John Tavares was at Matt Moulson's house Sunday evening, watching football and hanging out with Moulson, his wife and their two small children, including newborn son George. It was an average Sunday for the teammates and friends.
Until shortly after Tavares left, when Moulson got the call that he'd been traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek.
"I think everyone's a little shocked," Tavares said after Monday's practice. "We're all aware [Moulson] was a pending free agent, but it's early in the year. Mouls started putting some pucks in the net, he was really playing well. I think it just goes to show how serious Garth [Snow] is, how serious the organization is about winning. He wasn't going to sit around and wait."
Neither can Tavares nor any of the other longtime Islanders who had their first winning season and first playoff trip last season. They now have gotten their first wake-up call with the trade of a popular and productive player, one who was Tavares' closest friend on the team.
"I don't think Matt ever got the credit he's deserved for a lot of the success I've had," Tavares said. "He's done so well, all the little things he's done to help my game -- living together our first year, door-to-door neighbors our second year, how long we've known each other, the impact him and his family have had on me, 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, you understand that. It's sad to see him go, but it's what the team felt was best."
There was no sense of sadness in the Islanders' locker room Monday, not with a game against the Rangers coming Tuesday night. There certainly was excitement about Vanek, the first true star the Islanders have acquired in the Tavares era. Moulson has accomplished plenty in his time with the Islanders, but Vanek has had eight consecutive seasons of at least 20 goals and two with more than 40.
Now the Islanders enter Tuesday night's game with a big new addition, one big subtraction and a message from their general manager that it's time to pick things up.
"Our rebuild is no more," Kyle Okposo said. "Expectations are definitely higher and we're not OK with being .500. It's something we haven't really had to deal with a whole lot. It's tough to see a guy like Matt go, personally and professionally. Thomas is a great addition to our group, and we're excited to have him."