When it became apparent that the Buffalo Sabres were going to begin a rebuilding process, both Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller indicated that they did not want to be part of it. The Sabres accommodated Vanek by trading him to the New York Islanders in exchange for winger Matt Moulson and a first-round draft pick. The catch is that the Islanders get to decide whether the draft pick is for 2014 or 2015.
So, basically, the Sabres traded one 30-year-old winger who wears no. 26 for another 30-year-old winger who wears no. 26 and a first-round draft pick sometime in the next two years.
On top of being a coveted hockey player, Vanek is also a smart businessman. He owns two homes, one in Buffalo and one in Minnesota. He played his college hockey in Minnesota and has strong ties to the state. His good friend Jason Pominville plays in Minnesota as well, which could be another reason why every hockey observer is insisting that Vanek will wind up in Minnesota. However, Vanek the businessman is not ready to commit to any team just yet.
Vanek has said publicly that he would love to play for the Minnesota Wild someday. Sabres fans have insisted that, since he was traded from Buffalo and has indicated that he would like to be in Minnesota, it is a foregone conclusion that he will be in a Wild uniform when the 2014-15 season begins. That said, Vanek the businessman has indicated that Minnesota may not be a slam dunk, which means that he could very well wind up back in Buffalo.
Vanek will not be playing for the Islanders next season. He has already rejected the largest offer that the Islanders are prepared to make. The fans on Long Island (or in Brooklyn after the Islanders make their move) should be prepared to lose out on a lot of free agents this summer because the team simply will not put up the cash needed to compete for free agents. The Sabres do not have cash constraints and that is working in the team’s favor.
Right now, the Sabres are estimated to have around $19 million of cap space available. If Miller and Moulson are traded before the season ends, then that cap space goes up. In other words, the Sabres have the wiggle room they need to be a serious player for all of the big free agents this summer. Vanek intends to be a big free agent this summer, and he will go wherever the money takes him.
The Sabres are rebuilding, but every rebuilding team needs a core of veterans to help bring the youngsters along. The Edmonton Oilers have a slew of first-overall picks on their roster, but there is a lack of veteran leadership to help those players develop — and it shows on the ice.
Buffalo GM Tim Murray is smart enough to know that rebuilding does not mean completely purging your roster of all veterans. It means creating a core of young players that will be the future of the franchise and having those players whipped into shape by veteran leadership.
Vanek would fit very nicely in with the plans that the Sabres have for the future. Would he go back to Buffalo? If the biggest contract offer on the table has the Sabres’ name attached to it, then do not be surprised to see him back in the blue and gold.