Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There was little to no chance Thomas
Vanek would survive this season without being traded by the Buffalo Sabres.
So, when Vanek was dealt to the New York Islanders on Sunday, the only
surprising things were the team he was traded to and that the move came so
early in the season.
It's no secret the Sabres are planted firmly in a rebuilding phase, and with
Vanek expected to be a prized free agent next summer, the club couldn't afford
to not get something for the talented winger before he inevitably left Buffalo
What the Sabres received in return from the Islanders for Vanek was a pretty
substantial haul considering this could wind up being a one-year rental for
The Islanders sent forward Matt Moulson to Buffalo along with a first-round
draft pick in 2014 and a second-rounder in 2015. Now, Moulson, who like Vanek
is 29 years old and a prospective unrestricted free agent next summer, also
could wind up being a rental, but the draft picks are a valuable commodity for
a rebuilding franchise.
Garth Snow, general manager of the Islanders since 2006, knows a thing or two
about rebuilding projects, but the move for Vanek is clearly one designed to
help his club win now, not years down the road. That alone is reason to be
hopeful if you happen to be an Islanders fan. Even if Vanek ultimately departs
this summer to sign with another franchise, at least New York is finally
taking an aggressive approach to improving its long-suffering club.
By dealing Moulson, a winger who had terrific chemistry with centerman John
Tavares, the Isles have decided to try and shake things up by making a
potentially major upgrade to Vanek.
With the Isles off to a sluggish 4-4-3 start to the season, Snow felt like
something had to be done. The club ended a five-season playoff drought last
spring, making the postseason for just the second time in seven campaigns
under Snow, and the GM felt a change was needed to keep the momentum of the
franchise headed in the right direction.
"I didn't like the way we'd been playing," Snow told Newsday on Sunday night.
"We're better than our record indicates and we need to take the next step.
Thomas is an elite player in this league and he'll help us now and in the
And there is reason to believe Vanek will be an improvement over Moulson.
After all, Moulson was signed to a minor-league deal by Snow in 2009 and went
on to score 30 or more goals in each of the next three seasons. But, he was a
virtual unknown in the hockey world before getting a chance to play alongside
Tavares, the 23-year-old cornerstone of the franchise.
If playing on a line with Tavares can help transform Moulson, a player
selected in the ninth round by Pittsburgh in the 2003 draft, into a perennial
30-goal scorer, what can we expect from Vanek on Long Island?
In Vanek, the Isles acquired one of the more consistent goal scorers in the
league. Through good times and bad in Buffalo, the Austrian sniper was the
focal point of the Sabres' offense, but his production has fallen off a bit in
recent years thanks to the long decline of his former franchise. Still, he's
scored at least 20 goals in his first eight NHL seasons, including 20 in just
38 games during last year's lockout-shortened campaign.
However, Snow hopes getting away from Buffalo can help Vanek get back to the
level he displayed from 2006-07 to 2008-09, when he averaged nearly 39.7 goals
a season. He then averaged nearly 28.7 goals a campaign over the next three
seasons, but it's hard to blame the drop in production on Vanek alone.
Since making it to the Eastern Conference finals in back-to-back springs in
2006 and '07, the Sabres have missed out on the playoffs in four of six
seasons and never made it out of the first round. Although Buffalo has been
stuck in neutral for several years now, the club really only committed to the
rebuilding project after firing longtime head coach Lindy Ruff in February of
Through it all, Vanek led Buffalo in goals in six of his first eight seasons
with the Sabres and he was tied for the team lead with four tallies this
season. However, with the Sabres running out a lineup full of young prospects
on a nightly basis, there was really no choice but to deal Vanek and keep the
reclamation project moving along.
The trick for the Islanders now is to find a way to convince Vanek to stay for
longer than this season alone. If the left winger clicks with Tavares as it is
expected he will, that could go a long way toward Vanek looking at the Isles
franchise as a permanent home. The fact the Islanders are moving from the much-
maligned Nassau Coliseum to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the 2014-15
season also could make his new team a more attractive option.
The pitch to keep Vanek will begin Tuesday when the newest Islander gets a
taste of his club's rivalry with the New York Rangers.
Only time will tell if the Vanek-Isles marriage becomes one for the ages or is
doomed to fade once Vanek gets closer to his time on the open market.
The Sports Network