Thomas Vanek is a year removed from the big contract signing, a year apart from the transformation of the Buffalo Sabres, and a year away from pressure and expectations that were tough to meet all at once.
Not that Vanek isn't being counted on to carry the Sabres' offense without former co-captains Chris Drury and Danny Briere, it's just that now he has found a comfort zone in the most important of roles.
"No one talked to me," said the 24-year-old Vanek, who scored his NHL-leading eighth goal on Thursday in just his seventh game. "I put the same pressure on myself this year that I did last year. And this year it's working out. I think it's just my personality. I don't think anyone's going to tell me to settle down or something.
"I have high expectations of myself. I think until I lose those expectations, if I don't have them anymore, I think I'm taking a step back."
After Drury and Briere left via free agency in the summer of 2007, Vanek also had a chance to bolt Buffalo when Edmonton signed the restricted free agent to a huge seven year, $50 million offer sheet.
The Sabres wasted little time in matching the deal to keep the high-scoring forward and make him the offensive centerpiece.
Vanek got the offer following his second NHL season, when he put up career highs of 43 goals and 41 assists in helping the Sabres reach the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year. But under the weight of the contract, Vanek dipped to 36 goals and 28 assists last season when Buffalo failed to make the playoffs.
"The people that know me know it's never been about money," the Austrian native said. "I left at an early age from back home to chase my dream of playing in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup. The money's not going to change the work I put in the offseason and everything else. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself.
"Obviously the media and stuff, it's what they need to write. When it's not going well, that's an easy thing to point at. But I never would say that was it, that's why I started slow, because of the contract. I would never excuse myself for that."
SILENT SEAN: Never at a loss for words off the ice, Sean Avery stayed relatively quiet off it during his return trip to the New York area after leaving the Rangers as a free agent during the summer.
Now a member of the Dallas Stars, Avery has brought his agitating ways back to the Western Conference, where he honed his yapping skills during his time with the Detroit Red Wings and the Los Angeles Kings.
Despite a throng of reporters and television cameras that staked out his stall at the pregame skate and after the games, Avery had very little to say to the New York media. He was polite in telling the group that he just didn't want to talk.