The fact that everyone saw the Buffalo Sabres' trade of Thomas Vanek coming made Sunday no less easy.
The move had been anticipated since last spring, when Buffalo dealt Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild. That the Sabres – who have now traded two captains in less than a year – got a relatively good haul for Vanek makes the deal easier. But shipping away the player who's been your most consistent offensive threat for upwards of a decade is never fun for management or fans alike.
"It was something that we felt we had to do," said GM Darcy Regier. "He's been an outstanding player, outstanding teammate, citizen … Where our hockey club, the first- and second-round picks are important."
Vanek departs Buffalo as the Sabres' fifth all-time goal scorer at 254. He was drafted by the Sabres fifth overall in 2003 and had been on the team since 2005. He had four goals and five assists this season.
His departure was made necessary by the fact the Sabres didn't think it could re-sign Vanek, who's finishing out the last year of a seven-year, $50 million contract. Regier said the Sabres' horrid 2-10-1 start and "Fire Darcy" chants at home games didn't have as much to do with the move and the club's blueprint:
"Internally, it's just doing the work and focusing on what our plan is and trying to execute it as well and as soon as possible. That is for the benefit of our fans … Our focus is on trying to acquire assets – in this case, draft picks – that are going to allow us to continue improving."
Moulson will become an unrestricted free agent himself after this season, as he's finishing up a three-year, $9.4 million deal. The 29-year-old has 125 career goals in 33 games, including three straight 30-goal campaigns from 2009-12. He has six goals and three assists this season. Regier said he didn't know whether the Sabres would be able to or would try to re-sign him:
"Matt, I believe, will address our current needs and provide us with support – leadership, scoring."
"Would like to thank all the great people and fans I was able to meet in NY," Moulson tweeted Sunday. "I will miss you all … this is the beginning of a new chapter."
Regier said he's not certain about the future of his other star UFA-to-be, Ryan Miller. He said he's been in talks with about a third of the league's GMs, but he would not specify what was discussed.
Whether he or anyone else is moved, Regier said the club current youth will be served in time and that getting better is the ultimate goal:
"The team is betting better. We would all like it to be faster. The speed at which we'll be able to do it is yet to be determined."
Moulson is expected to practice with the Sabres this morning and plan tonight against the Dallas Stars.
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