Thomas Vanek is gone, and the Buffalo Sabres' rebuild is in full swing.
The Sabres traded their co-captain and one of their franchise players to the New York Islanders on Sunday night for left-winger Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in the 2014 draft and a second-round pick in 2015. It's not a deal that makes Buffalo better now, but amid a 2-10-1 start, it's a step toward the future.
"It was something we felt we had to do," Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said. "I think this is more an overall deal that will improve this hockey club going forward."
The 29-year-old Vanek had 254 goals and 243 assists in 598 career NHL games, all with the Sabres, who drafted him fifth overall in 2003. He has five goals and four assists this season, but Buffalo is last in the Atlantic Division and is likely facing a long winter.
Regier figured it was not possible to re-sign Vanek, who has a cap hit of $7,142,857 US and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. So he got Moulson and two high picks, which he believes is the best return the Sabres could get "right now."
"Could that have changed down the road, hypothetically? Who knows," Regier said. "There's lots of things to consider, there's injuries to take into account. I think that it was important to get the first- and second-round pick because it provides us whether we plan to use it in the draft or use it to acquire and improve the team."
In Moulson, the Sabres are getting a player who shined thanks in large part to John Tavares. The 29-year-old scored 118 goals in just over 300 games for New York after six in 29 games with the Los Angeles Kings.
Moulson is also set to be an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. His agent, Wade Arnott, said in a text message to The Canadian Press that "Matt is heading to Buffalo with an open mind. No conversations yet [on a contract extension] but interested in hearing Sabres plans."
Regier plans to "see how it goes" on Moulson's future. With plenty of time left before the trade deadline, he could be another trade chip for the Sabres.
"The deadline will come again," Regier said. "I don't know what that will mean, but the possibility is always there for unrestricted or any players in that regard."
In going to the Islanders, Vanek joins a team with legitimate playoff aspirations. His agent, Stephen Bartlett, confirmed in an email that he had not spoken with New York's front office about a contract extension as of late Sunday night.
"Would like to thank all the great people and fans I was able to meet in NY..I will miss you all," Moulson wrote on his verified Twitter account. "This is the beginning of a new chapter."
The trade is part of a transitional chapter for the Sabres, who have several other veterans who are pending free agents, including goaltender Ryan Miller and Steve Ott, who figures to become the full-time captain.
Asked if he had gotten any inquiries for Miller, Regier deflected.
"I probably talk to a third of the league of my counterparts on a weekly basis," he said. "You end up talking about a lot of things. I'd leave it at that."
Regier said he and Islanders GM Garth Snow had been talking about this trade "off and on for a while." It's the Sabres' hope that Moulson will be at First Niagara Center for Monday's morning skate.
Buffalo faces former coach Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars on Monday night.