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Vanek, Moulson Change Places

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Thomas Vanek on the PP!
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The Flyers and Red Wings are dominating the power play in the last month but Thomas Vanek has a surprising …

Maybe it’s technically untrue to say that the trade came totally out of nowhere - Sabres GM Darcy Regier said it’s been cooking for some time - but for most of us, it was still a jaw-dropper: Buffalo grabbed Matt Moulson and a first-round pick in 2014 and a 2015 second-rounder from the New York Islanders for Thomas Vanek.

From a real-life standpoint, my feeling is that this is an enormous haul for the Sabres, who are stockpiling assets like nobody’s business, while the Isles overpaid a bit. Regier may very well continue this great work from Jason Pominville last season and Vanek on Sunday to Ryan Miller and maybe even Moulson this season.

Get this: the fantasy-only angle is pretty juicy, too.

Really, this might just be the most fascinating trade in the Hockey Daily Dose’s three-season existence. Let’s take a look at the many facets of this deal, while acknowledging that this is saturated in speculation and (semi-)educated guesses.

To keep this from being a 30,000-word column, I’m going to go with an up/down gimmick of sorts.

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Up: Vanek’s potential.

I’m with those who believe that it’s easy to overrate the difference between Vanek and Moulson.

Still, for fantasy owners, there’s some reason to be excited. The worry with most destinations for Vanek was that he wouldn’t have the same go-to role; would a contender want him to throw the same volume of pucks toward the net? The Islanders have been pretty top-heavy offensively at times in recent years, however, so I don’t think Vanek will see too big of a focus drop-off.

(Of course, there’s always the chance that the situation will end up like Bobby Ryan’s with Ottawa, as the Senators are using Ryan with Kyle Turris instead of Jason Spezza. If so, Frans Nielsen might just keep up his incredible start …)

Beyond that, there’s the whole “he’s never played with a truly great center” factor.

I wouldn’t expect the moon - don’t trade a historically superior player for the dream of Vanek exploding with Tavares - but he’s in a great situation. That’s especially true if the Islanders cannot re-sign Vanek; imagine the combination of that plum gig with Tavares plus contract year motivation? Vanek’s agent is certainly daydreaming about as much.

Down, but not as far as expected?: Moulson and his contract year.

It’s a tough luck situation for Tavares’ buddy Matt, especially if the Sabres eventually decide to flip him for assets on top of assets. And, with all due respect to Cody Hodgson, it is true that Moulson will lose out linemate-wise (even if the Isles have been moving him away from Tavares a bit here and there anyway).

But, overall, I think it’s too easy to get hysterical about the changes. Some pump up how much Moulson struggles without Tavares, others downplay it. Yet, for me, the important thing is that he should get every chance to succeed in Buffalo.

Hodgson and Vanek were the Sabres offense; they topped everyone with nine points while no one else had more than six in 13 contests. Even if they’re just pumping up his trade value, Moulson should very well slide into Vanek’s role. Unless he really does flop without his buddy JT.

The fact that Moulson has a lot to prove - and a contract to earn - makes it easier to be optimistic. MM is used to proving people wrong, anyway.

Up, speculatively: Ryan Miller.

Darcy Regier said that he hasn’t considered making any more moves, but that’s probably hogwash. Regardless, his phone should start heating up with offers for Ryan Miller.

Maybe the team figures that Miller might be the one person who can sell season ticket plans in 2014-15, though? That would be the best reason to keep him around; no one’s more experienced at making lemons out of lemonade in Buffalo, after all.

It might just come down to what teams are willing to offer for the American netminder. Can Regier turn down the type of package he received for Pominville or Vanek? The market isn’t what it used to be for goalies - just ask Mike Gillis and Roberto Luongo - but things can change when teams have championship ambitions. (Heck, Regier might want to keep Garth Snow on speed dial, all things considered.)

Anyway, the bottom line is that an injury is probably the only thing that could make things worse for Miller, as that would erase the “at least he’s filling games played requirements” and “his individual stats aren’t so bad” qualifiers from his 1-8-0 record. The possibility of Miller going to where the grass is greener must excite his frustrated fantasy owners.

