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Thomas Vanek Trade Reports: Sabres retained salary in offers to Islanders, Maple Leafs

In a tight-cap year, Buffalo was reportedly offering to eat some of Vanek's salary in any trade. But the Isles are not tight to the cap. Cheap, thrifty, or clever?

"Have you seen Pegula's net worth?"
"Have you seen Pegula's net worth?"
Bruce Bennett

Because the Thomas Vanek-Matt Moulson trade hasn't been covered enough around here, we must pass on yet another wrinkle: The Buffalo Sabres reportedly retained some salary in the deal with the New York Islanders, a "we'll pay you to take him" carrot that they reportedly offered to at least one other team.

The bits of news come from two well-known TSN reporters.

[Update: Sportsnet claims a source now too.]

[Update 2: Pierre LeBrun reports a key detail: Apparently the 2014 pick is "lottery protected" -- the Isles can defer it to 2015 if the pick is in the top 10.]

First, the salary: Bob McKenzie says the Sabres are keeping around $1.4 million of Vanek's $6.4 million (2013-14) salary. That would drop the Islanders' 2013-14 commitment to Vanek to roughly $5 million (before prorating for the remaining five months of the season).

As always with the Islanders, the first instinct is to wonder if there were budgetary -- or even thriftiness for thriftiness' sake -- elements to this deal, which sent Matt Moulson and his $3.9 million salary (2013-14) back the other way. Their respective cap hits ($7.1 million vs. $3.1 million) are much farther apart than the gap in their respective 2013-14 actual compensation ($6.4 million vs. $3.9 million).

But then there's this: McKenzie's TSN colleague Darren Dreger, who seems extra tapped in to Maple Leafs sources these days, says the Sabres offered a similar rebate to Toronto in a Vanek proposal made "three or four days ago."

This is a new feature in the CBA signed earlier this year. It's complex, but maybe the easiest way to understand this is to quote 50.5(e)(iii)(B) of the new CBA:

Illustration: Club A agrees to Trade a Player to Club B and agrees to retain thirty (30) percent of that SPC's Averaged Amount (i.e.,Club A's Averaged Club Salary in each of the remaining years under that SPC shall include 30% of the Player's Averaged Amount in each of the remaining years under that SPC). Club A shall also be responsible for reimbursing Club B for thirty (30) percent of the Player's Player Salary and Bonuses in each of the remaining years under that SPC.

Anyway, if you're sorting the tea leaves, you're wondering who is leaking what and for what purpose. (Or at least, you should be before you commence spreading your theories on the Isles/NHL's/Toronto's shadow government behind the latest nefarious yet completely legal moves.)

The fact the Isles made a trade for a much higher paid player but with some salary retained tells you they remain vigilant of a budget that has characterized their, well, their entire existence in Nassau Coliseum, going back before, during and well after the dynasty years.

The fact the Sabres are willing to retain salary tells you they had already conceded that to make any Vanek deal they would need to be financially flexible, particularly in lowered-salary cap year when so many teams have little cap room. That would explain why such an offer might be made to Toronto, the richest team in the NHL by a Saskatchewan mile.

(Just in cap terms, there are basically only five teams in the league who could fit Vanek's $7.1 million cap hit without sending significant salary/cap back in the deal.)

Finally, it reaffirms once again that Sabres owner Terry Pegula is rich. Like "Sure, shower Ville Leino with money" rich.

If you're a cynic, you've already concluded the Isles demanded Buffalo pay some of Vanek's salary because Wang-cheap-Snow-spend-Coliseum-cheap-money-money. Or something.

If you're an apologist, you're noting that retaining salary was already part of Vanek offers, given the leaguewide cap situation noted above. So Snow or his boss might as well hold the Sabres to that.

If you're an optimist, you're looking at the $1.4 million in savings and saying, "Hey, more money for that new goalie/defenseman/unicorn I always wanted!"

Personally, since it's not my money, I'd prefer they pay the whole salary in exchange for one less asset included in the deal (keep the 2015 2nd-round pick maybe?).

But who knows if that was even an option from Buffalo's end? Given Pegula's position of financial strength, if the Sabres can burn cash on Leino et al, they might as well burn some on ensuring they get the best possible non-cash return for their stars.

[Addendum: As Sportsnet notes, the Sabres already did this last season when they retained part of Jason Pominville's salary in his trade to the Wild for prospects and picks.]