James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Vanek, Moulson Change Places

Monday, October 28, 2013

Maybe it’s technically untrue to say that the trade came totally out of nowhere - Sabres GM Darcy Regier said it’s been cooking for some time - but for most of us, it was still a jaw-dropper: Buffalo grabbed Matt Moulson and a first-round pick in 2014 and a 2015 second-rounder from the New York Islanders for Thomas Vanek.


From a real-life standpoint, my feeling is that this is an enormous haul for the Sabres, who are stockpiling assets like nobody’s business, while the Isles overpaid a bit. Regier may very well continue this great work from Jason Pominville last season and Vanek on Sunday to Ryan Miller and maybe even Moulson this season.


Get this: the fantasy-only angle is pretty juicy, too.


Really, this might just be the most fascinating trade in the Hockey Daily Dose’s three-season existence. Let’s take a look at the many facets of this deal, while acknowledging that this is saturated in speculation and (semi-)educated guesses.


To keep this from being a 30,000-word column, I’m going to go with an up/down gimmick of sorts.


Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Monday). It's just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7pm ET. Here's the link.


Also don’t forget, for everything NHL, check out Rotoworld's Player News and follow @Rotoworld_ HK+@cyclelikesedins on Twitter.


Oh, and there’s still plenty of time to join a Yahoo! Hockey Pool, so get on that.


Up: Vanek’s potential.


I’m with those who believe that it’s easy to overrate the difference between Vanek and Moulson.


Still, for fantasy owners, there’s some reason to be excited. The worry with most destinations for Vanek was that he wouldn’t have the same go-to role; would a contender want him to throw the same volume of pucks toward the net? The Islanders have been pretty top-heavy offensively at times in recent years, however, so I don’t think Vanek will see too big of a focus drop-off.


(Of course, there’s always the chance that the situation will end up like Bobby Ryan’s with Ottawa, as the Senators are using Ryan with Kyle Turris instead of Jason Spezza. If so, Frans Nielsen might just keep up his incredible start …)


Beyond that, there’s the whole “he’s never played with a truly great center” factor.


I wouldn’t expect the moon - don’t trade a historically superior player for the dream of Vanek exploding with Tavares - but he’s in a great situation. That’s especially true if the Islanders cannot re-sign Vanek; imagine the combination of that plum gig with Tavares plus contract year motivation? Vanek’s agent is certainly daydreaming about as much.


Down, but not as far as expected?: Moulson and his contract year.


It’s a tough luck situation for Tavares’ buddy Matt, especially if the Sabres eventually decide to flip him for assets on top of assets. And, with all due respect to Cody Hodgson, it is true that Moulson will lose out linemate-wise (even if the Isles have been moving him away from Tavares a bit here and there anyway).


But, overall, I think it’s too easy to get hysterical about the changes. Some pump up how much Moulson struggles without Tavares, others downplay it. Yet, for me, the important thing is that he should get every chance to succeed in Buffalo.


Hodgson and Vanek were the Sabres offense; they topped everyone with nine points while no one else had more than six in 13 contests. Even if they’re just pumping up his trade value, Moulson should very well slide into Vanek’s role. Unless he really does flop without his buddy JT.


The fact that Moulson has a lot to prove - and a contract to earn - makes it easier to be optimistic. MM is used to proving people wrong, anyway.


Up, speculatively: Ryan Miller.


Darcy Regier said that he hasn’t considered making any more moves, but that’s probably hogwash. Regardless, his phone should start heating up with offers for Ryan Miller.


Maybe the team figures that Miller might be the one person who can sell season ticket plans in 2014-15, though? That would be the best reason to keep him around; no one’s more experienced at making lemons out of lemonade in Buffalo, after all.


It might just come down to what teams are willing to offer for the American netminder. Can Regier turn down the type of package he received for Pominville or Vanek? The market isn’t what it used to be for goalies - just ask Mike Gillis and Roberto Luongo - but things can change when teams have championship ambitions. (Heck, Regier might want to keep Garth Snow on speed dial, all things considered.)


Anyway, the bottom line is that an injury is probably the only thing that could make things worse for Miller, as that would erase the “at least he’s filling games played requirements” and “his individual stats aren’t so bad” qualifiers from his 1-8-0 record. The possibility of Miller going to where the grass is greener must excite his frustrated fantasy owners.


It might take a while for that to come about - if it even happens at all - though.


Up: Tavares, a little.


At minimum, the team he captains is making a bold move. I doubt he was in any sort of stupor this season, but this should give him - and his teammates - a nice boost nonetheless.


If he’s really dragging Moulson to the finish line, then boost that “a little” to “big time.” I wouldn’t worry too much about Tavares missing his friend, by the way.


Down: Hodgson, though not catastrophically.


Losing Vanek could hurt, but Moulson was a goal-scoring machine and Hodgson should still be the end-all, be-all for Buffalo scoring-wise. The real area of loss for the Sabres center might be that the team could really go into firesale mode.


Then again, it’s not like it could get much worse spirits-wise, really.




The general message is to be positive and realistic here. Vanek owners should be happy but reasonable - stuff like this makes fantasy fun, especially if you were loudly claiming that he’d be a steal and/or get traded to a better team at your local bar & grill during the draft - while Moulson owners shouldn’t be too sad.


While it’s probably unfair to judge Moulson based on an abbreviated season on a terrible team, many of those not affected directly by fantasy will be fascinated to at least begin to answer the “is Moulson really that good or is it just Tavares?” question. So everyone wins, really.


I mean, even Buffalo won a bit …


After the jump: injury bits and quick hits.


* - OK, we can quibble on top 10, but it seems like a decent ballpark. Right?


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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