Today’s New York Islander practice was overtly intense, marked by some heavy-hitting and fast skating, most assuredly the manner to which both GM Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano deemed fit to introduce newly-signed forward Thomas Vanek to the philosophy underpinning this hockey club.
Vanek wore his “Whites” for most of the drills, including the PP, working alongside captain John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, and unsurprisingly, for the most part, the former Buffalo Sabre looked to be feeling his way around the rink.
The morning began with Garth Snow‘s quick Q & A session, assuring all those present that trading for Vanek was the move he believed would awaken the club from their lackluster start, while also fortifying his top-line.
"Thomas has a track record of scoring 40 goals in this league, which is not easy to do by any means. [He’s] obviously an all-star. We had an opportunity to make our club better and we went for him."
Coach Jack Capuano spoke to Vanek’s ability to score, and how his size and play away from the puck can help bolster some much needed consistency on the front-end:
"[Vanek’s] a big guy who protects the puck well. If you leave him around the top circle, he can be dangerous. He can also make plays, good hands. His skill-set is off the charts, and he’ll have a chance to play with # 91. And to me, he’s one of the top [players] in the NHL."
Suffice to say that Flyer loss this past Saturday was the tipping point for Isles management, and whether or not the trade pans out and Vanek not only scores goals, but also returns for several seasons more, is pure conjecture at this point, and will remain so for quite some time.
But what isn’t guesswork is the driving force behind the trade, which is that everyone in the locker room that is NOT John Tavares may be traded.
Now Islander fandom has that for which they so often clamored: making moves that signify a complete severance from a rebuild philosophy to one taking steps toward propagating a winning tradition. Evidence of its success or failure to follow shortly.
"You’ve got to play better away from the puck. Our gap play has to be better. [The trade] probably came at a pretty good time. You’ve got to hold some guys accountable. You would hope [the message] gets across to some of the guys. We had a good video session this morning and showed how the [lack of] battle level can cost you one or two goals."
Afterwards, Thomas Vanek fielded the usually questions one would expect with such a sudden trade as this one was. He apparently found out about the move after 8pm last night, and immediately called Michael Grabner, who was “watching football at the time,” to tell him about the move.
Vanek admitted he was “shocked” when he first received the call, but knew it was only a matter of time before his situation in Buffalo would change. And from the press conference, GM Snow revealed, however discreetly, that he and Darcy Regier were in talks regarding this trade for quite some time, although, Snow didn’t share the exact time-table.
The all-star forward did echo the aforementioned, especially when asked if he thought the Jason Pominville trade was a cue that he’d be next:
"Not surprised, considering the situation in Buffalo […] We pretty much traded every veteran, and the message was clear that they [Buffalo] were going for draft picks and youth, and I think our last game we played [some young guys] and they’re good, but youth takes time. But yeah, I enjoyed my time there, but I don’t want to be a part of that."
"Shocked like everyone else. Big move for a guy that was a big part of this hockey for a long time. And obviously we got a heck of hockey player back. Obviously, it’s early in the year and usually these things don’t happen at this time […] As a group, we’re excited about having Thomas and we wish him only the best. Got to move on and be ready to play tomorrow."
When asked about Matt Moulson on a personal level, Tavares was quick to defend his teammate against past criticism, reminding everyone that his former teammate was intricate in his own development and success:
"You know, I don’t think Matt’s ever gotten the credit he deserves for a lot of the success I’ve had over the years. The things he’s done so well. The little things he’s done to help my game […] [L]iving together our first year, and door-to-door neighbors our second year […] the impact he made, him and his family, and how much they helped me off the ice […] words cannot describe how much he was there for me. It’s part of the game, part of the business. You understand that. Like I said, it’s sad to see him go, but it’s what the team thought was best."
Captain John Tavares touches upon a theme that has resounded throughout all social media outlets since the Isles somewhat imbalanced start:
- What’s the next step in becoming the team everyone expects them to be?
- Is Thomas Vanek what’s needed?
- Would the Isles have benefited more from holding out and waiting to see if a viable defenseman would become available?
- Is Snow being proactive in saving this season early, recognizing signs he’s all too familiar with, and doing all he can to save this team from itself?
Well, tomorrow night Thomas Vanek and the new New York Islanders will face an equally struggling team in their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers, who themselves are riddled with injuries and struggling to regain their form.
Expect to see Vanek alongside Tavares and Okposo, and sharing PP duties with the aforementioned and Frans Nielsen.
The PP didn’t need fixing, but the 5-on-5 transition game, especially the one strong pass out of the Isles zone, certainly does and fast.
For now, this one issue isn’t resolved with Vanek’s presence, whether you like the trade or not.
And with Lubomir Visnovsky still on the IR, the chances of this one key component to the Islander game improving in the near future remain hazy at best.
Garth Snow reiterated that in order to “gain something, you have to give something.” Some view the Moulson-Vanek deal as a swap, but considering who Vanek has been these past several seasons, on paper anyway, the former Sabre brings a killer instinct to the forecheck and some much needed shooting prowess on the PP.
Although Moulson’s PP scoring was steadily improving, the change to his line duties was the clear indicator that this team wanted a change to happen sooner rather than later.
All to the best to Matt Moulson: a wonderful New York Islander. Honest. Hard-working. Tough. Talented.
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- ICYMI: Garth Snow’s full press conference
- Coach Jack Capuano comments on the Isles new addition, while addressing old problems still in need of redress
- Thomas Vanek’s first Islander media interview session–in full
- Captain John Tavares attests to his former teammate’s influence on both a personal and professional level