WASHINGTON - Thomas Vanek's stay with the Islanders likely will end up being short.
Vanek, acquired by the Islanders from the Sabres on Oct. 27, rejected a substantial long-term contract offer by the team, and general manager Garth Snow is fielding offers from other NHL teams in advance of the March 5 trade deadline, according to several NHL sources.
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The offer is believed to be in a range similar to Vanek's current deal, a seven-year, $50-million contract that expires June 30. Steve Bartlett, Vanek's agent, told Newsday on Monday that he and Snow had not spoken in several days and that his client had "no real deadline'' to let the team know he likely will be heading to unrestricted free agency on July 1.
But Vanek's recent rejection of the Islanders' offer indicates that the 30-year-old wing, who has 15 goals and 23 assists in 41 games since being acquired, is looking to choose his permanent home in free agency.
"I understand we're getting close to the time where Garth may feel he needs to act,'' Bartlett said.
Snow gambled when he dealt popular forward Matt Moulson, a conditional 2014 first-round pick (if it is in the top 10, the Islanders can pull it back and trade their 2015 first-rounder) and a 2015 second-round pick for Vanek, who had wanted out of the struggling Buffalo organization he'd been drafted into and played with for eight-plus seasons.
Vanek has meshed well with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, which was the hottest scoring line in the league from mid-December to mid-January. But the Islanders are on an 0-4-1 slide heading into Tuesday night's game with the Capitals and are likely to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
The Olympic roster freeze runs from Feb. 7-23, with only 10 days beyond that to the trade deadline. Vanek will captain Austria's first Olympic hockey entrant since 2002, but there does not appear to be any pressure to deal him before Friday's roster freeze goes into effect.
Vanek's $7.125-million cap hit also has to be fit under another team's salary cap, so that might take until the final week to figure out for any of the teams that would covet the high-scoring forward.
"He's the kind of guy who'll have teams in on him that know he may not sign long-term,'' said one Western Conference executive whose team has talked with Snow. "He can obviously make a difference.''
But not with the Islanders beyond a four-month stay.
"If the decision's made, then that's his decision to make,'' Jack Capuano said of Vanek. "I know he's enjoyed his time here. I just try to coach and teach the players I have.''