The New York Islanders surprised a lot of people with their acquisition of Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Matt Moulson, a 2014 first-round pick, and a 2015 second-round selection. Most already figured that Vanek was on the market, but for him get shipped this earlier in the season and to see the Islanders spend this much to enhance an area of strength is startling.
The Islanders are taking a big risk here, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We’re going to break down this trade from a fantasy and general perspective, but because this deal only involved two roster players, we’re going to analyze it by team and player simultaneously.
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This is, quite simply, bad news for Matt Moulson owners. He’s flourished on a line with John Tavares and he’ll find no one near that skill level to play with in Buffalo. At the very least, Moulson’s plus/minus rating will turn from an asset into a liability, but we also expect him to take a production hit as well. Going into the season we had Moulson penciled in for 30 goals and 70 points, but now we’re not confident that he’ll reach the 60-point mark as part of Buffalo’s offensive wasteland.
The only silver lining here is that Moulson’s stint in Buffalo might be a short-term one. The Sabres will probably at least make an attempt to re-sign Moulson, but they’re in rebuilding mode and presumably wouldn’t mind shipping him to a contender closer at the trade deadline for more pick(s) and/or prospects. That could serve to give Moulson a late season boost from a fantasy perspective.
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In the short-term, this is bad news for owners of Sabres forwards overall. Their offense has been horrible and Vanek was one of the few players that had proven himself capable of performing under those conditions. To already ship him off sends a message that management doesn’t have faith in this team and while that’s frankly understandable given their 2-10-1 record, it hurts their already slim comeback chances.
The two Buffalo players that this deal might benefit are Ryan Miller and, to a greater extent, Jhonas Enroth. Losing Vanek is another reason for Miller to pass on re-signing and thus makes it more likely he’ll get dealt. Goaltenders are hard to trade, especially midseason, but if Buffalo can find a new home for Miller, then he’ll probably see a boost in his GAA and almost certainly his record.
Meanwhile, Enroth would finally be the team’s starting goaltender and while he might not pick up a lot of wins in 2013-14, he should hold his own even with this supporting cast.
As for beyond 2013-14, this deal is great news for the Sabres. It might make an already bad situation worse right now, but Buffalo got about as high a return for Vanek as they could have hoped for. This will help them build a strong core that will be able to contend in the coming years.
New York Islanders
From a player perspective, Thomas Vanek is the big winner of this deal. In recent years, John Tavares has been a big production boost for anyone that plays alongside him and if Vanek ends up on the Islanders’ top line then it should help the former Sabres forward average about a point-per-game. This should also boost his plus/minus rating, which stands at minus-five.
This is simultaneously an intriguing addition from Tavares’ perspective as Vanek is arguably the best player he’s ever had the opportunity to share a line with. Tavares has proven that he’s an elite forward and he doesn’t need to be surrounded with the best to make that a reality. However, pairing them up – at very least in power-play situations if not in 5-on-5 as well – might be what Tavares needs to take that next step from a point-per-game forward to a 90-100 point player.
From a team perspective though, this was a risky move. Vanek is in the last season of his contract and while the New York Islanders have a playoff caliber team, they aren’t likely to compete for the Stanley Cup. This trade doesn’t change that, in part because it doesn’t address their biggest needs. While he may have never been on the table, the Islanders would have been better off had they gotten Ryan Miller than Vanek.
This is a team that’s in the top-third of the league offensively and the bottom-third defensively and that’s typically not a recipe for postseason success even if it’s possible to advance to the playoffs under those conditions. Now, if the Islanders are serious about pushing for the Cup this season, they’ll have a tough time making further adjustments because they’ve already given up two high picks.
This deal does still send the message that they’re serious about winning now and there’s no question that Vanek is a great player to have on a rising team. However, because they aren’t likely to win it all this season, the value of this trade will be judged on whether or not the Islanders can get Vanek to re-sign. If he inks an extension with them then the price was acceptable, but if he walks this summer, then it will be hard to see this as anything other than a misstep.