The Buffalo Sabres have struggled to do much of anything right lately. With that being said, Darcy Regier and the Sabres effectively managed an asset when they traded co-captain Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson, a 2014 first-round draft pick and a 2015 second-round draft pick on Sunday night.
Vanek, 29, is playing out the final year of a seven-year contract and will have the option of pursuing unrestricted free agency at season's end. He was not going to re-sign with the Sabres. So, not only did the organization have to move him but they had to move him in exchange for a quality return. The latter portion of that equation is easier said than done considering Vanek's $7.1 million cap hit and his ability to walk at the end of the year. A potential trade partner could have leveraged those components to limit Buffalo's asking price.
Instead, Regier found an ideal trade partner in Garth Snow and the Islanders, a team who clearly wanted to make an aggressive push. Moulson, 29, is playing out the final year of a three-year deal and also will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He has developed into the right-hand man — on the left-side — of Islanders captain John Tavares and recorded three consecutive 30 goal seasons from 2009-2012 (that streak likely would have continued to this year had 2013 been a full 82-game season).
It seems likely that Moulson will be paired with Cody Hodgson on the Sabres top forward line. In the event that the team doesn't want to re-sign Moulson — or vice versa — the Sabres have acquired another expiring contract, aka, trade deadline gold. Buffalo has the option of flipping Moulson for more draft picks, which the organization has identified as their plan for rebuilding the flailing franchise. Looking at this deal alone, Buffalo has potentially added another top-20 pick in the 2014 draft.
If they retain both picks, it will make it three years in a row that the Sabres have had two picks in the first round of the draft. Wanna get better fast? That should help do it.
There is much more risk in this move for the Islanders. Obviously, the franchise has given up a considerable amount of value for what could amount to a 71-game rental. Besides the future assets the two draft picks could develop into, the club has moved their star player's primary line mate. While Vanek is a wonderful new toy, chemistry is a funny thing because there's no way to quantify it. We all know it when we feel it but beyond that it's difficult to describe.
There's no question that Moulson benefited from playing on Tavares' wing. But he still managed to do so. He and Tavares managed to play exceptionally well together and acted as the pillars that held up the Islanders for an extended period of time. One would venture to guess that Moulson would have re-signed with the team beyond this season.
There's no guarantee with any of that with Vanek.
What is guaranteed however, is that Vanek is a quality performer who has a big name. The latter portion is important for a team on the rise, and on the move. The Islanders will be relocating to Brooklyn for the 2015 season, which could help alter the perception of the club in the eyes of prospective free agents. Making a push for Vanek displays the desire to improve the team, which could go a long way in earning the trust of fans and players, a dynamic that shouldn't be overlooked.
The team's next biggest need is goaltending and there are several options available in the near future including James Reimer (or Jonathan Bernier, but probably not), Jonas Hiller or Ryan Miller. Whose to say New York doesn't pursue one of these guys before the deadline? Say Vanek finds playing with Tavares to be too good an option to pass up and re-signs with the Islanders. That means the team has Tavares and Vanek on offense, Travis Hamonic on defense and one of the guys previously mentioned above in goal.
That's a pretty strong base to develop a team around, especially one playing in a new arena in a major city.
Of course, that's a few steps down the road. The Vanek trade alone doesn't push the Islanders into the esteemed company of the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins or Detroit Red Wings, all of which should have extended playoff runs. But it is a step, and while there are pitfalls, it's one that could workout in the long run if the pieces fall favorably on the Isle.