The New York Islanders have a long tradition of making awful personnel decisions, and their blockbuster trade for Thomas Vanek reeks of a familiar insanity. The Isles shuffled star winger Matt Moulson off to Buffalo along with a first round pick in the 2014 draft and a 2015 second rounder over the weekend, and New York GM Garth Snow may not have to wait long before suffering the pangs of regret.
Snow himself signed with the Islanders during the reign of “Mad” Mike Milbury back in 2001. Milbury famously jettisoned young talents Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Zdeno Chara and the draft pick that became Jason Spezza for next to nothing. Snow seems to have learned a little to0 much from his inept predecessor.
While Vanek is an unquestioned superstar, he will be a free agent at season’s end. The 29-year-old will draw some huge offers on the open market, and he may choose to walk. Vanek’s Agent Steve Bartlett told ESPN that the Austrian star and the Islanders have not yet discussed an extension.
Matt Moulson also has an expiring deal, and there was no guarantee that he would be sticking around. The overachieving winger was a smart asset to shop, but the deal here is still wrong. Moulson is the same age as Vanek, and he posted 44 points to Vanek’s 41 last season. Of course, Moulson’s numbers were inflated by superstar linemate John Tavares, but the gap between the two players is not equivalent to the pair of draft picks New York gave up.
There is no reason to believe that Vanek won’t shine on Long Island, but he doesn’t solve any of New York’s problems. The Isles put the puck in the net with ease. They struggle on the back-end. A shutdown defender or an elite goalie might justifiably be seen as the missing puzzle pieces for the Islanders, but Vanek certainly isn’t the missing ingredient.
Last week, I criticized the Edmonton Oilers for potentially chasing Vanek despite having needs similar to the Islanders. Both Edmonton and New York are stocked with promising young talent up front, but neither team will hoist the Cup with their current goaltenders.
New York goalie Evgeni Nabokov is years past his prime at this point. The 38-year-old is currently sporting a .908 save-percentage, and he has won just four of his nine starts despite playing behind an elite offense. In light of Nabokov’s play, the Isles would have been far more justified in trading for Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.
The Vanek rental can only be described as a win-now move. It is unlikely to offer any benefit beyond this season. Smart teams chasing immediate success patch their holes with mid-season trades, they don’t over-commit to flashy hood-ornaments. No matter how mouth-watering a Vanek-Tavares partnership might be, it won’t do enough to conceal New York’s glaring defensive issues.
Without a first-round pick, the Islanders are effectively out of the race for any meaningful defensemen or goalies that might become available later in the season. Meanwhile, Buffalo will be laughing all the way to the draft. Buffalo GM Darcy Regier will likely deal Moulson at the deadline for another first rounder.
If such a deal goes down, the Sabres could come away with three first round talents next summer. They picked twice in the top 16 last season, and they are well on their way to building an elite prospect pool.
The Islanders meanwhile will sit through the first 30 selections on June 27, and they probably won’t do so as Stanley Cup champions. If the Islanders fail to bring the Cup back to Long Island and they don’t manage to resign Vanek, this deal will be look like an abject failure. It will get even worse if the Sabres find a gem in the draft, much like the Ottawa Senators did when they drafted Jason Spezza with a pick acquired for Alexei Yashin.