MONTREAL - Thomas Vanek probably didn't recognize many of the names on the backs of the Islanders' jerseys Thursday night, but he still felt a little nostalgic facing his "old" team -- he was an Islander for a shade over four months -- for the first time.
Vanek had 44 points in 47 games with the Isles, but even as he had a terrific run alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, the team tumbled down the standings. When Vanek turned down a seven-year, $50 million offer from the Islanders in mid-January, the team went into a 1-6-1 slide into the Olympic break that sealed his and the team's fates.
Newsday reported Feb. 3 that Vanek had turned down the contract, and Vanek was not happy the news leaked out. He had two goals and four assists in his last five games with the Isles but had only two points in the previous six games just after saying no to staying with the team long term.
"It was awkward, and at the end of the day, I don't think it helped either side," Vanek told Newsday before Thursday night's game. "We negotiated and I thanked them for the offer and the faith they had in me, but my mind was set to go to July 1. Then it came out a few days later and that bugged me. But I'm not going to excuse my play at the end or anything because of that."
Vanek has thrived in Montreal after a slow start following the trade-deadline deal that sent him here for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a second-round pick, a selection that was contingent on Montreal making the postseason. Vanek had one point in his first five games with Montreal but has six goals and eight assists in his last 11 games entering Thursday night.
He still feels good about his time on the Island and what could have been. "Maybe if Johnny didn't get hurt or we were closer, maybe there was a chance I would have stayed, which would have been fun too," he said. "It's not great switching teams, even though I'm enjoying myself here and overall it's been a good fit.
"Like I said when I left the Islanders, I thought we had a good team. I thought it was a team that could make the playoffs. Even now, when I look at the roster, Johnny will be back next year, I think Stromie [Ryan Strome] will be one of the best centers in a few years, Frans [Nielsen] is a great center. Down the middle, that team is positioned well for the future, which is the hardest position. If you're strong up the middle, you can contend, and they have that."
After turning down the Islanders in January, Vanek said he still would consider them when free agency comes. That ship may have sailed from the Islanders' end, but Vanek still isn't ruling anything or anyone out.
Notes & quotes:Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves for his 59th career shutout, moving into 17th in NHL history, and Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson had power-play goals in the second period as the Islanders won, 2-0 . . . Johan Sundstrom was shoved headfirst into the boards by the Canadiens' Douglas Murray. Sundstrom remained in a Montreal hospital overnight. Murray was ejected.