One thing that's become clear in Vanek's brief time with the New York Islanders is that the top-line winger can be refreshingly frank and realistic about hockey's most common and cliched questions. Like you could have fun talking hockey with him.
Did he blow coverage the other night against Carolina? Yes. Was the play offside? Also yes: "I thought he was offsides by five feet," Vanek said. "I should have just played the game instead of thinking it should have been blown down. We let him walk in a score, and that’s my fault."
No beating around the topic, no avoiding one facet of it, and no excuses. This is what happened, this is what I thought, this is what I did wrong.
His "five questions" segment with NHL.com produced a bevy of them. Does he feel pressure to score as a top-liner when the team his struggling, and does it affect his game? No.
No, I don't think so. We're [the first line] in a position to succeed. I don't think you look at it as pressure. If you don't want to play on a line like that, then I don't know what's wrong with you...
Awareness of the opportunity he's given. And delight in it.
Digging this points streak, are we? Meh, points can be deceiving:
...I don't look into them too much because you could have a great game, three goals, and feel like nothing. Like the game in Boston [Dec. 31], I felt like literally [garbage], sick and stuff, and somehow I get two assists. I don't look into those things...
Can Austria win a medal in Olympic hockey? No.
...I think our country is excited. We obviously have our skiers and ski jumpers that do well, but for an actual team to go there, people are excited. But again, I'm not going there thinking we're going to win a medal.
These are things that can subject a player to flak -- especially when quotes are ripped from context (as I just did on the last one), so it's fun when a player gives lucid, competent answers without the veneer of paranoia or PR.
Anyway, Vanek didn't dodge the contract question. He knows it's a business, but he does like it with the Islanders, so they're talking, but there's a way to go. Which is just what you'd expect to be true, but not what you'd expect a player in his situation to necessarily say:
"I know the scenario and what could happen for me. But my thought process is I do like it here. This team to me is really a team. I think the potential is a lot more than we've shown.
Hopefully I can then stay here and finish off the year, but I do understand the business side of it. Am I worried if I get a phone call tomorrow about something? No, I'm really not. It's the business side of it. So be it. This business is what I signed up for. We're talking. I like it here. I do think there's a ways to go, but you never know."
Anyway, this isn't a piece advocating re-signing Vanek, though it's difficult to see where this team will head without him. As with any player of his age (29 now, 30 this month) and caliber, the question is not whether he can help the team, but whether there will be diminishing returns on the size and term of a new contract as he ages.
Unless he finds the fountain of youth that Martin St. Louis keeps in his backyard, chances are by the end of Vanek's next contract he will no longer be first line-worthy.
But the Isles made that bed when they made the trade. They chose Vanek over fellow pending unrestricted free agent Matt Moulson, who might have re-signed for less, so they have to think about how far they're willing to go to entrench that choice. And what the consequences of entering 2014-15 with neither would be.
He likes the team, the location, and recognizes he has two good linemates, one of them elite. But with the cap going up and up, and the cost of business going with it, the decision will really be in the Islanders' court. If they get gun-shy, Vanek will understand and join his second new team after nearly a decade with his first one.
Like Moulson, Vanek understands. It's a business.
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