Vulgar Statistics: Thomas “Hat Trick” Vanek
Ah the much maligned Sabre, Thomas Hat trick Vanek, the Austrian Wonder child who will hurt you. It’s not much of a stretch to say that Vanek is probably the least liked Sabre since the lockout, depending on how Jochen Hecht and Tim Connolly are doing on any given night. The main reason for that is his massive contract ($7.1M cap hit), and underwhelming goal totals, a statistic that has already been explored in more depth.
The conclusion of that particular article was that Vanek’s goal totals per icetime since the lockout match up with the best in the league. the obvious connection is that since the production numbers themselves don’t match up, that Vanek’s ice time is underwhelming. Which makes sense, because it has always been a complaint of fans that Lindy Ruff shuffles his lines too much and on occasion that makes guys like Paul Gaustad and Mike Grier get more icetime than guys like Thomas Vanek or Derek Roy. The other half of that is that Vanek doesn’t play on the penalty kill, which docks him about two minutes of icetime a game, depending on how feisty the Sabres are feeling. But there are several players around the league that don’t play on the penalty kill on their teams and still notch the 19-21 minutes a night that Vanek should be getting as opposed to his career average of… (really, I have to hand calculate this?) …16:23. That’s it? Ouch.
So my point here is simple. Lindy doesn’t play Vanek enough, and the numbers show it. I put together a sheet with statlines from every single game (regular season and playoffs) that Vanek has ever played, because that’s kind of what I do here. I then sorted by TOI to see what I could find:
- Vanek plays 20+ minutes – 38 games played, 25 goals, 11 assists. (projects to a 54 goal, 24 assist season)
- Vanek plays 19+ minutes – 72 games played, 41 goals, 25 assists. (projects to a 47 goal, 28 assist season)
- Vanek plays <15 minutes – 122 games played, 41 goals, 34 assists. (projects to a 28 goal, 23 assist season)
There are a few things to be said of the above. First of all it seems kind of obvious, the more minutes you play a guy, the more he is going to score. Which would mean that his values for goals per period of time should remain consistent regardless of how many minutes he’s playing. They do not.
- Vanek plays 20+ minutes – 1.82 goals per 60 minutes (note: if projected over the course of his career would be tops in the NHL since the lockout)
- Vanek plays 19+ minutes – 1.66 goals per 60 minutes
- Vanek plays <15 minutes – 1.58 goals per 60 minutes
So not only does Vanek score fewer goals overall when he logs less icetime (duh), but he also scores them at a slower rate. So in keeping him off the ice, Lindy is actually making him a less effective player when he is on the ice. (Vank evidently does not thrive on the rest that Lindy is insistent on getting the top lines when the Sabres play back to back games.)
Now the second point that a lot of people want to make is that icetime is based on performance, and that Vanek’s increased icetime is a product of him producing, not the other way around. This point is debatable at best for a few reasons. I decided to go through and look at Vanek’s 19+ minute games from this season and see how many had him getting on the scoresheet early, and the results were about half yes, half no. Which would seem to at least partially debunk that theory, since if it were true, Vanek would have to be a force early on in those games, leading to more shifts later in said game.
The second problem I have with that point is the big one. Vanek is easily the best skater (non-goalie) on the team, and probably the best player (sorry Miller fans). That guy should be getting the appropriate amount of icetime, except in rare circumstances. It’s not like we say, “oh Miller has had a few bad games, play Patrick Lalime.” (Maybe once a year.) Can you imagine Dan Bylsma saying, “well Crosby wasn’t playing well, so I benched him,” as often as is the case with Vanek? No, because that’s ridiculous.
The Final Word:
Maybe I’ll do this every week, give my opinion on the column as a whole. I think that Vanek has grown up being “the guy.” He has been the best player on the ice, and a force to be reckoned with, at every level from captaining his Austrian juniors team to the University of Minnesota to the Buffalo Sabres. Lindy Ruff, for whatever reason, has decided that Thomas Vanek is not “the guy,” and refuses to play him accordingly. Vanek has shown he can do just about anything, shoot, score, pass, set screens, even kill penalties, and Lindy Ruff just stands behind the bench like a blonder Don Cherry. (Somewhere in Russia, Maxim Afinogenov is nodding his head.)
None of us can claim to know what goes on in the locker room or behind closed doors, but it’s mystifying. It’s not like Vanek can’t handle the extra time (21:30 against Washington on 11-13-10, and an extended shift for the OT GWG), and it’s pretty evident that he thrives on either the extra icetime, the responsibility of having that extra icetime, or both. In short, I know what I see, but I don’t know why I’m seeing it.