By Allan Muir
According to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, the Sabres have already turned into sellers this season, trading Thomas Vanek to the Islanders, getting back forward Matt Moulson, a 2014 first-round pick, and a 2015 second-rounder.
First thoughts? I’m guessing the “Fire Darcy” chants have been silenced in Buffalo. A franchise that has been pilloried by its fans and the press since the start of the season for its utter ineptitude on the ice and in the front office just pulled off the sort of deal that will make the suffering yet to come so much more bearable.
They may have sewn a C on his chest earlier this month, but Vanek wasn’t going to re-sign with the Sabres when he hit free agency this summer. Not a chance. It’s one of the worst-kept secrets in hockey that Vanek is pining for a return to Minnesota next season, the state where he played his college hockey and where his good buddy, and former teammate, Jason Pominville currently skates. So removing the distraction and swapping him out for multiple assets makes sense.
Could Regier have gotten more if he waited to take advantage of jockeying teams closer to the deadline? Maybe…but ask Florida how well waiting to sell off Stephen Weiss worked out.
For now, Moulson nicely fills a top-six role for Buffalo. And if Regier can convince the impending UFA to sign on beyond this season he’ll be a good soldier, a player who can provide a buffer for the younger players as they mature into contending form.
But if he decides he doesn’t want to be a part of another rebuild after having suffered through one on Long Island for the past four seasons, no problem. When the trade deadline comes around, he’ll be worth a first rounder to a contender, probably with a sweetener on the side.
That would mean at least two firsts and a second in exchange for Vanek. For a franchise whose future only begins to come into focus three years from now, those are the kind of projectable assets that amount to a massive win.
But while the deal makes perfect sense for the Sabres, it’s hard to figure out what made Garth Snow pull the trigger.
Yes, the Isles are better in the short term, and with two playoff spots up for grabs in the sluggish Metropolitan division maybe that’s justification enough for a team that finally returned to the postseason in 2013 after five straight DNQs.
Vanek is a player capable of taking some of the load off of John Tavares and he’s a more gifted and versatile offensive weapon than Moulson. But the separation between the two wingers isn’t as great as you might think. Certainly not enough of an upgrade to justify parting with a first and a second rounder. Especially when multiple sources are reporting there’s not an extension in place for Vanek.
Snow does have 71 games to try to convince the sniper that the Isles are a viable long-term option for him, and that time frame allows New York’s GM a better chance to make his case than if Vanek had been acquired at the deadline. But it’s still a long shot.
Add in that Snow just traded away three significant assets and failed to address his most pressing need–a goaltender with some value both now and in the future–and this one seems almost impossible to justify from New York’s perspective.