The New York Islanders are a hungry team on the rise. The Buffalo Sabres are a team spiraling around the toilet.
This was never more evident than on Sunday night, when GM Garth Snow pulled an early season stunner and Buffalo traded one of its franchise cornerstones.
Thomas Vanek is now an Islander, traded for left wing Matt Moulson and the New York Islanders’ first-round pick in 2014 and second-round pick in 2015.
Vanek, 29, is an elite offensive talent. He has four goals and five assists in 13 games, after scoring 41 points in 38 games last season. With 497 career points in 598 career games, all with the Sabres since 2005, Vanek is one of the few players in the NHL that can carry a team on his own for weeks on end.
Moulson, 29, resurrected his career on the wing of center John Tavares, going from AHLer with the Los Angeles Kings to a 30-goal player. He has six goals and three assists in 11 games.
Here’s the rub: Both players are unrestricted free agents next summer. And that’s the real news here for Islanders fans.
Vanek could be an incredibly high-priced rental. Bob McKenzie reports that the team doesn’t have an extension in place with him upon trading for him. He’s in the final year of a 7-year, $50-million contract, making $7,142,857 against the cap.
The worst kept secret in hockey is that that Vanek is likely joining the Minnesota Wild next season, the state where he played his college hockey and where his close friend Jason Pominville was traded last season. The Wild clear Dany Heatley’s salary next summer; one could see Vanek slotting in right there.
Short term or long term, the Islanders just added a coveted piece to a championship puzzle. But how close are they to completing it, and can they keep Vanek around beyond this year to help complete it?
As for the Sabres … look, Darcy Regier has been a punching bag for Sabres fans for years and for the national media recently (thanks, John Scott). But in the midst of a major rebuild, here’s another impressive return for a player that was going to leave Buffalo, provided Moulson signs. If you're someone predisposed to treat Darcy Regier as the general managing equivalent of a festering boil, please wait until we see what he does with this stockpile before lancing him.
Could he have gotten a greater package, at the trade deadline? Potentially. But this a very good return for Vanek.
Which, hopefully, is of some solace to Buffalo fans that just saw one of the best offensive players in franchise history bid farewell to the franchise.