Monday, October 28, 2013

Isles Acquire Vanek, But At What Price?

The news came out late on Sunday night, an unusual time for National Hockey League transactions. The Islanders had made a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, acquiring forward Thomas Vanek for forward Matt Moulson, the Isles first pick in 2014, and the Isles second pick in 2015.

My initial reaction was glee. Garth Snow, who for years had sat idly by due to financial, roster, and club performance restraints while other teams had improved, had pulled the trigger on a massive deal.

They were trading away Matt Moulson, which, forgive me for being crude, sucked -- but the Islanders were vastly improving the team. Or so I thought.

I looked a little bit closer at the numbers and the deal as a whole. I still believe the team improved, but I'm kind of torn about it.

On paper Moulson and Vanek's production may be similar, but the games aren't played on paper. He is a much more physically gifted player. I've seen him in person. He sticks out on the ice. His scoring will be more consistent than Moulson's; I am fairly sure of that.

He'll be playing with John Tavares; his production should improve on that account alone.

I am not at all worried that Vanek will suddenly stop producing, or that he is in decline as a player.

I do have a few concerns about the deal, as well as the fact that other team weaknesses (defense and goaltending) were not addressed.

The downside of the deal is threefold: Similarity of age, contract, and the draft picks.

I, like several others on the internet, thought Vanek was much younger than Matt Moulson. He isn't. They're both 29, with Vanek being a few months younger. So they didn't get much younger, though both players are still in their respective primes.

Secondly, giving up draft picks stings a bit. Sure, picks are picks. You could get a bust or a bargain. As one NHL general manager once told a friend of mine, you don't know about a prospect for five years after he has been selected.

There's another aspect to this, though, which works slightly in the Isles' favor. The picks aren't expected to be worth as much as in past years. Meaning that if next year's pick they just sent to Buffalo is in the top 10, this season on Long Island has gone *horribly* wrong.

So it's not as if Garth is giving up the next John Tavares. At least we hope.

Now here's the kicker, and potential deal breaker (or maker).

Vanek, like Moulson, is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. To top it off, Vanek makes $2.5 million more than Moulson this season. If Mr. Snow can't convince Vanek to stay on the Island, then this deal becomes a potential disaster.

Mets fans, remember how the Mike Piazza trade went down back in 1998? It worked out in the end, but for a long while it looked as if Piazza was headed out of town after his trade to New York.

That's what we're looking at here, in hockey form, if Vanek accepts a huge contract from some team other than the Islanders next July.

We'd better hope the Austrian likes playing with Messrs. Tavares and Grabner.

After all this, though, I still like the deal. It was a bold stroke and signaled to the league that the Isles are trying serious about winning in 2014.

I think and hope the deal will work out. If not, as someone said elsewhere, heads may roll.

News and notes (Vanek edition):

- Thomas Vanek joins the Islanders with 497 career points, all with Buffalo.

- Vanek played his collegiate hockey at University of Minnesota, Kyle Okposo's alma mater (oh, you thought I had forgotten about him?)

-Vanek becomes the second native Austrian on the Islanders' roster (Michael Grabner).

- Moulson leaves the Islanders with 223 points. He had been the leading active goal scorer (118). That honor now falls to John Tavares (116).

- Best of luck to Matt Moulson, who you should already be following on Twitter at @MMoulson.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Off And Running!

Apologies are in order. For the two weeks,, the website that hosts this page, has been rather balky. I haven't been able to update statistics, author new stories, or save my work at certain times. It has been quite frustrating, especially right as the National Hockey season began.

What I won't apologize for, however, is the bold (some may say reckless) prediction that I made on Twitter (@RealKenDick) stating the New York Islanders will finish in second place this season. I believe they have the talent to compete with everyone in the Metropolitan Division except Pittsburgh.

So far, the early returns have been positive.  The Isles have swept up five of their first six possible points this season, and have held a lead in every game.

While John Tavares' 250th career point was largely overlooked during the Isles' 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus, what hasn't been missed is his hot start.

After Tuesday (10/8) night's 6-1 drubbing of Phoenix, in which the newly minted captain netted two goals, 'JT' has 4 points in three games.

Yet he's only third on his squad in scoring.

That's because the Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen-Michael Grabner line has been on fire early on.

Bailey, who I believe took a massive step forward in his development at the end of last season, scored a goal supplied by his mates that was so beautiful you just have to watch it.

The trio has accumulated 15 points, Grabner leading the way with six of them.

Helping the effort last evening were Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson, and newcomer Peter Regin, all of whom scored their first points as Islanders (Regin had previously played for the Ottawa Senators).

The defense was reliable, and Evgeni Nabokov has jump started his 2013-2014 season by recording a 1.89 Goal Against Average. Not bad for a 38-year-old.

If the team can continue to keep up this effort, I am going to (for once) look very smart.

The challenge will get a little tougher for the Islanders, as their next games take them to Chicago and Nashville.

For now, though, the Isles are off to their best start since the '01-'02 season, and have gotten out of the gate as well as could have been expected.