of anything, Vanek is simply stating a fact.
On starting the season in Buffalo: As of right now, yeah. I haven't heard any differently. I'm preparing myself like I'm going back to Buffalo, so that's what I'm doing.
Vanek is a proven 30-goal scorer currently under contract with the Sabres and is planning on honoring that contract. Moving on.
Vanek, after being badgered by the reporter about trades and asking if he's "flattered" by the attention: No, I'm not flattered by it by any means. I've enjoyed my time in Buffalo, I'm looking forward to going back. In this business, you can't look in to that stuff, you can't read the internet or papers too much. If something happens, I'm sure my agent or the GM in Buffalo will call me and let me know where I'm going.
I could not love this answer more than I do. If this doesn't defuse any "pipe bomb" mentality you had about Vanek's interview, I don't know what will.
On possibly being traded to the Wild (remember, he's being interviewed in Minnesota): That's something that, you just laugh at it and move on with your day.
I picture Vanek at the supermarket, pausing for a second to chuckle to himself before buying some organic beef.
The reporter continues to badger him about signing with the Wild next offseason: Again, I don't know, I've never been a person to narrow my choices down. I'll play it one year at a time...I'm focused for this year, and we'll see what holds next year.
This question was extremely entertaining thanks to the reporter's voice jumping up two octaves as he pleads with Vanek to come back to Minnesota, and Vanek's increasingly exasperated responses.
On offseason improvement to his game: With the way the game is going, it's getting faster...For me, who's a net-front kind of player, I still need to get the first or second step a little quicker, so that's what I'm working on.
Hey, an actual question about hockey! Oh wait, the interview is over.
When you total it all up, there were two comments that could maybe, in a very "let's get inside his head" kind of way, be twisted to say that Vanek is unhappy, or that he wants out of Buffalo. However, the other 50 or so comments that he made were simply an honest player saying nothing that shouldn't already be obvious to even the most casual Sabres fan.
Are those two comment enough to worry me? Absolutely not...yet. Remember, we've still got almost two full months to go before the season starts. I'm sure there will be more Vanek interviews between now and then, and working yourself in to a frenzy every time he answers honestly will likely drive you crazy. However, on the outside chance that his story starts to change as we get closer to camp in an effort to put pressure on the front office to trade him, well, I'll keep an ear open for that.
In the meantime, I'll just go back and watch this a few times to remind myself that, just maybe, we should enjoy the nice things we have while we still have them.