Coming off the team's first playoff appearance in six years, former GM Garth Snow was prepared for the New York Islanders to take a big step forward the following season. Just a few games into the new season, Snow would ultimately shake up the most successful part of the team's offense, the combination of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Moulson. Snow would reach a deal with the Buffalo Sabres to send Moulson along with a first and second-round draft pick in exchange for Sabres captain Thomas Vanek.
Before Moulson became a goal-scoring machine, he struggled to find ice time as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Moulson departed the beaches of southern California in exchange for the shores of Long Island, signing a one-year deal with the Islanders for $575k. Consistent minutes proved to be all the North York, Ontario native needed to kick start his NHL career.
Moulson and Tavares forged a connection almost as soon as Moulson stepped off the plane. Not only was the connection between the two productive on the ice, but their friendship became just as strong off the ice. Following the birth of his daughter Mila, Moulson and his wife Alecia decided to name Tavares Mila's godfather.
At the same time, about 400 miles Northwest of Nassau Coliseum, Thomas Vanek was busy proving that he was one of the league's most prolific goal scorers. Vanek, a native of Austria, was a consistent 30-goal scorer and managed to top the 40-goal mark twice during his tenure in Buffalo.
As Moulson and Vanek were both entering the final year of their contracts, just 11 games into the new season, Snow and Buffalo GM Darcy Reiger agreed to swap the goal scorers, with the Islanders also parting with a first-round pick and 2014 and a second-round pick in 2015.
Shock set in among the Islanders faithful as Moulson was shipped to western New York. But many were also exuberant to have a player of Vanek's caliber joining the team to play alongside Tavares.
"It's sad to leave people you care about and love behind. I think over the years I've shown my want to be a part of the organization and turning around the team into being successful. I guess, obviously, in the long run, they didn't feel the same."- Matt Moulson in an interview with ESPN
It didn't take long for the pair, along with Okposo, to find the same chemistry the team had with Moulson. Vanek would find great success with the Isles, finishing the campaign with 17 goals and 27 assists in only 47 games.
Snow attempted to re-sign Vanek by offering a seven-year $50 million contract. Vanek rejected the offer as rumors swirled that his heart was set on playing in Minnesota, where he spent his collegiate years as a member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and where his wife is from. This along with Tavares set to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury while representing Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, was among the gossip about why Vanek did not want to commit to the Islanders.
Snow was faced with the decision of keeping Vanek for the remainder of the season while he tried to work out a new deal and risk losing him for nothing or trying to move him to a contender and bringing something back in return.
As the clock neared 3:00 pm on deadline day, it was announced Snow had reached a deal with the Montreal Canadiens to send Vanek along with a conditional fifth-round pick north of the border in exchange for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round pick (picks would be exchanged if Montreal made the playoffs). Not anywhere near the haul Snow had to part with to bring Vanek to Long Island.
"We liked him (Collberg) for a few years. We projected him as a first-rounder. Great speed, great hands. He has the potential to be a top-six forward. There's also the potential second-rounder. It was a good day in that regard in trying circumstances."- Garth Snow
Snow is highly criticized regarding his return for Vanek. When it was all said and done, the Islanders parted with Moulson, a first, second, and fifth-round picks, and wound up with just Collberg and a second-round pick. John Shannon of Sportsnet went as far as to say:
"Garth Snow, to me, is the big loser today. I don't care what anybody says."- John Shannon
Following the Canadiens' elimination from the playoffs, Vanek proved the rumors to be true and signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild in the off-season. Vanek wouldn't see the success he previously had for the remainder of his career, topping the 20-goal plateau only once more.
As for Collberg, he never stepped foot in an NHL game during his time in North America. He was waived by the Islanders on May 13, 2016, only two years following his acquisition. Collberg then bounced around the European leagues and is now playing in Sweden's second division.
At the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Islanders would use the conditional pick they received from Montreal along with their own second-round pick to move up to the 28th overall pick. Snow selected Josh Ho-Sang with the pick, who would have his own issues while with the Islanders organization.
Snow took a chance at bolstering his team, and it backfired in the worst possible way. It is understood that a lot has to be given up to bring in a player of Vanek's caliber, but shipping him out and receiving next to nothing stuck with Snow for the rest of his time as head of the Islanders' front office.