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Islanders Roll The Dice With Vanek Trade

Deal only makes sense if the Isles can hold on to their new superstar

Fan reaction to the Matt Moulson-Thomas Vanek swap has been extreme on both ends of the spectrum. Depending on who you listen to it was either the worst trade of all time and signifies an extreme disconnect between the organization and the fan base, or an example of why this Islander franchise is emerging from their recent history of ineptitude and moving towards a formidable power in the East.

Now it’s not uncommon for fans to have differing opinions, but one of these two theories has to be wrong, doesn’t it? For now, both sides could be right, which is a scary thought for Islander fans who have seen this organization let them down many times before.

On the surface of this deal, one should be excited about the surprise blockbuster between the Isles and Sabres. Thomas Vanek was not only the captain of his Buffalo team, but a proven veteran star in the NHL, something the Islanders has not had in quite some time. He’s scored at least 20 goals in every season since debuting with the Sabres in the 04-05 season, including last year shortened campaign where he posted 20 goals in 38 games. Vanek is a prolific goal scorer who is a danger with or without the puck. Before the emergence of John Tavares, the Islanders had been missing this kind of presence in the lineup, and with Vanek being set up on the wing by the emerging star Tavares the Isles are poised to have one of the most dangerous first line combos in all of hockey.

Yes, Matt Moulson leaves the Island in the deal, but Vanek more than makes up for the production of the departed winger.  Moulson is turning 30 (Vanek is a few months younger) and both are free agents at the end of the season. Although Vanek should warrant a larger pay-day than Moulson, New York has the 2nd most salary cap room even after the trade. So if the Islanders re-sign Vanek, they should have 2 legitimate superstars heading to the Barclays Center in a few years (or sooner), sending a message the organization is ready to step up to the next level of legitimacy.

But did anyone notice something wrong with that last paragraph? Maybe it was the word “if”. If the Islanders re-sign Vanek. That’s quite the if, and the reason so many fans or (rightly) skeptical. If they Islanders don’t re-sign Vanek, they paid a hefty price for a rental. Matt Moulson was a minor leaguer who came into his own on the Island thanks to tremendous chemistry with his buddy Tavares. Moulson developed into a 30-goal scorer and a fan favorite at the Coliseum.  Besides Tavares, Moulson became the next most beloved player on the team, known as a gritty player who attacked the net and seemed to finish on those ever important garbage goals every night.  And as soon as he became labeled a lucky garbage goal scorer, he showed he could also snipe with the best of them and was truly a legitimate offensive threat. The perfect 1a to Tavares’ 1.   Even though he is a free agent at the end of the year, there never seemed to be an indication that Moulson ever wanted to leave Long Island. He found a comfort zone with the Isles, was respected and loved by his teammates, and seemed poised to continue to lead his team to the playoffs after last year’s surprising run.

It was evident that Moulson was disappointed when learning of the trade, showing how much he enjoyed his time as an Islander. Vanek on the other hand, is nowhere near a lock to re-sign past this season. He was acquired without an extension in place, and there have been rumors he is destined to join the Wild in Minnesota next season, where he owns a home and played college hockey for the Gophers.

So now consider Vanek does not re-sign.  A legitimate offensive threat and fan favorite is gone, along with two draft picks, in a trade for a rental forward and not receiving any sort of defensive or goaltending help, a glaring need for the team for quite some time.

Plus, let’s quickly revisit some Islander front office moves of recent memory. Selling the team to a John Spano, a man with no money. Trading away a future top tier goalie (Roberto Luongo) to draft a goaltender first overall (Rick DiPietro), sign him for 15 years, only to buy out the deal’s remaining years through 2029 (yes you read that right, another 16 years from now).  Then they fail to reach a deal with Nassau County or find the right deal to keep the team in Nassau County, leaving its fan base for the untested waters in Brooklyn and an arena not built for hockey.

Consider these moves and you can’t blame an Islander fan for worrying about this Vanek trade. Yes, if re-signed it’s a step in the right direction and tells other big name players that going into Brooklyn – “this team means business”. Vanek could be the first step towards bringing more high-caliber players, hopefully on the defensive end where the need is strongest. But that’s only if he re-signs. If he doesn’t, it’ll simply go down as another example of the front office being disconnected with their fan base, which is not a healthy relationship to have.  Especially when you’ll be asking that relationship to be a bit more long distance in Brooklyn rather than at home on the Island in the very near future.

Matthew Moro covers the New York Islanders for WFUV