Thomas Vanek joins exclusive club, costing Red Wings players again

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Thomas Vanek

Detroit – Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill has a lot of respect for NHL players who reach the 1,000-game milestone.

But he knows it doesn't come without a cost.

“Our guys’ pocketbooks are going to get a hit with all these 1,000 games,” said Blashill after Friday’s morning skate.

Friday night against Nashville, forward Thomas Vanek was to play in game 1,000 in his career – the 332nd player in NHL history to do so – joining teammate Trevor Daley, who joined the 1,000-game club Dec. 23.

Teammates bought Daley a Sea-Doo watercraft. (Incidentally, Daley broke his foot at the morning skate on the day they surprised him with the gift.)

Vanek is sure to get a nice gift, too. And rightfully so, for a career that’s been lengthy and successful.

“It’s awesome,” said Blashill of the milestone. “You play 1,000 games in the NHL, there’s a reason why it’s a big measuring stick. It’s a hard thing to get. You have to have longevity in your career. There are a lot of guys in this league that are good for periods of time, but to be that good to be able to play 1,000 games is awesome.”

Vanek, the first Austrian-born player to reach 1,000 games, had 769 points (363 goals, 306 assists) entering Friday’s game, and has been a two-time 40-goal scorer.

Vanek has scored at least 50 points in 10 of his 13 NHL seasons.

“Vanny is one of the smartest players in the NHL and has been for a long time,” Blashill said. “He’s a great person. His kids have been around here the last couple of days, which is nice for him, to have family in town. I feel for him during the year when is family isn’t here, it’s hard on him. To have his kids around, and you see how well behaved and respectful they are, they come from a great, great family.

“I’m just impressed with the level of player he is and the person he is. That combination is real impressive. I’ve talked lots about how he’s self accountable. He’s a guy who has strong belief in things but he is very self accountable and that’s a great combination to have.”

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Anthony Mantha, who returned to the lineup Friday and was about to play game No. 178 in his career, was awed by Vanek’s accomplishment.

“That’s unbelievable,” said Mantha of Vanek’s milestone. “It’s unbelievable all those games, it’s a lot of seasons. Vanny has played almost everywhere (eight teams) in this league and knows a lot of hockey. He’s one of the smartest players out there.”

With the NHL becoming increasingly younger and faster, it’ll be interesting to see whether the number of players reaching 1,000 games will decrease.

Blashill isn’t sure that’ll happen.

“You get younger, you get a little earlier start (to your career),” Blashill said. “But without a doubt, as you get older that drop-off can happen quick. I used to see guys in the American League, guys that were good a couple of years prior (in the NHL), and they’d show up in the American League. It’s a league that you don’t keep up, you can find yourself out of the league in a hurry.

“I don’t know if the milestone will happen less or more, but it’s certainly hard as guys keep pace with how fast it is.”

Timing is everything

Mantha missed 15 games and almost a month – he injured ligaments in his hand Dec. 2 – before returning to the lineup.

The timing of actual games, said Mantha, will be the biggest adjustment.

“The game is always different than practices,” Mantha said. “It’s so much quicker. Plays happen in a half-second, so you have that much time to make plays. Hopefully it comes back quick and progresses.

“I feel great right now. I hope the timing comes back quick.”

Mantha said he missed two months with a lower-body injury his first year in Grand Rapids, but he feels better this time around because of being able to maintain his conditioning with the all skating he was able to do the last month.

The ability to keep skating, said Blashill, should help a player like Mantha.

“If you can skate, meaning it’s an upper-body injury, when you can skate, that helps you a lot,” Blashill said. “In (Darren) Helm’s case and Mantha’s case, they both have been able to skate a good amount, so it can help you hit the ground running a little bit.

“Mantha has to get his hands back playing among the chaos that hockey is, and the pressure you face. He’ll have to get that back going. I know he wanted to play last game. He thinks he’s ready and raring to go, which is a great sign.”

West catches up

The Wings will be seeing a large number of Western Conference teams over the next couple months, which normally has meant teams that are bigger, stronger and slower.

But that’s not necessarily the case anymore, said Blashill.

“I would say there was a period of time the West was bigger and stronger and, potentially, a little slower,” Blashill said. “(But) a number of those Western teams that are good teams now have probably come a little more the way of the East, where speed is at a premium.

“Certainly cases like Winnipeg, they have both the size and speed, and that’s why they’re one of the best teams in the league. We saw Calgary, they can score in bunches and they’re real good on the rush. With this team (Nashville) here, when they’re healthy, they’re similar.”

Twitter @tkulfan