Thomas Vanek drove Jason Pominville to the airport early Thursday morning so his longtime friend and teammate could catch a flight to join his new team. When Vanek returned home, he looked at the empty houses nearby.
“It’s hard,” said Vanek, who lived next to Pominville and fellow former Buffalo Sabre Jordan Leopold. “The neighborhood’s dwindling a little bit.”
The realtors could have another listing or two in the not-so-distant future.
The Sabres head into tonight’s home game against Ottawa with a rebuilding plan in place. General Manager Darcy Regier says the project could take years. Vanek and Ryan Miller have one year remaining on their contracts, and they want to sit down with Regier to learn if the transformation will include them.
“It’s something I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about and certainly something I can’t speculate on because I’ve never known what Darcy’s going to do,” Miller said in First Niagara Center. “We’ll just see where everything falls, talk to Darcy about what his plan is and how I’m going to fit into it or what’s going on because these aren’t conversations we’ve had time to have.
“Probably given that the trade deadline has come and gone now, I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to talk about it till after the season.”
Vanek said earlier this week he would not be interested in a long-term rebuild. That remained the case Thursday, meaning the Sabres need to move him for assets or face a daunting struggle to re-sign him next summer.
“I haven’t talked to them about anything,” Vanek said. “It’s hard to say yes or no because no one has let me know what direction this is heading. Again, we’ll finish the year out, and I’m sure at least I would expect them to let me know what the future is with myself.”
Vanek and Miller were subdued the day after Pominville was sent to Minnesota for prospects and draft picks. Pominville and Miller spent 11 years together in the Sabres’ organization, while Vanek has been with them for nine.
“Not a great day,” Miller said. “We’ve grown up together, so it’s tough to watch him go. That’s what happens when you don’t perform in a season as a team.”
Vanek realized time was up Saturday when Regier announced he was open to offers for every player.
“It hasn’t happened in the past,” said the Sabres’ leading scorer. “I’m sure there were talks but never publicly. Now with Jason gone, that obviously sends a message that change is happening.”
The change revolves around an underachieving core. After letting Chris Drury and Daniel Briere depart following back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference finals, Regier and the Sabres committed $155 million to Vanek, Miller, Pominville, Jochen Hecht, Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad.
They missed the playoffs the first two seasons, lost in the opening round the next two years and are on the verge of missing for the second straight season again. Half of the players (Pominville, Roy and Gaustad) are gone, and the other three seem likely to follow.
“Obviously, we didn’t get it done,” Vanek said. “I didn’t think we were that far away. Add one or two pieces, I think we could have been stronger. He’s the general manager and he makes moves and decisions, and you’ve got to live with it.”
Miller understands what the legacy of a championship in Buffalo would have meant, and it’s disappointing to not achieve it.
“We’ve had ups and downs with this core,” the goaltender said. “Certainly, the core group of guys have pushed. Early on when we were kind of identified, we made good pushes. It just wasn’t enough. It got away from us a little bit.
“I thought all the guys who were identified have been strong players and done a pretty good job. But when the ultimate goal is to win a championship, it’s pretty easy to step back from all of it and say it didn’t work, we didn’t do enough. It wasn’t for lack of trying.”