With all of their troubles on and off the ice this season, the first major domino fell for the Buffalo Sabres who traded away co-captain Thomas Vanek on Oct. 27 to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson, a first round draft pick in 2014 and a 2015 second rounder. Vanek, 29-years-old, is in the final year of his seven-year contract that sees him make an average of $7.142-million annually. As for Moulson, also 29, he too is in the final year of his deal with a cap hit of $3.133. So the question is, did the Sabres get enough for the offensive star?
The Sabres drafted Vanek in the first round, fifth overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The Austrian is in his ninth season in the National Hockey League. During his career he has played in 598 games, scoring 254 goals and 497 points. He has also played in 36 post-season games contributing 15 goals and 20 points. His career-highs are 43 goals and 84 points, during the 2006-07 season. Last season was also a strong one for Vanek who scored 20 goals and 41 points in just 38 games.
As for Moulson, he too was selected in that same 2003 draft, just nine rounds later, 263rd overall. He is currently in his seventh NHL season. During his career he has appeared in 333 NHL games, with 124 goals and 233 assists. He only has six playoff appearances registering two goals and one assist. Moulson’s career highs include 36 goals and 69 points in 2011-12. Last season, he had 44 points in 47 games. This year both players have nine points. Vanek has four goals, Moulson six.
Despite the similar numbers in the past two seasons, one must also look at the cast of characters that the two have played with. Vanek has had Cody Hodgson as his centre for the last two seasons, while Moulson has been a line mate of John Tavares for the most part of the last four years. There is no disrespect intended for Hodgson, but to compare the two centres is night and day. Tavares is in a completely different class and can make players much better than they are. While many are quick to point that Moulson’s numbers are not a huge downgrade for the Sabres, one has to wonder if he can put up the same numbers with his new centreman.
And while the Sabres are getting a player that has a few less miles on the odometer than Vanek, the fact remains that Moulson is the same age so the Sabres are not getting a younger version of the player they traded away.
As in most cases things in professional sports always come down to the money and this is one area that the Sabres win the trade. They shed approximately four million at the moment. This money could be used to re-sign Moulson, who would no doubt want a bit of a raise, but also to add other players through free agency.
Here is where a problem arises through the trade. The Sabres have shown no indication that they know how to spend their money wisely. In Vanek they had a proven commodity that yes is a big cap hit, but is still hard to replace. Putting more money into the Sabres budget by trimming Vanek may not end up being such a good thing.
In addition, what if Moulson doesn’t want to re-sign? Buffalo is not exactly attracting players left, right and centre. They don’t have a major city to appeal to players and they don’t have a positive image among NHL teams after the Patrick Kaleta and John Scott incidents. Hopefully, the Sabres can ink Moulson and not see the player walk.
This has to be the area that all Sabres fans cheered and groaned at when they heard of the trade. While a first and second round pick are nice, the other aspect of it is they need to be used wisely. The Islanders are obviously looking to make a push for the playoffs with the Vanek acquisition, so the first rounder will likely fall in the middle of the round. That will make it more difficult to land a sure thing and will put more pressure on the scouting department.
When you look at the trade, an argument can be made that the Sabres did all right. But the further you delve, the more you can see how this trade could turn out badly for the Sabres.
The pressure continues to be on Darcy Regier to not only sign Moulson, the same manner that it would have been for him to sign Vanek, but also to make good choices with the money the Sabres end up with along with their draft picks.