When the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders traded Thomas Vanek for Matt Moulson (plus draft picks), they swapped pending unrestricted free agents who are set to hit the open market this summer and sign with the highest bidder.
The next, natural fan question when teams take a risk like that: "Are they working on a contract extension yet?"
The answer in both cases: No.
It's not very common for NHL teams to allow their potential trade partners to engage in contract talks with the trade chip player, though it does happen. Usually it is close to the trade deadline and more often when rights are exchanged over hte summer. During the season, too much can fall apart, and no team wants a player to know he's about to get dumped if they can avoid it. (While Vanek clearly knew he was on the market, the trade came as a greater shock to Moulson.)
In Buffalo's case, there might never be sincere negotiations with Moulson. Reports the Canadian Press:
Moulson's 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."
When Regier was asked about making this trade for another pending UFA so far from the deadline, he did not deny the possibility of Moulson becoming a trade chip in March.
"The deadline will come again," he said.
As for Vanek, the Islanders are hoping to sell him on the virtues of what they've been building -- something they hope is several years beyond the sinking and about-to-be-rebuild ship in Buffalo. Reports Arthur Staple of Newsday:
Contract talks have not started between Snow and Steve Bartlett, Vanek's agent, but now the Isles have 71 games to get Vanek, a native of Vienna, Austria, who is close with Islanders forward Michael Grabner, acclimated to life on Long Island.
“Even when you know it’s coming there’s the initial surprise,” Stephen Bartlett, Vanek’s agent, said by phone after talking with his client. “Once he started thinking about it, he started to get excited that he may have the chance to play with Tavares and have the tools for a good season."
This dynamic makes for a fascinating transaction, with plenty of permutations to monitor as the 2013-14 season continues: Two scoring wingers, both 29, with similar goal production and similar contract status, looking to identify the next destination which will probably draw a close on their career. The fact both players are unsigned means a significant factor in the outcome of the deal probably won't be identified until April.
Moulson is leaving an organization that gave him a chance, but one he re-signed with at arguably below market value -- never having truly cashed in on his late bloom. Vanek is leaving the only organization he's ever known, but one that matched a gargantuan restricted free agent offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers that made him a very rich man already in 2007.