Sabres retain salary in Vanek-Moulson trade

Thomas Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson a first- and second-round pick. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

When the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders swung the Thomas Vanek-for-Matt Moulson trade Sunday night, something didn’t seem to add up. It would have helped if we had all of the details to consider. Now we do.

Sources tell that Buffalo has retained 19.5 percent of Vanek’s $6.4-million salary (plus the same portion of his $7.14-million cap hit), which helps explain why the Sabres received first- and second-round picks along with Moulson for Vanek.

Few would have thought the salary-retention mechanism would have been used under this set of circumstances when it was included in the new collective bargaining agreement. It was essentially designed to help teams close to the salary cap make a trade and remain under the ceiling—something we saw last season when Buffalo sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota for picks and prospects while retaining a portion of his salary. However, unlike the Wild, the Islanders aren’t in any sort of cap crunch. Far from it.

New York is among the lowest spenders in the NHL and may have needed part of Vanek’s salary to be held back in order to remain under an internal budget. After all, they still added money in this transaction with Vanek due about $1.4-million more than Moulson this season even with the retained salary factored in. It wasn’t publicly disclosed that the Sabres were keeping nearly a fifth of Vanek’s salary when the trade was announced Sunday night. It also didn’t come up when either GM subsequently met the media. In summing-up the deal, Garth Snow told reporters on Long Island that “we paid a price to get a quality player.”

Even though Vanek is the more experienced and accomplished of the two, Moulson has actually outscored him 120-110 since becoming a full-time NHLer at the start of the 2009-10 season. That includes a two-goal performance in his Sabres debut against Dallas Monday night while wearing Vanek’s old No. 26. Both players are 29-year-old wingers set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. With such similar production in recent years, it seemed strange that the Islanders would also surrender two quality picks in the deal. As it turns out, at least part of that was simply the cost of saving money.

From the perspective of the rebuilding Sabres, GM Darcy Regier has made it clear that adding future assets—i.e. options at the draft or on the trade market—is what it’s all about for his team right now. Buffalo has acquired four draft picks in transactions where it retained salary dating back to last season—first-rounders in 2013 and 2014, and second-rounders in 2014 and 2015.

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