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Can Garth Snow sell Thomas Vanek on NY Islanders’ future?

Greg Wyshynski
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Think of New York Islanders GM Garth Snow as a winemaker.

He’s created his own vino at his New York vineyard, cultivating the grapes and striking the balance of piquancy in the vintage he designed.

The problem was that, for years, no one wanted a glass. The [expletive] tasted like spoiled grape juice. The winery was a rundown, asbestos-filled relic. He would try and cut huge deals to convince others to get into the Garth Snow wine business. He found few takers.

But we all know what wine does over time. Colors become vibrant. Flavors deepen. What tasted like swill a few years ago suddenly becomes something desirous after time in the barrel.

Such are the New York Islanders. The Tavares tempranillo. The Strome sauvignon. The Brooklyn Bordeaux. It’s just a matter of time before some player of significant renown, in his prime decides to swallow the sacramental wine from the Island.

Which brings us to Thomas Vanek.

Vanek was traded by the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night for left wing Matt Moulson and the New York Islanders’ first-round pick in 2014 and second-round pick in 2015. Both of the players are free agents-to-be; Vanek would be, without question, one of the most coveted ones in the NHL next summer.

“We traded a player who was going to be a free agent for a player who is going to be a free agent. We’re looking to make our team better, that’s the bottom line,” said Snow.

He’s done this before, of course. In 2007, Snow traded Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and a pick that would become Alex Pante (taken right after Kevin Shattenkirk … d’oh) to the Edmonton Oilers for 18 games of Ryan Smyth that resulted in a first-round loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Smyth was everything the Islanders wanted – gritty and effective, scoring 20 points in 23 games overall. Snow made it a priority to get the free agent signed, to keep him with the Islanders.

But Smyth bolted for the Colorado Avalanche that summer.

"Ryan decided it was best for him and his family to sign with Colorado," Snow said at the time. "The Avalanche are very fortunate to have him and we wish Ryan and his family the best. I said when I made the trade to acquire Ryan from Edmonton that it's a deal I'd do over and over again. My feelings on the move to bring Ryan Smyth to Long Island have not changed."

Since then, the Islanders have swung-and-missed on their share of free agents, most notably the Christian Ehrhoff mess from 2011.

But they convinced Evgeni Nabokov to stay. And the convinced Lubomir Visnovsky to play. As Snow told the media on Monday, "We've had more success when we've signed players who have been part of the organization for a period of time."

And Vanek will be another of those players.

This trade is a hugely significant moment for the franchise’s growth. If Vanek is convinced to stay with the Islanders are forgo what many believe is his NHL destiny – signing with the Minnesota Wild – it’s a tacit endorsement of the team’s status as a challenger in the East.

If he becomes another Ryan Smyth … well, at the very least, Snow has shown he’ll be aggressive in turning last year’s playoff surprise into a legitimate contender. Players notice these things.

(And, furthering that thought: Snow even has a trade deadline chip in Vanek if things don’t work out.)

It’s taken years for Snow to have something tasty to offer a free agent like Vanek. Now he has Tavares. Now he has a cache of other young players. Now they’re two years away from leaving the mausoleum for Brooklyn’s state of the art facilities in 2015.

Snow hasn’t talked contract with Vanek’s people yet. He keeps saying it’s a move for today. But it’s one that could have ripples far into tomorrow.

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