Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow gave fans what they have clamored for when he executed a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on October 27, 2013.
Even though extremely popular forward Matt Moulson was forced to go the other way, along with a conditional 1st round draft choice (2014/2015) and 2nd rounder in 2015, the thought process was clear. Moulson was no longer considered a creator, rather a by-product, and combined with the speed of the game advancing so rapidly for the slow-footed Moulson, he was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014.
Unfortunately for Snow, the deal he made was for another impending free agent in the same classification. Thomas Vanek has never been able to freely test the market for his true worth and that factor could be weighing more on his mind now than anything else.
Playing his first 8 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, who have never had a center with the talent of captain John Tavares, he still averaged 34 goals per season to go along with 32 assists. In 2007-08, the Sabres gave Vanek a 7 year, 50 million dollar deal that paid the Austrian winger 10 million dollars in his first season. Currently being paid 6.4 million for this year, you would have to think Vanek would like to settle in the 7 to 7.5 range in annual dollars.
The advantage the Islanders have in these negotiations are slim at best. The National Hockey League collective bargaining agreement states that since New York would be trying to re-sign one of their own free agents, they can offer one year on top of the 7 year maximum allowed by the labor contract.
Snow spoke to TSN’s Darren Dreger on Wednesday at the Stadium Series in New York and was quoted as saying he believed the team and organization has the willingness and money to sign Vanek to a long-term deal. It was also insinuated that the team would match or beat any other offers coming from other teams.
But there are many in and out of the Vanek camp feel that the decision is going to be made more on a personal level after heavy-hearted, long and serious discussions with his wife and family. At the end of the day, Snow could offer the sun, moon and stars and still see Vanek playing for someone else as soon as March 6, 2014 (one day after the trading deadline).
Arthur Staple spoke with Vanek’s agent on Wednesday and quoted this is his article at Newsday….
“I don’t think any final decision has been made yet,” Steve Bartlett, Vanek’s agent, told Newsday on Wednesday. “We continue to have what I consider very good and constructive conversations with the Islanders. But we’re not there yet. We certainly understand the team will want to explore [a trade] and try to recoup some of the assets they gave up,” Bartlett said.
“We are getting close to that line in the sand time and we understand the risks and rewards of the situation we’re in. Garth and the Islanders have been nothing but great in this whole process. If it gets to the point where we say no, it’s no but without slamming the door,” Bartlett said. Thomas has liked his teammates, his coaches, everything. The positives of this have far outweighed the negatives. But that’s all a little premature right now.”
While the words were not spoken with utter confidence it seems by Bartlett, you cannot blame the agent for playing the contract game very close to the chest and not giving away any leverage he might have in the negotiating process.
Since the Islanders acquired Vanek the team has played to a record of 17-23-5, although with a young, inexperienced blueline and major injuries, that is certainly not a number that could be read or scrutinized in any way towards Thomas’ play. The forward has put up 15 goals and 23 assists with 109 shots in 40 games playing as Tavares’ talisman. The third member of the line, Kyle Okposo, is having a career year and the trio are ranked 1,2 and 4 in scoring since December 17 in the entire league.
However, with just a goal and an assist over his last four games, one has to wonder just how heavy this is weighing down Vanek. The eye test will tell you that he looks disinterested most shifts and passing up glorious scoring chances, instead opting to go for a low percentage pass instead to Tavares or Okposo.
Since nobody can get in Thomas’ head, and his comments about possibly signing with the team should be make it to free agency ringing hollow and scripted, it will more than likely come down to where he and his family feel the most comfortable living the next 7 years and the quality of life that could be afforded their children. For that reason alone, Snow could back up a Brinks truck and still lose the player plus the assets it took to acquire him.
The only option the general manager might have is IF Vanek and Bartlett make their intentions clear right after the Sochi Olympic games, in which Thomas will captain the Austrian national team. He would then be able to work the phones, where there will certainly be plenty of interest to Stanley Cup contending teams, and attempt to ‘reverse’ the deal and bring assets back to Long Island. Some think the Kings, Blues and Wild could the most interested in Vanek’s services.
Whatever happens, it will be important for the fanbase to realize that Snow made the deal with every intention of signing Vanek and will have done everything in his power to get his signature on the dotted line. But ultimately Thomas Vanek will decide where Thomas Vanek is on March 5 and beyond.