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New York Islanders GM Garth Snow paid far too great a price to land Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Giving up a first- and second-round pick in the draft is fine, but including Matt Moulson in the deal is evidence that Snow and the Islanders didn’t see the big picture.

Looking at their goal totals over the past four years, there’s not much difference between Vanek and Moulson. They are both the same age. They are both playing under a contract that will expire after the season. It’s fair to say Vanek is the more “skilled” player, but to portray Moulson as this garbage-collecting goal scorer whose numbers are entirely predicated on playing with John Tavares are exaggerated and unfair. Vanek and Moulson simply have different ways of putting the puck in the net, and both are really good at doing just that.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier has been arguably the worst GM in hockey over the past few years – the contracts of Tyler Myers and Ville Leino are evidence of that, along with extending Patrick Kaleta and adding John Scott in the pursuit of toughness that has submarined the team – but he deserves all of the credit here. It’s possible he’ll be able to flip Moulson for another first-round pick before the trade deadline. That’s a great haul for Vanek.

On just the face of the deal, that’s a lot to hand over to the Sabres for Vanek. There’s no guarantee Tavares and Vanek will work as well together as Tavares and Moulson have for four-plus seasons, and the least of the Islanders’ problems right now are goal scoring. They are among the worst defensive teams in the NHL, and Vanek isn’t contributing to that area.

But a deeper look shows the Islanders may have been bidding against themselves in what was a thin market for Vanek, only because of his hefty $7.1 million cap hit.

A quick look at the front page of capgeek.com shows nearly half the league’s team pressed tightly against the salary cap. As of today, 24 teams have less than $7.1 million in cap room. That doesn’t prevent teams from acquiring Vanek, obviously, but they would have to either give up a player currently contributing or the Sabres would have to retain a portion of Vanek’s salary. History shows teams generally don’t give up a player of Moulson’s caliber in a deal like this, especially if that team is “going for it,” as they say.

Through 10 games, how many of those teams were ready to alter the makeup of their roster in such a drastic fashion? Very few, if any. The Ottawa Senators have nearly $10 million in cap room, but they are allegedly strapped for cash. The Colorado Avalanche have the space, but haven’t been big spenders in recent years and Vanek may be out of their budget restraints.

Just comb through those 24 teams and look at how much maneuvering would have been required at this early juncture of the season — the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues have a COMBINED $6.1 million in cap space. The Boston Bruins have $2.8 million in room. The Pittsburgh Penguins have $3.8 million in room. The teams in 2013-14 who are likely to push all-in on a championship run at some point this season don’t have the space to add Vanek now. Those teams would have had more room near the deadline, but as of October 28, 2013, GM Darcy Regier was severely limited in trade partners, yet Snow was unable to exploit the Sabres’ weak bargaining position.

Or perhaps Snow wasn’t allowed to exploit it. The Islanders aren’t exactly known for their free-spending ways, but they have spent years doing everything in their power to scrape above the cap floor, going as far as trading for the retired Tim Thomas and his $5 million cap hit. If owner Charles Wang was only approving another $4 million in salary, it’s entirely possible Snow had his hands tied.

This deal isn’t so much a “going for it” deal for the Islanders as much as it’s a “we’re kind of going for it but we’re making this trade so early that if we fall out of it we can trade Vanek for picks and recoup our losses later” deal. And make no mistake – the Islanders are far from a lock for a playoff spot. They slipped in as the No. 8 seed in a 48-game season last year after missing the playoffs for five straight years and are eighth in the East as of today. It could turn for the worse in a hurry.

If the Islanders were truly in it to win it this season, they’d have dealt a first- and second-round pick and a mid-level prospect – an entirely fair deal for Vanek – and retained Moulson.

In 2013, Jarome Iginla was worth a first-round pick and two prospects. In 2008, Marian Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis) was worth Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick. In 2007, Ryan Smyth was worth Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra and a first-round pick.

Trades are like snowflakes, but generally speaking it requires a first-round pick and a prospect or two to acquire a talented scorer on an expiring contract at the trade deadline. A three-time 30-goal scorer like Moulson was never required to land Iginla, Hossa or Smyth.

You’ve probably heard the rationale of, “If the Islanders are able to lock up Vanek long-term, it’s worth it.” Is it? Again, Vanek isn’t that big of an upgrade on Moulson, if at all. What does it matter if the Vanek signs a seven-year extension? Moulson would’ve signed the same extension for fewer dollars, and he’s been a sure thing his entire time on Long Island, and it wouldn’t have required dealing high draft picks to land him.

Does making the deal in the season’s first month change the dynamic enough to force a player like Moulson into the deal? Based on all the other factors, it seems like Regier either fleeced Snow or, at the very least, took advantage of a GM whose owner isn’t willing to spend an additional $7 million over the rest of the season.

Comments (10)

  1. Yikes.

    1) Vanek’s remaining cap hit for 2013-14 is $6 million.

    2) The Isles are getting Vanek for a majority of the season. This is a rental (as of this writing), but it’s a full-season’s worth of rented production rather than 13 games like it would be in late February.

    3) Vanek had slightly less production than Moulson the past two seasons, however he wasn’t playing with one of the league’s best centres (or anything remotely resembling such a description) and still almost matched production. When he skated with Derek Roy when Roy put up fat numbers, Vanek responded with production.

