Kevin Allen, USA TODAY Sports
BUFFALO, NY - The Buffalo Sabres started the final phase of their rebuilding project by trading prize goal scorer Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders for a package that includes Matt Moulson, a first-round draft pick in 2014 and a second-rounder in 2015.
At some point this season, the Sabres could also trade veterans Ryan Miller and Steve Ott as rental players.
From the Islanders' perspective, they are landing one of the NHL's premium goal scorers, possibly a perfect fit for prized center John Tavares. Vanek has hit the 40-goal mark twice, and generated 20 goals last season in 38 games. He has four goals this season.
The Islanders have shown they can be a factor in the Metropolitan Division, and Vanek has been a difference-maker throughout his career.
The catch is that Vanek will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Vanek, 29, might simply want to see what's available to him. He owns a year-round home in Minnesota.
From the Sabres' perspective, this is a strong return for a rental player. He has scored 30 or more goals three times in his career and posted 44 points in 47 games last season. Moulson also will be an unrestricted free agent, but the Sabres might feel like they have a reasonable chance to re-sign him.
In the meantime, Moulson, who has six goals in 11 games this season, could partially replace Vanek's offensive contributions.
The key for the Sabres is the first- and second-round picks, viewed as crucial to their hopes of rebuilding the team.