UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- After qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years and nearly upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round, the New York Islanders entered the 2013-14 season with great expectations from management.
Eleven games into the season, the Islanders have four wins, although they've earned points in seven (4-4-3). But for general manager Garth Snow, it's just not good enough.
That's why Snow made arguably the biggest trade of his tenure Sunday, sending left wing Matt Moulson, a first-round pick at the 2014 NHL Draft and a second-round selection in 2015 to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for left wing Thomas Vanek.
The trade sent shockwaves through the Islanders' dressing room, particularly to captain John Tavares, who is one of Moulson's closest friends and the godfather to Moulson's daughter, Mila. The two have been friends for a decade.
"I assume if things were going the way we wanted them to, I don't think there'd be too many changes," Tavares said Monday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Vanek will make his Islanders debut against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. "Obviously, [it's] a significant one. We know we haven't played our best and we haven't gotten to the level of consistency that we talked about. There's still a lot of hockey left, and it just goes to show that we have to be better. There's no waiting around for it, and our expectations have to be higher than what we're achieving right now."
Still, it was easy to see the impact Sunday's trade had on Tavares. Not long after Tavares was the No. 1 selection at the 2009 NHL Draft, the Islanders signed Moulson as a free agent. The two have been one of the more dangerous offensive combinations in the NHL over the past four years. Moulson was a three-time 30-goal scorer in New York and Tavares was a Hart Trophy finalist last season.
"I don't think Matt's ever gotten the credit he's deserved for the success I've had," Tavares said. "A lot of the things he's done so well … the little things he's done that's helped my game. Living together that first year (2009-10), door-to-door neighbors our second year, how long we've known each other, the impact he made -- him and his family -- how much they helped me off the ice. Words can't really describe how much he was there for me.
"It's part of the game, part of the business and you understand that. It's sad to see him go, but it's what the team felt was best, and we have to move forward, starting [Tuesday night]."
Islanders forward Michael Grabner was also disappointed to see Moulson traded to Buffalo, but he was awfully excited to see Vanek, his fellow countryman, come to New York. Grabner and Vanek are two of the three Austrian players in the NHL. Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl is the other.
Vanek is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Grabner will surely do everything he can to convince the talented wing to stay put and ride shotgun on the top line alongside Tavares.
"It's a great place to live and play," said Grabner, who is in the third of a five-year deal with the Islanders. "I think everyone who's came here experiences it for themselves and get to know the area, the fans, the team and stuff, so I think he'll enjoy it after he sees what we have here.
"He will see how great of a place this is, how nice of an area it is. We have a great team here. We're going in the right direction and [we want to] win a Stanley Cup, and I think that's his main goal too. Obviously, I've known him for a little bit and he's excited to come here and get a fresh start."
Perhaps Sunday's trade will be a fresh start for every member of the Islanders' roster. Snow and coach Jack Capuano are certainly pleased with having such a tight-knit group, but winning games is the main priority. Capuano believes the trade may provide the room with the jolt it needed.
"It's probably a pretty good time, if any, if you want to look at it with some of the guys' work ethic to let them know that the boss isn't happy and as coaches we're not happy too with some of the guys," Capuano said. "You've got to hold guys accountable. We've had meetings, we've showed the video. They know exactly how we have to play. We've just got to get back to playing the way that we played in the second half of last year and in spurts this year.
"It's not like we've played poorly. We've lost two shootouts and an overtime game. I'm glad that we're seeing this early in some of our guys so we can address it now and move forward."
The new-look Islanders will get their first test Tuesday against the Rangers at what will surely be a raucous Coliseum. Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic knows it's time for his team to be better, and he admitted the trade was a wake-up call.
"As a group, we definitely demand more of ourselves," Hamonic said. "We realize that we're a better team than what our record shows, in my opinion. A trade like this obviously changes things up a little bit, but we've still got a good core group of guys that have been here for a while.
"It's tough to see a guy like Matt go. He's done a lot of good things for the organization. But moving forward, I think we're excited to have Thomas here."
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