Tomorrow night, when the Minnesota Wild come to town, a familiar face will be back at the Coliseum.
Thomas Vanek will make his return to Coliseum after playing with the Islanders in 47 games last season. In a trade that came out of nowhere, the Islanders acquired Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for fan favorite Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in 2014, and a second-round pick in 2015.
It was a shock to many as this trade came just 11 games into the season. At the time, both players were set to become unrestricted free agents and were expected to look for a hefty paycheck in the offseason. The reaction from fans was mixed. It was tough losing a fan-favorite in Matt Moulson who was a bright spot for the team during some tough seasons and stuck with them through thick and thin. On the other hand, General Manager Garth Snow acquired a dynamic scorer who he thought could help in a possible playoff push. This trade seemed to be a win-win for both teams, as the Sabres started their rebuild process by acquiring two picks and an expiring contract and the Islanders got a star-caliber player who had a proven track record of success.
Immediately, Vanek fit in with the Islanders playing on the first line beside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The three were meshing and with Vanek’s success early on, the Islanders were hoping they would be able sign him to a contract extension mid-season. Unfortunately, Vanek’s success wasn’t enough as the team was struggling to find themselves as the bottom dwellers in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders attempted to keep Vanek by offering him a seven-year, $50 million contract offer but it was clear he had his sights set on testing the open market in July once he became a free agent. Many were sad to know that a Vanek trade was imminent due to his success on the 1st line, but Vanek was the best player on the trade market so fans were excited on getting a potential big return.
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As draft day approached, the rumors of Vanek being on the move heated up as teams such as the Kings, Ducks, Canadians, and Wild were in the market for the star winger. As the deadline dwindled down to an end, Snow didn’t have any significant offers on the table. Knowing that he had to get something in return he dealt Vanek to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a 2014 second-round pick. After the trade was completed, media outlets such as TSN and many fans torched Snow for getting such little in return for a player of Vanek’s caliber.
After a brief, unsuccessful stint with the Canadiens in which he struggled, Vanek hit the open market in June with much less value due to his below average play in Montreal. It was rumored for a while that Vanek had his sights set on joining the Wild because he played college hockey in Minnesota.
When free agency started, Vanek went back home and accepted a three-year deal contract worth $19.5 million with the Wild. This season Vanek has been up and down. He had a rough start to the year but has picked up his game recording 47 points in 71 games, still playing at the level he is capable of.
All in all, it seems that the Islanders ended up winning in the long run. If Vanek accepted the substantial contract the Islanders offered him, the team would most likely not of acquired defenseman Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy due to the cost under the cap. Vanek has also been linked to some gambling issues and reportedly has over $10 million in gambling debts.
With Vaneks play declining and him having off the ice issues, the Islanders are lucky Vanek did not stay long-term. I would expect Vanek to not get a nice reception from the Coliseum faithful when he hits the ice Tuesday night.