It was a blindside hit to the head of the hockey world on Sunday night when news broke of a deal between the Sabres and Islanders.
To Buffalo: LW Matt Moulson, 2014 1st round pick, 2015 2nd round pick
To NY Islanders: LW Thomas Vanek
Cap hits and contract statuses: Vanek is $7.1 million against the cap with an actual salary of $6.4 million; Moulson is $3.1 million against the cap with an actual salary of 3.9 million. Both players are UFAs next summer.
Bottom line: The deal makes the Islanders better this year. Matt Moulson fit in quite nicely with the Isles and his BFF John Tavares, but Vanek brings a dimension of skill that surpasses all Isles but J.T. Considering Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo have taken steps offensively, the Isles have a dangerous collection of weapons up front. From the Buffalo perspective, it was expected that Vanek would bolt as a UFA at season's end, so fetching a first and second round pick for him, while adding a player who is only a slight downgrade in the short term, is a good move with an eye to the future.
Long term: Buffalo began stockpiling picks last season when they dealt Jason Pominville, and they continue the process with this deal. No guarantees for either pick to become future Sabres stars, but adding draft selections is always a good thing for teams in full rebuilding mode. There have been whispers that Vanek is considering signing with the Minnesota Wild as a UFA (he was a Golden Gopher and lives in Stillwater in the off-season), so it'll be interesting to see how he responds to any attempts Isles GM Garth Snow makes to talk extension.
Burning questions: How will Tavares perform without Moulson on his wing? They've played together for Tavares' whole career and formed undeniable chemistry. Can Garth Snow sway Vanek to stick around in Long Island? There's an impressive pipeline of talent on the way and he'll be skating with one of the game's premier centers, so there's some allure to committing long term. Can Moulson perform without J.T.? Skating alongside Cody Hodgson is quite the downgrade from what Moulson is used to, and it's long been thought that Moulson owes a great deal of his success to his former center.