UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Thomas Vanek knew it was coming. When Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier began trading away veterans like captain Jason Pominville, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold last season, he saw the writing on the wall. It was only a matter of time before he would be next.
It’s been a while since Vanek and the Sabres experienced any sort of success. His first two years in the NHL, the team went to the Eastern Conference Final. Since then, it’s been two first round exits mixed in with playoff-free seasons. So as he entered the 2013-14 season, it wasn't a matter of if Vanek would be on the move, but when. His infamous seven-year deal that almost sparked a barn fight expires this coming summer and, given the direction Regier’s taking the team, the 29-year old Austrian wanted to move on.
Vanek said he was shocked when he received the news after 8 p.m. ET Sunday night from Regier. But he wasn’t surprised.
“We traded pretty much every veteran,” said Vanek after his first practice with the Islanders. “The message was clear that they’re going for draft picks. I think our last game we played four teenagers. Good, young players, but young players take time. I enjoyed my time there, but I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
Last month, Vanek was named co-captain of the Sabres along with Steve Ott. He jumped into the NHL after two years at the University of Minnesota and one season in the AHL with the Rochester Americans. He scored 43 goals in his sophomore season in Buffalo and hit the 30-plus-goal mark three more times. But while his production remained consistent, the success of the team didn’t.
“You train all summer long, practice every day and you want to be on a competitive team that has a chance and right now we struggled there,” Vanek said. “It’s hard to leave when you do struggle. I was one of the leaders, but at the same time the reality it’s business and I’m happy to be an Islander.”
The Islanders have been searching for consistency since last season and through 11 games they’ve yet to win two in row. GM Garth Snow said you have to give up something to get something and acquiring Vanek meant saying goodbye to perennial 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson, a player who developed into a star alongside team captain John Tavares on the team’s top line.
Can this move also be looked at as a wakeup call for the dressing room?
“You’d hope it gets through to some of the guys,” said head coach Jack Capuano.
Said Tavares: “I assume if thing were going the way we wanted them to you don’t think there would be too many changes.”
Vanek will get thrown right into the fire on Tuesday night when the Islanders host the New York Rangers. He skated alongside Tavares and Kyle Okposo Monday, beginning the chemistry experiment Snow and Capuano hope will pay off.
“It’s a fresh start for me and hopefully I can help these guys out right away,” said Vanek.