The Sebastian Collberg experiment has ended without him playing a single NHL game, punctuating the disappointing experience that was the New York Islanders' acquisition, courtship, and clearance sale of Thomas Vanek.
Yet one promising figment remains, in the roundabout way of draft swaps, that will keep the Vanek trade alive in the encyclopedic accounting kept by diehard fans: Joshua Ho-Sang will make his pro debut next season, likely replacing Collberg on the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He's a flashy, hot prospect, but with enough conditions and some (often media-manufactured) controversy around him to say his future is far from certain.
How we got here is so long and winding, let's start from the present and work backward: The Isles put Collberg on unconditional waivers today, freeing him to return to Europe to continue his pro career. As there often is in these cases, there were injuries that postponed yet extended hope, but ultimately a lot of disappointment. As the Connecticut Post's Sound Tigers beat writer Michael Fornabaio put it:
So concludes two seasons where he showed lots of flashes of being that player everyone hoped for when the Big Club got him in the Thomas Vanek deal, most recently in the first two games of the playoffs. Those flashes were, unfortunately for all involved, separated by stretches of injuries and healthy scratches.
Collberg was acquired in the waning minutes of the 2014 NHL trade deadline when the musical chairs for offensive rentals stopped, and the Montreal Canadiens won the prize for saying, "Here's our best offer, call us if you can't find anyone else."
Moulson Begets Vanek Begets Collberg and Conditionally Ho-Sang
The Isles couldn't find any other landing spot for Vanek, so they took Collberg and a conditional swap of the Canadiens' second-round pick for the Isles' fifth-round pick that year. The condition was that the Canadiens advance in the playoffs. (They did, with Vanek playing his usual alternating star-and-goat role.)
From Pro Sports Transactions, Round 2, 57th overall, 2014:
ISLANDERS Traded Thomas Vanek, 2014 conditional fifth round pick (if Canadiens qualify for 2014 playoffs) (#125-Nikolas Koberstein) to Canadiens for Sebastian Collberg, 2014 conditional second round pick (if Canadiens qualify for 2014 playoffs) (#57-Johnathan MacLeod) on 2014-03-05
The pick ended up being a significant one.
LIGHTNING Traded 2014 first round pick (#28-Joshua Ho-Sang) to Islanders for two 2014 second round picks (#35-Dominik Masin) (#57-Johnathan MacLeod) on 2014-06-27
The Vanek pick ended up being the sweetener the Isles used to convince the Lightning to slide down seven spots from late in the first to early in the second round.
(Masin just finished his OHL career and debuted with the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Syracuse on an ATO at the end of the season. MacLeod just finished his second season at Boston University.)
Because of the piecemeal way sequential trades work, you can't say "Garth Snow turned Thomas Vanek into Joshua Ho-Sang" any more than you can say "Buffalo turned Thomas Vanek into a first-round pick, three second-rounders, and forward Torrey Mitchell." At least not exactly.
But here we are.
And holy cow, it was just over two years ago but look at what's happened:
- Matt Moulson, the fan favorite and John Tavares running mate the Islanders were hesitant to sign long-term, was re-signed by the Sabres after a brief rental with the Wild. He had a brutal second season, and it's fair to say they regret the length and size of the five-year, $25 million commitment.
- Vanek, who was apparently uncomfortable with the pending move to Brooklyn so much that "the best line [he's] ever been on" with Tavares and Kyle Okposo couldn't convince him otherwise, signed a big deal in Minnesota. He had a brutal second season and it's fair to say they regret the length and size of the three-year, $19.5 million commitment.
- The Islanders, remember, reportedly offered Vanek in the vicinity of seven years and $49 million, and it's fair to say they are so damned grateful he rejected the location of that commitment, gambling debts be damned.
- Collberg returns to Europe without having played in the NHL, and without really impressing in the AHL until the very end, when it was both too late and best for all parties to move on. It's fair to say it didn't work out.
So we move on, with Ho-Sang carrying the torch, among other burdens and expectations. And the Sabres (and Lightning, and Senators, and Canadiens) having an assortment of other draft picks involved in the multiple Vanek deals with futures yet to be determined.
The entire Year of Vanek was amazing from an Isles fan standpoint, as our own comment forums here could attest. Rather than have clear "for" and "against" lines like an ostensibly two-party system, there was a chaotic, multi-party, loosely aligned coalition of views:
- People who loved the original trade because Vanek is finally the "stud winger" long (and still) sought for Tavares
- People who were fine with the trade but mourned for Moulson
- People who loved the first trade, but hated the second one, but then were grateful two years later that they didn't sign Vanek because ye gods look at that.
- People who didn't want to commit long term to Moulson, but didn't want to deal him for a UFA either when there were dire, greater needs in goal and on defense.
- People who hated the trade but felt, once made, you better make sure you signed Vanek.
- People who opposed the trade but man was that TV-JT-KO line fun to watch?
- People who thought man was that TV-JT-KO line fun to watch except when play went back into the Isles zone, which it inevitably did.
- People who loved the first Vanek trade but hated the second Vanek trade
- People who loved the first Vanek trade but hated the second Vanek trade but then reconsidered all of the above after seeing how he's looked since signing his current deal
- People who thought everything was stupid because everyone knew Vanek was going to sign in Minnesota anyway. (These people also probably knew all about his gambling issues, and his favorite pizza joint.)
- People who were meh about the trade but thought, given the prices, neither Vanek nor Moulson should be signed long-term for their declining years.
- And my personal favorite: People who thought the only reason the Islanders acquired Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk at the end of that summer was to avoid the embarrassment of having the first-round pick in the Vanek trade become a lottery one. Because that's what motivates NHL GMs to compete.
But that's just a loose, partial list of the many views. The trade, or two trades, or two trades and two contracts dodged, had a lot of moving parts.
We haven't even mentioned the lottery-protected first-round pick the Isles gave up with Moulson, which they held on to in 2014 to pick Michael Dal Colle fifth overall, and thus had to give up in 2015, which was a 21st overall pick (Colin White) that the Sabres flipped to Ottawa for goalie Robin Lehner. (They also dealt a second-rounder, Buffalo selected Brendan Guhle.)
It's enough to make you think trades are hard, as are decisions with pending unrestricted free agents.
Speaking of which, the other member of that brief-but-deadly-but-defensively-challenged top line with Vanek and Tavares was Okposo, who is now an unrestricted free agent at age 28. He's due a big raise. The Isles want him back but maybe not at the price he can command on the open market, given that he's not exactly a transformative first-line piece. He wants to stay but maybe not enough to take a discount or resist the opportunity to settle his family somewhere else nice.
"It's a business," they say. Decisions today have all kinds of seen and unseen consequences down the road.