Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 10/29/13 at 05:28 AM ET
Over the last 36-or-so hours, hockey pundits have dedicated a significant amount of bandwidth to dissecting the Thomas Vanek-Matt Moulson trade, attempting to discern whether either player has a long-term future with their new respective employers, or whether the New York Islanders or Buffalo Sabres "won" the trade.
In an "Ask Matty" column, I believe that the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson offers the most honest--and blunt--assessment of the trade:
Q: What do you think about Buffalo trading Thomas Vanek now and not waiting until the trade deadline? (Jeff Lore)
A: Embattled Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier did nicely to get first- and second-round draft picks and Matt Moulson for essentially a rental player, and he can use Moulson at the trade deadline to maybe get another first-rounder because he, too, is an unrestricted free-agent. Moulson, who had John Tavares passing him the puck on Long Island, will find it a tad more difficult to score goals in Buffalo with nobody nearly as good as Tavares in the Sabres lineup. Vanek is a better sniper, but Moulson is a solid NHL winger who can fill the hole for now. It’s not a deep amateur draft, but if Buffalo can move Moulson, they could still have three first-rounders in June. Question I have: didn’t the Islanders need UFA goalie Ryan Miller from Buffalo more than Vanek? Evgeni Nabokov is a middling tender, at best.
Matheson continues while answering Oilers-related comments, and I just don't know whether Garth Snow can convince Vanek to remain an Islander long-term. As ESPN New York's Katie Strang suggested, Snow made a "gamble" in removing Islanders captian John Tavares' closest on-ice pal from the equation:
If Vanek and Tavares enjoy the type of chemistry Snow hopes and expects, that'll be a start, but the real barometer of whether the deal was worthwhile will depend on whether Vanek decides to re-sign.
Considering the 29-year-old winger is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this July, he could turn out to be nothing more than a very high-priced rental. It's also worth pointing out that there has been significant speculation that Vanek could land with the Minnesota Wild this summer -- a notion that should not be discounted given his ties to the area.
Vanek is skating on a line with Tavares and Kyle Okposo on Monday, but what sort of success will they have together? Vanek's numbers speak for themselves, which is why Snow viewed the former University of Minnesota standout as an offensive upgrade, but it's hard to deny the chemistry forged between Moulson and Tavares in their four years together on Long Island.
Here's where things will be interesting to watch.
I'm not suggesting that Snow should pander to his star player, and Tavares isn't the type of person to demand that treatment, either. However, I do think there needs to be consideration given to the fact that Moulson is, for all intents and purposes, Tavares' comfort blanket both on and off the ice. They are best friends and linemates who have rarely played apart. Heck, Tavares is even the godfather to Moulson's 14-month-old daughter, Mila. Do you risk upsetting your franchise player and disrupting a very productive tandem for a player who may be around for less than a season?
GM Garth Snow sent an established player and two high draft picks to the Sabres for a player who may leave in a few months. When I spoke with Vanek's agent, Stephen Bartlett, last night, he said that there had been no contract talks as part of this deal. And right now, a contract extension is the furthest thing from Vanek's mind.
"Thomas is just excited to go play with a team that is on the upswing," Bartlett said. "I think any discussion and contract talk beyond this year will come much farther down the road."
The Islanders paid a high price for Vanek, and it becomes even higher if he leaves in the offseason, which leads you to believe the Islanders will push hard to re-sign him once things get settled.
They certainly have the cap space, and this is where very reasonable contract extensions previously negotiated by Snow come into play. There might not be three better contracts in hockey than John Tavares at $5.5 million per season (through 2017-18), Kyle Okposo at $2.8 million per season (through 2015-16) and Frans Nielsen ($2.75 million through 2015-16). Getting your young core players signed at a reasonable number allows rebuilding teams to pay the premium necessary to sign expensive free agents. And while the Islanders have one of the cheapest owners in the NHL, they have been aggressive on the free agent front in recent years without much luck. They made a big offer for Paul Martin. They offered a bunch of money to Christian Ehrhoff. Of course, neither panned out.
Chances are, they'll do the same with Vanek. The fact that Lubomir Visnovsky and Evgeni Nabokov showed up reluctantly and then re-signed with the Islanders is a good indication that playing for the Islanders is more attractive than outsiders want to believe. And the fact that they're moving to Brooklyn, which should provide state-of-the-art facilities and a new excitement level, also helps.
The biggest factor may be that they're a good young hockey team that should be at its best over the course of any contract extension Vanek might sign.
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