- Scott Burnside, NHL
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With the NHL's trade deadline fast approaching, one imagines a great hourglass leaking away grains of sand in front of New York Islanders GM Garth Snow's office on Long Island.
With each passing hour, the pressure on the beleaguered GM to make something happen with prized asset Thomas Vanek grows, yet as time passes, there is a growing feeling around the NHL that Vanek's allure to other GMs is dimming disproportionately.
Coming out of the Olympic break, there was little doubt that Vanek, the former Buffalo Sabres captain whom Snow acquired at great expense earlier in the season, was the most talented rental player on the open market.
Even now, his 53 points have him 24th in NHL scoring, and now he'd have continue without center John Tavares, who was lost for the season after a knee injury sustained during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
But a number of factors are conspiring to force Snow into a corner as he tries to salvage at least some of what has become another lost Islanders season.
First, Vanek has made it clear that he plans to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Nothing new there. GMs who are being asked to shell out top returns for a rental player like the idea of potentially keeping their new acquisition beyond this season if things work out. That doesn't appear to be an option here, as many people believe that Vanek will end up signing in Minnesota, where he played his college hockey.
Then there are the niggling questions about Vanek's commitment.
Yes, he took responsibility for an ill-advised party session during the Olympics before his Austrian team laid a giant egg against lightly regarded Slovenia in the qualification part of the tournament, an incident that caused great embarrassment to the Austrian hockey community.
On top of that, Vanek just wasn't very good -- his only contribution to the Austrian cause in Sochi seemingly was to throw his goaltender under the bus in postgame comments early in the tournament.
And then the biggest factor of all, of course, is the asking price for Vanek's rental services.
Snow, who gave up a first- and a second-round pick plus scorer Matt Moulson to acquire Vanek earlier in the season, is asking for a first-round pick and a top prospect plus another pick or prospect or some variation therein. Who can blame Snow? Vanek is a top offensive player, and Snow needs to return at least some of the assets he frittered away in the ill-advised deal to bring Vanek to Long Island.
But if the buzz around the hockey community is accurate, GMs are definitely cool on Vanek and the asking price.
Moulson, Mike Cammalleri, Ales Hemsky, perhaps Sam Gagner or Marian Gaborik are all considered attractive alternatives for teams looking to boost their offense because, although maybe not as skilled, these players are expected to command a lower price tag.
Now, maybe this is a smoke screen being perpetrated by hockey folks who are hoping Snow will hear the mutterings and lower his asking price.
Maybe the Los Angeles Kings, a team on fire but still not firing on all cylinders offensively, will meet Snow's asking price for Vanek. Maybe Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, never one to shy away from a big deal, will take the Vanek plunge.
But that's not how it feels right now.
And if the reality is that GMs are moving on from Vanek, Snow will find himself in an awkward position of being like the homeowner who has to move and isn't getting the price he wants for his home, no matter how attractive the property.
Does Snow drop his price and take less than he wants? If so, when does he adjust the asking price? How low does he go? And what if he waits too long and the already suspect market for Vanek dries up entirely and he finds himself holding on to an asset through Wednesday's deadline who has no intention of staying one minute past the end of the season? Would that be disastrous?
For a team that squandered last season's spirited run to the playoffs and strong showing against Pittsburgh in the first round, it is imperative that Snow make a deal for Vanek. In any place other than Long Island, where hockey logic doesn't necessarily exist in the same manner as it does in the 29 other markets, one would think Snow's job might hang in the balance.
The reality is it should.
The Thomas Vanek situation should make or break Islanders GM Garth Snow, writes Scott Burnside.