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Vulgar Statistics: Thomas “Hat Trick” Vanek

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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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/09/11 10:20 PM

    These stats REALLY make me wonder how Vanek would produce under a coach (on possibly another team) who played him 20+ minutes a night. As much as I love Lindy as the coach of the Sabres since he’s been around since I began watching, it sucks watching my favorite player sort of get the shaft because the coach won’t let him play the minutes he deserves. Then again, I always feel like this team prided on rolling four lines every game.

  2. Ogre39666 permalink
    01/10/11 12:49 AM

    You can complain about Ruff not giving Vanek 20+ mins a night (and it is a valid complaint), but without Ruff, Vanek isn’t the all-around stud we see today. Instead he’d still be the one-dimensional guy who doesn’t back-check hard or play well in his own zone that we saw back in 05/06.

  3. 01/10/11 4:32 AM

    Ruff has certainly been a factor in Vanek’s development, but I don’t think you say that Vanek would not have turned into a complete player under a different coach.

  4. 01/14/11 8:27 AM

    I guess TV’s performance depends on his state of confidence. In my opinion this is a directly match with the ice time he gets from his coach and also the situation in which he is used.
    I don’t understand Ruff not letting him play PK, even thouh TV had two shorties last season! I’d believe it’d be 100times more effective to use a player who ist able to finish a 1-0 break away, than playing a “slow footed” Mike Grier each and every PK!

  5. Ubiquitous permalink
    01/14/11 8:56 AM

    I have noticed this as well. However, I have also noticed he doesn’t seem to handle double-shifts very well. Of course, I’m comparing him to Derek Roy, who never gets tired (Lindy has said he thinks Derek Roy could probably play 30 minutes a game), so it is not exactly a fair comparison.

  6. maxwell permalink
    01/14/11 12:11 PM

    1st off… interesting post.

    however. some things to consider:

    1) games where vanek averages larger amounts of ice time probably are games where the sabres have a lot of power plays… vanek is out on the power play… players score a lot on the power play therefore his numbers of goals/min should be higher in those games.

    2) i wouldn’t be so quick to place vanek among the players in the league who average 20+ minutes a game. players like crosby, ovechkin etc etc have incredibility dynamic styles of play. vanek is a goal scorer and hard back checker. guys who average 20+ minutes are the absolute best at every phase of the game. offense, defense, penalty kill etc etc. id be reluctant to put vanek on the ice with those guys.

    3) he scores a lot of goals because he is in the right position and has excellent playmakers setting him up. 20+ minute players dont just park themselves in front of the net the entire game. not that vanek isnt great at what he does.

  7. 01/14/11 2:09 PM


    Love the comment, nice to see a few differing opinions.

    1) Definitely very true. I did look through pp time a little bit and it does mostly correlate. I want to say that 60-70% of the games were games in which the Sabres had a lot of pp time. Also relevant I think is games in which the Sabres don’t take a lot of penalties since that negatively impacts Vanek’s icetime.

    2) I don’t disagree with the fact that Crosby and Ovechkin and a few other players are a cut above even other superstars, but I just have the data for goals per 60 minutes(which I linked to) and in terms of goal scoring, Vanek fits into that class.

    3) Very true, the other side of that is that there are goals that Vanek has an impact on (i.e. screened shots) where he might not get credit on the scoresheet, I think far more than other players who log 20+ minutes of icetime.

  8. Watson permalink
    01/18/11 2:00 AM

    Vanek is just Lazy! Argue all you want about ruff not giving him ice time, but at the end of the day we must reflect on this lazy goal scorer. He parks himself in front of the net and pops pucks in. Maybe one of the best in the NHL at doing this, but it doesn’t discount the fact that he is LAZY. Sure I agree, play him more in fact I am in favor of it, but never forget how lazy this PP goal tipper really is. Now that’s just Lazy

  9. 01/18/11 3:56 PM

    I love the above comment because it illustrates so perfectly what I was talking about when I wrote my bonus column on January 12th.

    “I’ve taken to just ignoring the fans that say things like “I know what I see,” or “I have eyes, I don’t need stats.” No, thats ridiculous, you need some sort of measuring stick, otherwise what you’re saying is just a meaningless opinion.”

    The whole “Vanek is lazy” shtick has been a semi-popular one for a while, in spite of the fact that there is nothing to support that conclusion other than the whims of a few fans. Right now, I’d imagine a lot of the people who read this blog are ready to go off on how hard it is to play in front of the net, and how annoying it is for fans to think that such play is “just sitting there.” If Vanek was lazy, he wouldn’t be good in front of the net because that takes some serious effort.

    As always, thanks for reading.

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