Trade Targets: Thomas Vanek

The Senators can make opportunity knock for them if the Sabres are willing to deal.

Here are some facts:

What we tried to do – and it didn’t work – was add some pieces to that the year Terry bought the team, bring in some free agents, make some trades and hopefully get that team back to where it was. It didn’t work.  You make a plan. If it doesn’t work, you’ve got to be prepared to pivot and move in another direction. … We do know where we are with building a team. In the new CBA, it’s even more important than years past that you have to do it through the draft and the accumulation of young talent.

Sabres winger Thomas Vanek on being a part of that future:

I’m sure nobody likes to call their team a rebuilding team, but if that’s the phase, if it’s one year that’s OK, but if it’s a two-, three-year plan again, you would probably look the other direction.

I'm not ready to re-sign, and to be honest, I'm not sure if they are ready to re-sign. 'If I would have got traded, I wouldn't have been shocked.

The ever-excellent Elliotte Friedman on the team's willingness to make it easier to move Vanek:

What it is that a team like the Sabres, starting a rebuild, needs? The answer, as any Senators fan knows from three years ago, is good, young players. What is it that a team like the Senators, who have had three very successful drafts, have? The answer, as any Senators fan knows from the three past years, is good, young players.

How do these teams not find a deal that works for both sides?

If the Sabres are willing to swallow salary to move Vanek, then the Senators should be able to move players with very little impact to their internal cap. Per Capgeek, Vanek has a cap hit of $7.1M, and is in the final year of his deal. His actual salary is $6.4M. If the Sabres will keep $2.8M of that salary, the Senators will only be on the hook for $3.6M in actual dollars--they have the cap space to absorb the full $7.1M cap hit with no problems.

For $3.6M, the Senators can offer Z. Smith, Cory Conacher, and Mark Stone, who have a combined salary of $3.678M for the coming year.

Thomas Vanek

#26 / Left Wing / Buffalo Sabres



Jan 19, 1984

Assets: Is a natural goal-scorer, with plenty of size to fight through traffic and battle against big NHL defensemen in front of the net. A superior shot tipper, he owns the hands of a true sniper, and is usually in the right place at the right time. Can really shoot the biscuit. Passes well, too.
Flaws: Isn't a great skater, so he tends to struggle when his positioning leaves him. Could stand to play a more abrasive game, which could provide him with more space on the ice, but that's simply not his style (and never will be). Takes a lot of abuse in front of the net, so he can wear down.
Career Potential: Natural, big veteran scoring winger.

via The Hockey News

Zack Smith

#15 / Center / Ottawa Senators



Apr 05, 1988

Assets: Has an excellent frame for the center position. Displays two-way instincts and an agressive streak. Can kill penalties and take key face-offs. Can also line up on the wing if need be.
Flaws: Isn't always confident with the puck. The speed of the NHL game makes it difficult for him to put up good numbers on a regular basis. Isn't a great pugilist. Will take bad penalties sometimes.
Career Potential: Physical checking forward.

via The Hockey News

Cory Conacher

#89 / Right Wing / Ottawa Senators



Dec 14, 1989

Assets: Has tremendous offensive instincts, playmaking acumen and a lot of quickness. He's also deceptive on the ice, and rather elusive. Is also willing to work the corners to make plays and is quite feisty.
Flaws: His general lack of size (5-8, 190 pounds) will always be a factor as long as he's toiling in the highest professional hockey ranks, especially since he doesn't back down from anyone.
Career Potential: Diminutive scoring winger with upside.

vis The Hockey News

Mark Stone

#61 / Right Wing/ Ottawa Senators



Assets: Has great hands and the knowledge to go to prime scoring areas. Is deadly from in close, but also has an accurate shot. Also displays great hockey sense on offense.
Flaws: Needs to make better use of his 6-2 frame, so he'll need to bulk up for the NHL game. Lacks a nasty streak. Could use more work on his skating and play without the puck.
Career Potential: Cagey scoring winger with upside.

via The Hockey News

Why It Works

  • The Senators get a top-line player in the last year of his contract.
  • The Senators save $78,000 on the deal.
  • The Sabres improve their team with no appreciable change in salary.
  • The addition of Vanek allows the team to bump Milan Michalek to the second line--both Vanek and Michalek have the ability to play both sides.
  • Within Ottawa's pipeline, the emergence of players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Curtis Lazar, and Matt Puempel means they can absorb the loss of Z. Smith, Conacher, and Stone.
  • The Senators are deep enough to be able to wait on Lazar and Puempel's development. The Sabres need bodies who can contribute immediately, and Z. Smith and Conacher are established NHL players. Stone is on the cusp of seizing an NHL job.
  • Both Vanek and Michalek are on contracts that expire at the end of the year, meaning the Senators can afford to re-sign Vanek to a more reasonable cap hit and allow Michalek to walk. Michalek's spot on the second line can be replaced internally after another year of development for someone like Lazar or Puempel.
  • The Sabres get a jumpstart on their self-described goal of accumulating young talent.

Why It Doesn't Work

  • In-division trades rarely happen.
  • The Sabres probably want to absorb salary in the $1-2M range, not the $2-3M range.
  • The Sabres might prefer draft picks to players, as they can rebuild with the players they choose.
  • Vanek might fetch a better price at the trade deadline.
  • Vanek is a pending unrestricted free agent, and might not re-sign with Ottawa, which would make him an expensive rental.
  • The Sabres would probably want players with higher ceilings--though Conacher and Stone are projected top-six players, neither has the skills that Vanek does. /

The resulting lineup for the Senators would look something like this:


Of course, in the end, the odds of this trade actually happening are completely zero. Trades in the NHL are both complicated and rarer than you'd like. But if the Sabres are rebuilding, willing to absorb salary to move Vanek, and looking for good, young players as the foundation for a future team, Senators general manager Bryan Murray has the assets to be a player in that card game. He should be making a call.

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