I was a little shocked when the news broke last night that the Islanders traded pending free agent Matt Moulson to Buffalo, along with next year’s first round pick and a second rounder in 2015 for another pending free agent, Thomas Vanek.
As is typical for Islander fans, reactions ran the gamut, from excitement at the potential,of seeing a natural scorer and playmaker like Vanek playing alongside John Tavares, to outright disbelief that Garth Snow could trade away Moulson and not get help for the goaltending and/or defense.
Of course, some of the reactions make less sense than others. Isles fans have too often been burned by trading away young players only to see them reach their full potential elsewhere, but this was not Todd Bertuzzi, Zdeno Chara, or any of the other high draft picks that Mike Milbury lost patience with. Matt Moulson is a good goal scorer, who put up 30 goals three different times, but is also a 29 year old upcoming free agent. I don’t know that you could see him as part of the future of this franchise, there is no guarantee that he would be here past this year. So it makes some sense to include him in a deal now, rather than late in the year when the price is much lower, especially of early contract talks indicated there may be a problem signing him, which we may never know. The same could be said for Buffalo and Vanek, with one exception. As a clearly rebuilding team, there was less chance that Vanek was going to resign with Buffalo after this season, so it makes sense to make a deal for him now.
It also makes sense, given where Buffalo is as a franchise, that it’s the draft picks that are more valuable to Buffalo than Matt Moulson is. Islander fans may wish that the trade could have been just Moulson and that 2nd round pick, but I don’t think that trade gets made. If you’re the Sabres why would you make that trade? One gifted offensive player who probably won’t in with you after the year for another, slightly less talented but still very good player, with even less reason to sign past this year and a second round pick. There’s simply no future upside for Buffalo in that deal. They had to get a first round pick.
So would the picks and a lesser player have been enough? Probably not. Again, Buffalo isn’t particularly interested in this year, so if they don’t get a first round pick, they are going to need a top level prospect. Garth isn’t going to deal one of those away right now, especially if he doesn’t get that goaltending and defensive help. When you add a player like Vanek, Moulson becomes the most likely choice to send back because with Vanek playing LW on the first line, where does Matt end up playing? If he’s not playing alongside Tavares that’s a lot of salary for a third line winger. As much as the Brooklyn move should solidify the Islanders finances, we aren’t there yet, and they’ll never really be a big spending team.
Is there a chance that Vanek will split at the end of this year and that first round pick will be the next Jagr? Sure, there’s a risk with any trade. Given the way guys who’ve come to Long Island who didn’t even want to be here, and wound up signing extensions to stay, there is some reason to think the Isles could sign Vanek long term, which turns this into a great trade. Even if that doesn’t happen, this years team is a little more dynamic on paper, and hopefully more scoring and better puck possession will help defensively too, until Garth makes a move to improve those areas. At the end of the day, the Metropolitan Division is pretty wide open. It’s clear that apart from the Penguins, there’s a lot of mediocre teams. Adding a talent like Vanek might help the Islanders move clear of the muck and into the playoffs. It might not, but keeping Moulson left the same possibilities as well. It’s not like we broke up a Cup winning team here.
Of course, if Matt decides he misses LI and signs back with the Islanders along with Vanek, this trade becomes an absolutely home run, but I don’t really see that happening. Not enough spots, right?