It might take a while for that to come about - if it even happens at all - though.

Up: Tavares, a little.

At minimum, the team he captains is making a bold move. I doubt he was in any sort of stupor this season, but this should give him - and his teammates - a nice boost nonetheless.

If he’s really dragging Moulson to the finish line, then boost that “a little” to “big time.” I wouldn’t worry too much about Tavares missing his friend, by the way.

Down: Hodgson, though not catastrophically.

Losing Vanek could hurt, but Moulson was a goal-scoring machine and Hodgson should still be the end-all, be-all for Buffalo scoring-wise. The real area of loss for the Sabres center might be that the team could really go into firesale mode.

Then again, it’s not like it could get much worse spirits-wise, really.

***

The general message is to be positive and realistic here. Vanek owners should be happy but reasonable - stuff like this makes fantasy fun, especially if you were loudly claiming that he’d be a steal and/or get traded to a better team at your local bar & grill during the draft - while Moulson owners shouldn’t be too sad.

While it’s probably unfair to judge Moulson based on an abbreviated season on a terrible team, many of those not affected directly by fantasy will be fascinated to at least begin to answer the “is Moulson really that good or is it just Tavares?” question. So everyone wins, really.

I mean, even Buffalo won a bit …

After the jump: injury bits and quick hits.

* - OK, we can quibble on top 10, but it seems like a decent ballpark. Right?

QUICK HITS

One leftover trade thought: the Islanders didn’t make their defense and goaltending any better. Yet, at least. So don’t expect miracles … I saw the St. Louis Blues beat up Nashville on Saturday. Aside from renewing my concern about Carter Hutton and Magnus Hellberg - the Predators really expect two guys this green to survive a road trip that lasts about three weeks? Yikes! - I witnessed Alexander Steen in his live glory. Shea Weber definitely had his hands full with Steen, who seems more legit with each passing (and productive) night … The Coyotes are quietly putting up respectable offense in large part because of their quality defensemen, particularly Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Not sure I trust Derek Morris at this point in his career, though … The Rangers finally play a home game on Monday against Montreal. Honestly, I know they’ve been awful, but they were stuck with a brutal draw to start. Maybe they should think like their (cross-state)* neighbor the New York Giants: yes, they’ve been awful, but luckily, so has almost everyone else in their pathetic division … It seems like David Krejci really might back up those who believed he might finally convert some brilliant postseason work to regular season fantasy goodness … Sorry, but Bryan Bickell’s peripheral work just doesn’t do it for me. Great goal celebrations, though … David Clarkson doesn't have a point yet with Toronto, but he saw his ice time climb from 15:41 on Friday to 21:01 despite playing in a back-to-back on Saturday. He already has a solid six SOG and nine hits (plus two PIM), showing the versatility that makes him so appealing, bloated contract or not … Sure, it was in a situation where Ottawa was trailing, but it’s still heartening to see Erik Karlsson look like Erik Karlsson (one goal, one assist and nine SOG) on Sunday … Richard Bachman might get the occasional backup start for Edmonton instead of Jason LaBarbera after Sunday’s impressive performance in a shootout loss to L.A.

INJURIES (full list)

Bachman got the start Sunday because Devan Dubnyk has a minor foot injury ... Mathieu Perreault is day-to-day with a wrist injury while Jakob Silfverberg could be out a month or more with a hand issue. The Ducks also must be concerned about Saku Koivu after a questionable hit by Brandon Dubinsky. At least Dustin Penner appears to make progress ... The Sharks could get Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat (!) back sometime this week, with Boyle aiming for Wednesday. Brent Burns is more of a mystery ... Michal Handzus is day-to-day with an upper-body injury ... Clarke MacArthur's day-to-day with an undisclosed issue ... Ryan Callahan skated on Sunday, but is still quite a ways away ... Again, my advice regarding stashing Anton Khudobin on your IR only applies if you have an opening; it sounds like it will be a while for him ... Chris Stewart and Magnus Paajarvi were both banged up for St. Louis on Saturday. It seems like Stewart's upper-body issue is less problematic, but we shall see.

* - As a New Jersey native, I’m forced to note that the Giants play in East Rutherford, N.J. instead of NYC.

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