Thomas Vanek Traded to Islanders; What Lies Ahead?

By Kristin Tullo (@K_Tullo)

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Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres may have had their biggest win of the season on Sunday night, acquiring left wing Matt Moulson from the New York Islanders, along with New York’s first-round pick in 2014 and a second-round pick in 2015 in exchange for Thomas Vanek.

It was a big win for the Sabres, who will have draft picks regardless of what Moulson does when he hits the open market this summer. But for the Islanders, keeping Vanek may not be as easy as flashing the brand new Barclays Center and John Tavaras in front of his eyes.

It’s been speculated for the last several months that one possible destination for the newest Islander would be in Minnesota when he reaches free agency on July 1.

One reason Vanek might head out west to Minnesota would be to reunite with his former Buffalo teammate, Jason Pominville. Pominville spent eight seasons with the Sabres before being traded at the trade deadline last spring to the Minnesota Wild.

“It feels like I answer that question at least once or twice a day,” Pominville told the StarTribune about being asked if Vanek will be joining him in Minnesota when Vanek becomes a free agent.

If he knows where Vanek’s head is really at, he’s not saying. Neither is Vanek himself.

Prior to the season, Vanek was unwilling to discuss his future destination but mentioned that Buffalo wasn’t crossed off of his list just yet. According to Chad Gradd of TwinCities.com, the Sabres former first-round draft pick in 2003 would calculate the teams success and where they were going before jetting out the door.

That however could have changed when the Sabres dumped Vanek before he had the opportunity to do it himself.

Pominville isn’t Vanek’s only tie to Minnesota either, which makes joining the Wild that much more attractive to the pure goal scorer.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota, the Austria-born forward helped the Golden Gophers to a national championship in 2003 and still trains at Mariucci Arena. A citizen of Stillwater, MN in the offseason, Vanek also owns a piece of the city’s Lumberyard Hockey and Sports Center.

That’s a lot for Garth Snow to compete with.

Of course, it may not just be up to Vanek on whether he resides permanently in Minnesota or not after this season.

Minnesota will have some decisions to make as well.

Vanek would be a perfect fit to replace Dany Heatley whose contract will expire when the season ends, but the Wild will also have to juggle fitting players like Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund under the cap. A tedious event with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter already hitting the bank hard.

Still, whether or not Vanek and the Wild are able to find a way to join hands, Islanders GM Garth Snow is concerned about now, not later.

“ I can tell you I’m not happy with where we are record-wise. We’re better than this, “ Snow told Newsday Sunday night about the trade. “I wasn’t going to sit by and let games pass.”

While nobody would argue that improving your team is unnecessary when you’re unhappy with your record, it’s important to at least improve the areas that need it. Say, goaltending and defense.

The Islanders (4-4-3) are currently tied with the Carolina Hurricanes with 11 points, three behind the Metropolitan leading Pittsburgh Penguins. While the standings may be in the favor of the Islanders right now, it’s largely in part to the underachievement so far by teams like the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers who will likely improve as the season draws on.

Not to mention, it’s only October and it’s hardly likely that the Islanders will out-perform the rest of the East and advance to the Stanley Cup. With or without Thomas Vanek.

Vanek is expected to debut with the Islanders on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum when they host the New York Rangers. In 13 games this season with the Sabres, Vanek has four goals and five assists.

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