    4) Having said that, NYI gave up way too much and this is a great deal for Buffalo. Isles have no goalie and no D. The playoffs are a stretch right now, and that pick could very well end up a top ten for Buffalo, not to mention the possibility of flipping Moulson for another first.

    In theory, the Isles improved their first line. In reality, they made the “Atlantic” Division that much more difficult with what Buffalo will have in 2-3 years.

    • what exactly will buffalo have in 2-3 years? it takes longer than that for rebuilds to show any kind of results, unless you have a crosby. Look at the islanders, edmonton, tampa, etc , etc

  2. Hey, remember a few years ago when Garth Snow traded three first rounders for 20 games of Ryan Smyth and everyone called the trade brilliant? He just got 70 games of a better player for less.

    Right now, the 6th-seed Islanders (not eighth – brush up on your realignment, Dave) added the winger they’ve been looking for for Tavares since his NHL debut and improved their roster. Look at Vanek’s linemates for the last few years compared with Moulson’s before judging them to be the same player because hockeydb’s numbers place them near each other. Are they done? Probably not. Hopefully not. But the Isles just put a little more distance between themselves and the detritus of the NHL’s worst division like the Devils and Rangers.

  3. It is way too early to call this trade a bust for the Islanders. I think if anyone didn’t see Moulson going at some point this season was blind. Capuano’s been moving things around and testing his lines and that meant Moulson playing as far back as the third line where he wasn’t nearly as comfortable. While it might be an inaccurate statement to pin all of Moulson’s success on Tavares, he is not Vanek’s equal in natural talent (let’s not forget Moulson drafted deep and Vanek top 5, I believe) and the Islanders were Moulson’s third NHL team before he found real success. Where? On Tavares’s wing. It’s a bit ludicrous to assume that Tavares can’t center anyone in this league and give them some modicum of success but a talent like Vanek?

    Everyone’s quick to jump on Snow because of last year’s success and the mediocrity of this start. Anyone who understands the game knows that kind of chemistry and what happened last year is something special. It can’t be duplicated after months and while usually it is the role players that get shuffled, Moulson was the commodity with his UFA status. Snow has been drafting well and he’s allowing his youth to cultivate. You can be up in arms about this draft but the Islanders are not a lottery team anymore and Vanek will certainly add to that fact. This team’s system is deep and I really think it’s a risk Snow could take.

    And if anyone can convince Vanek it’s worth his while to stay, it’s a world class center that’s going to pad his numbers.

  4. Both teams MAY emerge big winners IF

    Vanek and Tavares show chemistry, and Vanek signs in Long Island. Then next summer Moulson comes back as a UFA, and next year the trio combines for 120 goals ( 45 for Tavares, 40 for Vanek and 35 for Moulson ).

    Buffalo trades Moulson at the deadline to a contender, for a 1st and a 2nd round pick, so in the end will have traded Vanek for 2 1st rounders and 2 2nd rounders.

    But if Vanek and Moulson spend the season with their new team and just leave as UFA, than at least Buffalo has something to show for it.

  5. “owner isn’t willing to spend an additional $7 million over the rest of the season.”

    This is incorrect. Vanek’s real salary for the year is $6.4M. So he has roughly $5.6M coming to him for the remainder of the season.

  6. I agree that the Islanders overpaid for Vanek and would have preferred that they traded the 1st, 2nd and a mid level prospect instead of trading Moulson. I have debated this a few times with different people…Moulson is a good goal scorer in this league. He can score when he isn’t playing with John Tavares (he proved that twice last night). He can’t score when he plays with Nielsen, Bailey, Regin, Nelson, or Cizikas. Those secondary players the Islanders have, cannot get him the puck in positions where he is capable of scoring. If you watch the Islanders, each line does things its own way. When they start mixing up the lines, all of the production suffers. I blame the coaching staff for that, but it also falls on the first line for not being able to produce when things mix up. When 2 guys play together so much that breaking them apart causes massive decreases in overall production, something needs to be done. Vanek changes the dynamic of the offense because he can score from many different areas and he can create his own scoring chances. Moulson rarely did this, and that is fine when you have multiple playmakers that can move him the puck. The Islanders lack that secondary playmaking talent.

  7. Maybe if the Islanders are “going for it” the Sabres would be happy to trade Moulson back at the deadline for another first rounder ;-)

  8. sad to see Matt Moulson go but we are the worst even strength team in the league and need a true first line winger who can skate with the puck…proof is in the pudding, even with the leagues best power play we are only a .500 team…i admire MM but there is a reason he was demoted to the 3rd line for a while, he is uncanny at making the most of his scoring chances ( which werent that many, isles 1st line has been dominated all season long which is why Garth had to make the trade – isles offense consisted of JT 1 on 3 vs the other team’s D while Okposo and Moulson try to catch-up only to see the puck go the other way and into our net) but even he cant maintain the shooting % he currently has most of which came on the PP as that is the only time Moulson is dangerous…its a puck possession world and we should be much stronger on the puck now…Isles traded a guy whose main talent is standing in front of the net and banging in rebounds and deflections for a guy who can skate like the wind and has moves upon moves and a great shot – we did this bc the other teams dominate in time of possession and shots on goal when they play us…isles thinking was that the other team cant score if we have the puck more often than they do aka puck possession.

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