New York Islanders: Why the Thomas Vanek trade may have been a mistake

Former Sabre Thomas Vanek. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Former Sabre Thomas Vanek. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

On October 27th, the New York Islanders acquired scoring winger Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Matt Moulson, a 1st round pick in 2014, and a 2nd rounder in 2015. At face value, the trade seems fair, but hardly an upgrade for the Isles at the cost of high draft picks.

I’ll agree with anyone who suggests Vanek possesses superior clinical scoring ability and offensive talent over Moulson, but the numbers between the two are very similar over the last few seasons. Just because Vanek scores with more flair, doesn’t necessarily mean he does it more effectively.

Since the beginning of the 2010-11 NHL season, Vanek has scored 78 goals. In the same window of time, Moulson has found the back of the net on 82 instances. The numbers are comparable – the timeframe of three years provides substantial support to the claim Vanek and Moulson score with similar potency. Goal scoring numbers courtesy of hockeydb dot com

The deal looks great for the rebuilding Sabres who received two high draft picks along with Moulson. Speculators believe Moulson will be moved for more young assets before this season’s trade deadline. The Sabres are liquidating, and Moulson becomes a UFA this summer.

Compared to the Sabres, the Islanders are much further along in the rebuild process. Yet, the timing may not have been right for a high-buy on a scoring winger. Especially because that winger (Thomas Vanek) is also UFA after this season. Not to mention, the Isles aren’t exactly knocking on the door of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and several Western Conference teams for consideration as a Stanley Cup threat.

The Islanders may only enjoy the skills of Vanek for this season. By next summer, the Austrian sniper could easily decide to sign with another NHL club, leaving the Isles empty handed. What makes this worse, is the difficult road to qualifying for a playoff spot this year.

It is way too early to know, however, there is a good chance only three teams from the Metropolitan Division will see post season action in April and beyond. The Eastern Conference’s other division, the Atlantic, is home to six potential playoff teams. If five of the Atlantic’s top six finish the season with more points than the Isles, Garth Snow’s team will miss the playoffs, and the possibility exists Vanek will sign somewhere else. No playoffs, no picks, no Vanek. It’s possible.

At the moment, the Penguins have the Metro on-lock. Plus, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers are starting to heat up, creating a scenario that ensures a tough road to playoff birth in 2014 for Long Island.

The Caps have won 6 of their last 8 games. They have a talented roster with a proven track record of accomplishing lengthy winning streaks in the second half of the season. Outdoing the Caps for a spot in the playoffs will be difficult for the NYI, who were recently clobbered 6-2 in Ovechkin’s return to Washington’s lineup.

The Rangers struggled early this year. But let’s be fair. They started the season with a new coach whilst on a 9-game road trip that saw them play several Western Conference juggernauts. Things are turning around quickly for New York’s Original 6 team. The Blueshirts have won 4 of their last 5. They’re only 1-point behind the Islanders for 3rd in the Metro and they ice a team with Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. When playoff races heat up, Lundqvist usually shuts the door and carries his club into the tournament.

NHL GM’s need to take risks, that I understand. But this one by Islanders GM Snow seems high risk/low reward. Vanek’s two-way game is widely accepted as poor-to-average. They acquired him to score goals, simply put. In recent seasons, Moulson has proven he can score at Vanek’s pace. A very real possibility exists that Vanek won’t become a significant upgrade on John Tavares’ wing. What makes Vanek over Moulson at the expense of a 1st and 2nd round pick worth it? At the very least it would need to be an improvement on last year’s one round of playoffs.

Since the trade, Vanek has 1 goal in 4 games. Moulson had 2 in his first period with Buffalo. After four games each, Moulson’s 6 points are double Vanek’s totals as an Islander.

In the end, no risk, no reward. Garth Snow took a risk. He acquired a lethal goal-scorer in Vanek. If the Isles play a couple rounds of playoffs it’s fair to say the deal was a success. And, it is possible Matt Moulson re-signs with the Isles next summer if he wants to return, and if they want him back.