Sabres Contact Vanek

The Buffalo Sabres have contacted Minnesota star Thomas Vanek to open contract talks, the Associated Press is reporting.

Vanek, the 2003 NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player, just completed his sophomore season for the Gophers. He was the No. 5 overall pick of the Sabres in the 2003 NHL Draft.

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier told the Associated Press that he believes Vanek is “ready to take the next step,” but that current talks are just preliminary.

“I think you can always accomplish more no matter where you are. But I think there’s another question and that’s: ‘Is there another step he’s ready to make?'” Regier said to the AP. “And certainly I think he’s ready to play at the American Hockey League level and maybe even at the National Hockey League level.”

Vanek has shown an ability to dominate college games and has gained a reputation for clutch goals, but has also shown a tendency for inconsistency.

“I think there’s areas of his game that he could certainly work on, probably the biggest is becoming a dominant player night in and night out,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said to the AP. “I think it all boils down to is if Buffalo wants to sign him. And if they do in fact want to sign him, what kind of contract are they willing to give him to have him leave school.”

Vanek had 26 goals and 51 points last season to lead the Gophers. His freshman year, Vanek had 31 goals and 62 points as Minnesota won the national championship. He recently played for his native Austria at the World Championships.

The tenuous NHL labor situation could affect the contract negotiations. The current collective bargaining agreement between NHL owners and the players union expires on Sept. 15.