The Buffalo Sabres tonight dealt left wing Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders in exchange for winger Matt Moulson, a first round draft pick in 2014 and a second round pick in 2015.

Thomas Vanek.

Thomas Vanek.

 SPECTOR’S NOTE: Trades of this magnitude usually take place near the trade deadline and not this early in the season. In this case, however, there are extenuating circumstances.

For one, the Sabres are floundering and it’s apparent they either had no intention of re-signing Vanek (a pending UFA next summer) or they didn’t believe he would re-sign.  Another is the Islanders, hoping to build upon last season’s playoff appearance, envision Vanek meshing with superstar center John Tavares.  The Islanders are also among the few clubs who could afford to take on Vanek’s $7.142 million cap hit ($6.4 million in real salary).

It’s a gamble on the part of Isles GM Garth Snow, hoping Vanek will enjoy playing for a rising team that he’ll re-sign with them after this season, especially since conventional wisdom suggests he’ll sign with the Minnesota Wild next summer.  Still, if it works out, it’ll be to the Islanders benefit, though Vanek won’t help them improve their defensive game, which is what really needs the most attention.

As for the Sabres, everyone knew this was a rebuilding season for them, and given how poorly they’ve started, it only justifies making this move now. It remains to be seen, however, if the return will be worthwhile.

Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson

Moulson is a proven 30-goal scorer, but like Vanek he’s also slated for UFA status next summer, so the Sabres will have to engage in one helluva sell job to re-sign him.

His critics also believe his scoring prowess was due to playing on Tavares’ wing. This is his opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. If he posts up solid offensive numbers on a lousy team with no superstar forwards, it’ll not only silence his critics but bolster his value if he tests next summer’s free agent market.  

Moulson, however, could only be a short-term pickup anyway, as it’s the first and second round picks which are key to the Sabres future. Regardless of how well Moulson plays this season, don’t expect him to turn around the Sabres sagging fortunes.