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The Matt Moulson trade is the biggest news to hit Long Island in years. In case you’re not up to speed yet, Garth Snow pulled the trigger on a deal which sends Matt Moulson off to Buffalo in exchange for winger Thomas Vanek. The Sabres also get this year’s first round pick and next year’s second rounder.
Let me interject a disclaimer at this point: in no way do I wish to detract from Matt Moulson’s contributions to the Islander organization. On and off the ice he was an excellent player,team mate and person, and both the players and fans will be sorry to see him go. He was one of the league’s most consistent goal scorers over his three full seasons on the Island, and this article is in no way intended as an indictment of either his performance or his abilities. That said, once the initial shock and jubilation (or distress) of the trade has worn off, questions and comparisons will start to rise to the surface. This is simply my initial take on the logistics of the deal.
Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, perhaps lost in all the excitement is the question of whether or not the deal makes any sense for the Islanders. On the surface it looks like the Isles acquired an elite scoring winger for a slumping one on the downswing, who had one foot out the door already. Moulson is in the final year of his contract and there has been speculation that the team was hesitant to renew him, which it was felt would be in the $5 million range. Yet they gave him plus draft picks up for the right to give Vanek $6.4 million.
Like Moulson, Vanek is also on a contract that expires at the end of this year. Assuming Snow is able to resign him (and we’re left to hope that some sort of assurances to that effect were given), it’s going to be for at least $7 million, and/or a long term deal. He and Moulson are the same age – Moulson turns 30 on Friday, while Vanek turns 30 on January 19th. Both are known for being average skaters with a soft touch around the net.
Moulson was, arguably, only particularly productive when playing alongside Tavares. But isn’t it extremely likely Vanek is going to spend most or all of his time there too? It would be ideal to see him on a second scoring unit, giving the team impressive depth, but it seems unlikely.
So far this season ice time doesn’t seem to affect Moulson’s production appreciably. He connected for three points with 18 minutes of ice time against Carolina, but registered no points in 20 minutes against Nashville. He has registered points in six of eleven games this season, but the power play accounts for much of his output; he’s has managed just one even strength goal.
On the plus side Moulson’s average ice time had slipped from nearly 19 mins per game last year to just over 17 this season, but so far it hasn’t seemed to affect his production appreciably. In his best outing he connected for 3 points with 18 minutes of ice time against Carolina, but registered no points in 20 minutes against Nashville. Of course, some of that can be attributed to his time spent away from familiar surroundings on the third line. This separation didn’t hurt top line center John Tavares’ output, but Moulson’s only started to pick back up once he was moved back to the top line. Clearly he needed that top line spot more than the top line needed him.
Not that Vanek is necessarily the savior, though. He has only broken 30 goals once since 2008-09, though to be fair he did have 20 in 38 games last season. Moulson, who came to the Isles in 2008-09, hadn’t failed to score 30 until last season – which, again, to be fair was a shortened season and his prorated pace wasn’t far off the 30 mark. Moulson outscored Vanek each of the last two seasons ; Vanek outscored Moulson the previous two. This season they’ve got nine apiece.
Not that goal scoring is the biggest challenge facing the Islanders. So far this season the Isles have scored 35 goals, tied for 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Scoring, clearly, has not been the pressing issue. The problem is that they’ve allowed 36, tied for 3rd worst in the East. Only Florida (42) and, ironically, Buffalo (37) have allowed more.
Ultimately, on the surface this seems like a bad deal. Moulson for Vanek is essentially a wash, and the Sabres get two high draft picks in the deal. The picks may end up being the difference here. I don’t expect the majority of readers, or possibly even any of you, will agree with what might seem like a harsh assessment of a recently departed fan favorite. In fact, I welcome any thoughts and opinions, pro or con. It’s all opinion at this point; this is just mine.