Evaluating the Moulson-Vanek Trade

Kevin Schultz

The Islanders traded Matt Moulson, a 2014 first rounder and a 2015 second round to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek. It’s an interesting swap of pending free agents early in the season, something not usually seen in the NHL. Both players were potentially headed to unrestricted free agency in the summer and both teams get something they want for said players that may not have stayed around.

What the Sabres get: Picks. The Sabres, who are terrible despite beating the Islanders last week, get two draft picks that will be important to their rebuild. Vanek was the team’s last legitimate offensive threat and now they can start bringing in youth to begin again. The funny thing here is that Moulson may not end up being a Sabre at the end of the season. There’s the very real scenario where Buffalo could move him again before the deadline for more draft picks. In fact, that might be the best thing for the Sabres to do. Moulson is certainly a talented player but they may be better off moving him for picks rather than spending money on a player who could be 34 or older by the time the rebuild actually gets off the ground.

What the Islanders get: An elite offensive playmaker. Vanek is the sniper and playmaker that Islanders fans have been yelling for to put on John Tavares’ wing. Seriously, if you’re not acquainted with what Vanek can do, you should go take a look. He’s Austrian, so it might be fair to say he’s a more talented Michael Grabner, minus the blazing wheels. Vanek has great hands and an excellent ability to make defenders miss and finish the play. The Islanders do, also, lose one of Tavares’ wingers. But with Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner playing well plus Ryan Strome in the system, maybe the Islanders think that they will be able to figure out the left wing spot (Vanek is a right wing).

Two different types of players: While their statistics may look somewhat similar, please be aware that Vanek and Moulson are two totally different players. Moulson is the grinder who plants himself in front of the net, pots rebounds and sets up in the low slot or circle for his patented one-timer finishes. Vanek is not that player; he is more of dangler who will make some eye-popping dekes, can finish up close by making goaltenders look silly and is a sniper to boot. Moulson will beat a goalie up close by setting himself up for a one-timer or slamming home a rebound while Vanek will flick his wrist and go top shelf or make a slick move. They’re both good at what they do — scoring goals, that is — but they do it in two entirely different ways. Also; Vanek can drive the play and carry the puck into the zone, something Moulson is not adept at.

Giving up the picks: Ok, so the Islanders did give up two draft picks in the deal. Not only that, one was a first rounder. The Islanders were a playoff team last year and picked 15th. And everyone would like the Islanders to do better than they did last year, right? Right. So Snow is betting that the Islanders first round pick will end up in the 16-30 range. There’s a big drop off in talent between being in the top five and in the bottom ten of the first round. If the Islanders do manage to be in the lower portion of the first round, it won’t be quite as big a deal losing the pick plus it means Vanek has likely panned out and helped with a successful season. That said, if the Islanders pick in the top 10, clearly something went awry.

Can the Isles re-sign or trade Vanek? Here’s the part that likely determines if the Islanders “win” this trade or, more accurately, if it works out for them. The Islanders certainly cannot let Vanek walk for nothing on July 1st. That’s two picks down the drain plus losing most of the good faith you had built up in Moulson to re-sign him. So they either need to try and get a deal done with Vanek in-season (a certainty that they will try) and if they can’t, they can send him packing for other assets at the deadline. It won’t be a Moulson and two picks type return, but it will salvage something. Vanek will be expensive to re-sign, too. His current cap hit is $7.1 million and he hasn’t done a lot recent to show that he doesn’t deserve that kind of money, as he continues to be a consistent point per game player. This deal signifies the Islanders would very much like to sign Vanek and maybe they decided that breaking the bank and paying someone more than Tavares was worth Vanek and not Moulson, who could easily fetch more than $5 million on the open market.

Vanek keen on Minnesota? There’s been a lot of speculation about what team’s name will be on the contract when Vanek puts his John Hancock on his next deal. Most of the speculation is that Vanek wants to go to the Minnesota Wild, as he played two years of college hockey at the University of Minnesota. The Wild are at one disadvantage, they don’t have the cap space to pay Vanek. Well, they don’t right now. Dany Heatley and his $7.5 million cap hit comes off of their books at the end of the year so they could make room. But it’ll be tough. They are still paying Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu all north of $6.5 million per year. The Islanders have a clear advantage here and have fired the first shot in the Battle of Vanek.

The Big Question: Who Won This Deal?

For now, I would argue that the Sabres won this deal for their purposes and the Islanders got a fair deal. The Sabres were not going to re-sign Vanek, this is no secret. They get picks for plus a tradable asset in Moulson. For the Islanders, they paid a fair price for an elite player. The first round draft pick could be late in the first, which would be nice. But the big thing is Vanek. If they don’t get a signature from him or, failing that, are unable to trade him for useful picks or players it’s a total loss. We’ll be able to better evaluate this at the end of the year but right now, it’s certainly a high-risk, high-reward gamble that is very rare to see out of Garth Snow.