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Analysis: Vanek deal is good for Sabres, risk for Isles

by Dan Rosen

New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow laid down a huge bet Sunday night by pulling off a blockbuster trade with Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier, who was all too happy to make the deal.

Snow sent Regier and the Sabres three-time 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson, New York's first-round pick in 2014 and its second-round pick in 2015 in exchange for Thomas Vanek.

Snow told Newsday that he was not happy with the team's record (4-4-3) and the way it had been playing, so clearly he felt the need to shake things up. He said the Islanders "need to take the next step" and indicated Vanek will help them get there.


Sabres deal Vanek to Islanders

In a blockbuster move Sunday night, the Islanders acquired Thomas Vanek from the Sabres in exchange for Matt Moulson, New York's first-round draft pick in 2014 and a 2015 second-round selection. READ MORE ›

But Vanek and Moulson are currently scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season. Neither is a lock to re-sign with their new teams, and that's why this trade is such a coup for the Sabres and a risk for the Islanders.

Buffalo is rebuilding, and stocking up on high draft picks is the best way to do that in the salary-cap world. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks can attest to that.

While it's still early, nothing about the Sabres’ first 13 games (2-10-1) suggests they're a team destined to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. Now they're clearly hoping the Islanders don't either, because that could give them two of the first 14 selections in the 2014 NHL Draft.

In addition, the Sabres have roughly four months to see if Moulson has chemistry with any of their centers, most notably Cody Hodgson, before deciding if they want to try to re-sign him or deal him before the trade deadline (March 5, 2014) for more picks.

It's a win-win situation for Buffalo.

For the Islanders, though, the trade isn't as cut-and-dried. Snow is taking a huge chance that Vanek will help the team be a better team this season than Moulson would have, and that he will sign a long-term contract extension.

"We had an opportunity to acquire an elite player and given where we are right now, you go for it," Snow said.

Where the Islanders are right now is third in the Metropolitan Division with a 4-4-3 record. They have goaltending concerns and their defense needs an upgrade, but they are a legitimate playoff contender and Vanek will help them, especially if he finds chemistry with John Tavares the way Moulson did.

However, Vanek is not coming to New York with a pre-arranged contract extension, something that would have made a lot of sense for the Islanders. Instead, Vanek's agent, Steve Bartlett, told TSN's Bob McKenzie, "We'll take it day-by-day and focus on the short term for now, and see where we are at season's end."


The Buffalo Sabres were able to add a like-for-like replacement when they traded Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders, but Matt Moulson might not be the long-term key to the deal. Buffalo collected two more high draft picks in the transaction, and is now currently scheduled to have 17 first- or second-round picks in a four-year span.

Here's a breakdown of those picks:

1st round:
Mikhail Grigorenko (No. 12), Zemgus Girgensons (No. 14)
2nd round:
Jake McCabe (No. 44)

1st round:
Rasmus Ristolainen (No. 8), Nikita Zadorov (No. 16)
2nd round:
J.T. Compher (No. 35), Connor Hurley (No. 38), Justin Bailey (No. 52)

1st round:
2 picks (Sabres, Islanders for Vanek)
2nd round:
3 picks (Sabres, Minnesota Wild for Jason Pominville, Los Angeles Kings for Robyn Regehr )

1st round:
1 pick (Sabres)
2nd round:
3 picks (Sabres, Kings for Regehr, Islanders for Vanek)

The key words there are "season's end." They should scare Snow, the Islanders and their fans.

If Vanek isn't interested in signing a multi-year contract extension during the season, the Islanders risk of losing him over the summer grows exponentially higher. Even if he likes it in New York, Vanek could decide to test his worth on the free-agent market. That's his right and the route many players choose to go. The elite players may only be UFAs once in the prime of their careers, if at all. It's an enticing opportunity.

Now imagine the fallout if the Islanders don't re-sign Vanek. It would mean they essentially gave away Moulson, a first-round pick and a second-round pick for not even a full season with Vanek.

The only way that scenario isn't a punch in the gut is if the Islanders go on to win the Stanley Cup this season. But Vanek, for as good as he is, does not make the team any more of a favorite than Moulson did, not with the goaltending and defense issues it has.

Vanek had 106 goals over 267 games from 2009-12 and has four in 13 games this season. Moulson had 112 goals over 293 games from 2009-12 and has six in 11 games this season. Their production is virtually even.

Logic, though, dictates that Snow would not have made this trade if he didn't think he had the inside track to re-signing Vanek. It makes sense, too, because what right wing in their right mind wouldn't want to play with Tavares for a long time?

Tavares helped Moulson become an elite scorer in the NHL after he signed a one-year, $575,000 contract prior to the 2009-10 season. Tavares is the face of the Brooklyn-bound franchise and one of the elite centers in the NHL. He should be a lock to play for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

If the Islanders sign Vanek to a long-term contract extension, New York would have front-line scoring potent enough to match most, if not all teams in the NHL. The trade will have made a lot of sense at that point because for as good as Moulson has been with Tavares, Vanek has long been considered better and never has played with a center of Tavares' ilk.

So, Snow is gambling that Vanek and Tavares will have chemistry. He's gambling that Vanek will help the Islanders be a better team this season. He's gambling that Vanek will want to stay in orange and blue for a long time.


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