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Thomas Vanek trade a solid move, but can Islanders keep him?
After the biggest Islanders trade in quite a while -- perhaps since the last time these two teams made a meaningful trade, when the Isles acquired the rights to Michael Peca for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt in the summer of 2001 -- we’ve all had a night to sleep on it and gather our thoughts.
-- The main takeaway for me is that Garth Snow had no intention of bringing Moulson back after the season. He was a first-class citizen of the Isles and played hard all the way through some bad years; he’s also proven a bit more of late that he’s a good player with or without John Tavares on his line. Moulson will get a raise off the $3.13 million he’s making this year, though I can’t imagine it’ll be with Buffalo. I also don’t see him finishing out the season with the Sabres given the sell mode they’re in.
But Snow had clearly decided even before this season began that Moulson was not part of the long-term core. I’d heard rumblings that Moulson and his camp -- he’s repped by Wade Arnott, part of the powerhouse Newport Sports Agency -- were deeply disappointed that Snow had not initiated contract extension talks this summer. That disappointment grew with the signings of Travis Hamonic and Josh Bailey to long deals. Moulson’s initial demands could start with the number six in terms of per-year value and there was no way Snow would give Moulson a bigger AAV than Tavares, whose $5.5 million AAV kicked in last season.
On the Isles’ part, there was concern that Moulson, who turns 30 on Friday, did not have the skill set to grow with the Isles’ young, fast group. Tavares has steadily improved every year and my feeling is that Snow wanted a top-line wing who could grow with him. The numbers are very similar going back the last few seasons with Moulson and Vanek, but Vanek is widely acknowledged as the more skilled player. The belief in Moulson is that he gets the most out of his skills right now. The belief in Vanek is that he hasn’t had a center of Tavares’ immense skills with whom to work, and yet Vanek has still produced through Buffalo’s lean years.
-- About those draft picks... The reaction of fans via email (only a few) and on Twitter (massive, relatively speaking) that Snow gave up too much to get Vanek tells me that Islanders fans still harbor some deep-seated psychological bruises from the Mike Milbury era, when draft picks were like the “take a penny, leave a penny” tray at the local convenience store.
Snow has not dealt his first-round pick since the Ryan Smyth deal at the 2007 trade deadline. As Snow said on Sunday night, the Isles have stockpiled high draft picks ever since; with a deep prospect pool, he felt he could gamble.
Coupled with the above feeling regarding Moulson, this deal is swapping an A- player for an A player plus a first -- much like a deadline move, but with four extra months to see if Vanek meshes well with his new teammates and lays the ground work for a possible long-term deal.
If the Isles crash out this season, I’d imagine Snow would flip Vanek elsewhere to restore that first-rounder and then some. However if the Isles crash out this season, there could be major changes at all levels of the organization.
-- As to what Vanek’s long-term plans are, my guess is he has none. His agent, Steve Bartlett, told various outlets on Sunday that his client is shocked and excited by the move and will take it slow. The Isles will too; there’s no reason to close off the possibility of a terrible season and a deadline sell-off just yet.
Like all of you, I’ve read the online rumblings of Vanek’s great desire to return to Minnesota, where his wife is from and where he owns a house. Unless Vanek himself tells me that’s his plan, it’s hard to take that sort of talk seriously at this point. The Wild would surely love to have Vanek for just the cost of a big contract; so would a dozen other teams.
The Isles have Tavares and Vanek’s countryman Michael Grabner to woo him. Maybe his wife will fall in love with Long Island as so many other wives have over the years.
Who knows? I’m sure Vanek didn’t know this was coming, so let’s see where it goes before we all start reading the tea leaves.
-- Lastly, I don’t think Snow has any other major moves in the pipeline. He and Jack Capuano believed in the defense and the goaltending coming into the season. The injuries to Lubo Visnovsky and Brian Strait have hurt badly; I’d think that if Visnovsky were going to be a long-term (months, not weeks) type of injury, Snow would have gotten a defenseman somewhere.
Snow also never, ever makes a move with just an eye on right now. He’s hoping to have Vanek for a whole season to convince his new top winger to stay longer in addition to helping the Isles out of their win-one, lose-one malaise.
With all the defensemen in the prospect pool -- not close enough to the NHL to make a difference right away, mind you -- Snow wasn’t going to trade away a piece of the future for a defenseman who might impede the progress of a Griffin Reinhart or Ryan Pulock.
And in goal -- even I thought when I heard from the Isles that there was a deal with Buffalo that Ryan Miller was involved -- the Isles seem to feel that better play in front of the net will yield better results in the net. I’m not entirely sold on that, but if Kevin Poulin plays well enough, Evgeni Nabokov should benefit from less use.
Also, see two paragraphs above regarding the goaltending. Snow was never going to sell off a major asset for a quick fix in goal. This summer, however, will be intriguing, since the Isles will need a No. 1 goaltender and there should be plenty of options available.