Special Comment by B.D. Gallof
The NY Islanders went trick or treating early this year, landing impending UFA Thomas Vanek into their goodie bag, while giving up impending UFA Matt Moulson, a 1st rounder in 2014, and a 2nd round pick in 2015.
Yes, there seem to be a bit of a emotional response that good guy Matt Moulson is gone, plus some draft picks to get another UFA in the fold. If we looked at just that, perhaps we could understand the complaints or feedback from some fans or punditry on cost.
But if you take a look beneath the surface items, there is a deeper element here, and once you look at items objectively, I personally think this was a very good deal for the NY Islanders.
Here are a few things to add into the mix: There is a belief internally that Matt Moulson was looking to at least test the market come free agency next summer. The Isles track record in retaining him, in lieu of lost pieces and willingness to keep to a certain pay structure, gives a good indication that he might have been dealt by deadline anyway.
Instead, the Islanders swap UFAs, and get an elite player who is far capable than Moulson. So lets look even deeper…
Cost #1: Matt Moulson
Moulson seems more a powerplay specialist, and the Islanders have been quite lethal on that powerplay. But his even-strength play has never been that good. Can be argued that it is not even the level of a top first line player.
It was also seen last playoffs where Moulson just disappeared. He could be dominated and taken out of the equation. These are signs of a player who might not last as a first liner in the longterm.
With Vanek, he is a significant even strength play improvement. He is bigger. He is stronger. He is faster. He is an elite player and pure goal scorer.
The question fans need to ask themselves is Matt Moulson the same player without John Tavares over the years? Same level?
Ask that honestly, and things get a bit clearer.
Cost #2: First round draft pick, 2014 NHL Draft, 2nd round in 2015
Then look at this coming draft: a draft the Islanders want to be outside the top 10 in and then some. What top elite player is shining in there that they will miss out on? Does an elite player exist where they want to end up?
They can always be an injury away from a lottery pick: especially if Tavares or Nabokov was to go down for an extended period, but fact remains that the draft yield is expected to be on the weaker side. Expectation is that this team needs to be in the mix to compete.
Fact is Garth has confidence in prospect pool and teams ability to draft. This coming draft is considered a relatively poor crop. This move is not exactly a shake-up to the team, but a message to players. It’s about winning now, and no more patience for losing ways. Though their record isn’t bad, their play actually hasn’t been very good.
You can be certain, most I spoke to would bet money, that Captain John Tavares knew before about this deal before it was done, and had been at some sort of agreement.
Ultimately, all that can be judged here is who got best player in trade. I think we know answer to this. This really answers the title:
Why Vanek? It is really kind of simple, because he’s better.
Only a few weeks ago, I was told there was no way Vanek would end up on the Islanders. I can extrapolate from that a few things:
1. Cost was too high at the time.
2. Clearly something not only changed, but the Isles play wasn’t exactly stellar either.
My assumption is that Buffalo asked for something more reasonable for Garth to finally pull trigger here. I really don’t think this was Buffalo’s original price.
Islanders were showing lately that Moulson was expendable, and with Vanek’s addition: some options suddenly open up. We know Vanek was gotten to be on that top line.
I’d expect the Sabres to deal Moulson by trade deadline to get another 1st round pick to add to their impending rebuild. For the Islanders, a different message and expectation is pushed onto the team: the time is now.
Whether Vanek can be signed longterm is another issue altogether. He has a house built in Minnesota. However, Michael Grabner is a friend, and the Islanders have shown the ability to turn some intentions around (aka: Visnovsky). The chance to do just that is worth just a 2nd rounder alone in the offseason before free agency. The Islanders have most of the season to work on that.
The Islanders have coveted a top winger for a long time, which was why they were chasing Bobby Ryan 2 seasons ago. Clearly they have a vision and desire to upgrade there. Finally they had their opportunity. The cost, really, in lieu of all these factors, is not as steep as it appears. In fact, it is a pretty solid yield both ways.
Defense & Goalie Issues Remain
However, let me be very clear that all is not quite rosy for this NY Islanders and Garth who is laying down some pressure and finally, a player. This only evens out an offense that was off-balance, but not quite apparent to many fair-weather fans. Defense and goalie issues are still items that need to be addressed or some to step-up. It is the Islanders belief thus far that these items can be overcome internally, especially with no top flight, below their peak, goalies or defensemen are available. That includes, folks, Ryan Miller who is past peak.
We can argue that Nino should have plied away Bernier plus some other players or picks. Except, Nino clearly was offered across the league last summer, and only yielded Clutterbuck. So we can put on our EA Sports NHL GM goggles and wish away, but a deal did not happen for him or Schneider, who would have cost the Islanders their shot at their one of their top targets at defense, Ryan Pulock, a guy whose 100mph shot and play might yield a top 2 dman.
Meanwhile, the defense has faltered as of late. The team is missing Visnovksy, and that’s visible to all. Notice that since his injury that defense and even the goaltending has plunged. Their worst game of this season was against the Flyers.
Though the team will always look to better itself, what top 2 defenseman is really out there to assuage their woes? Not much. So hope Visnovsky gets healthy fast.
More likely they add a top 4th or 5th dman, if any, so they can sit Carkner more often, who really is becoming a liability each time he plays. Maybe this is why they made that deal to bring in Martinek.
Expectation is that the defense is get more cohesive; especially if they can get a healthy Visnovsky back in there.
As for the Poulin-factor… something I have cited as a concern for a while, there is a converse argument being made. How can you judge one game he plays every two weeks? He gets no consistent play or ability to get a rhythm going. It IS a fair point, but this all said, when goaltenders emerge, they make an argument and show more in spurts, even in the briefest of moments. I am not seeing that currently from Poulin.
However, this is a guy who never seems to have good timing to bloom during expectations. In his draft years, his play and level took a huge tumble, as his focus got skewed. Before that year, he was considered a surefire 1st round pick.
Perhaps Poulin will not take the next step to everyone’s liking, but I am told there is still a chance that he might still contain that ability. I certainly hope so.
As for Nabokov, what you see is what you get. Top focus and solid play versus the Penguins, then a stinker versus Carolina. A so-so Nabokov is just not enough, and this is where Poulin needs to acquire more starts to start to push and god-forbid, emerge. Otherwise we will have to do this all again for a season or two when Anders Nilsson comes up.
About the Author: B.D. Gallof is a published writer and hockey blogger. He writes about Hockey, NY Islanders & the NY Islanders venue situation for CBS New York. BD has been written up in Sports Illustrated, TSN.ca, the NY Times Slapshots blog, Yahoo's Sports and SportsBusiness Journal. He has been a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, as well as owner, lead writer, and managing editor at HockeyIndependent.com.