Matt Moulson, by the numbers.
--3 yrs. remaining
--8 goals (10th on Sabres)
--13 assists (T-8th)
--21 points (10th)
--minus-5 rating (T-7th)
--ATOI, 11:54 (12th amongst forwards)
--PPTOI, 1:58 (8th)
--PP Goals, 2 (T-5th amongst forwards)
--PP Assists, 5 (T- 3rd)
--PP Points, 7 (5th)
--81 games played
--1 healthy scratch (Dec. 30)
What we wrote at season's end: "Moulson finished 10th on the team in scoring and had the fourth highest cap-hit. Not a good combination. And he did find himself in the press box as a healthy scratch after going 24 games without a goal. That dubious streak would continue for another 20 games despite head coach Dan Bylsma giving him ample powerplay time and numerous opportunities playing in the top-six. But nothing worked, and early season predictions of solid production soon gave way to questions of, what happened?"
Moulson is a good guy. To my knowledge there's not a player or coach who's ever publically said otherwise. He mentored John Tavares on Long Island when the two played for the NY Islanders. When Moulson was traded to the Buffalo Sabres Tavares said, "I don't think Matt's ever gotten the credit he's deserved for the success I've had. Words can't really describe how much he was there for me." And in Buffalo Moulson and his family also opened up their home to rookie Jack Eichel last year to help him make the transition to the NHL. The 18 yr. had a standout season for the Sabres.
Which is all well and good. But at the price and term he was signed for, the team needs him to be more than just a billet father.
Moulson managed three 30-goals seasons on those Islander teams with Tavares and he even managed to place second on the Sabres in scoring during the first year of a 5 yr./$25M contract he signed on July 1, 2014. With the influx of talent including Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, it was expected that Moulson would follow up with a similar, if not better, 13-goal, 41-point 2014-15 campaign.
It was not to be and it put the Sabres in a quandary. Fortunately for Moulson he had three years remaining on his contract which was a bit to long for Buffalo to buy out. For Buffalo, however, they may end up carrying the hefty contract if an underperformer in what could very well his final year with the club.
Training camp should give us a good indication of how Moulson intends to approach the upcoming season as he was called out by his GM back in March. Tim Murray talked of Moulson's less than stellar training regimen to the gathered media. “I see a player that maybe has neglected some things in the last couple years," he said, "as far as how workouts are changing, how we as an organization are changing with our young players and even our players on the team." Which was about as close to saying "you're out of shape" as you can get.
Head coach Dan Bylsma has the team playing an up-tempo style which would leave Moulson in the dust on the top two lines even if he were in great shape to begin with but on the third line the chances of having success might be better. If he can re-establish a net-front presence and regain his sniping ability from in close, he might be able to get back into that 15 goal range. Which are a lot of 'if's' for a player making $5M/year.
That said, often times we Sabres fans forget why Murray brought in three vets--Moulson, Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges--back in July, 2014. We forget where the team was as well as where they were headed. The Sabres had traded away nearly every vet worth his salt in the season prior, including Moulson, and were about to finish the job by trading whatever was left at the 2015 trade deadline. They needed veteran players who could actually play the game. They needed players who wanted to play in Buffalo. And they needed players who would basically take a bullet for the team during they're plunge into the abyss.
Moulson, Gionta and Gorges were by no means superstars, but they were legitimate NHL players who had a decent amount of success playing in the upper-half of their rosters and they opted to play in Buffalo. Their role on the Sabres was to make it through the 2014-15 season and come out the other end to contribute to, and provide veteran leadership for, one of the youngest teams in the league.
The five year deal Moulson signed meant that he was expected to do at least that, if not more, on an extended basis but even though it hasn't worked out, he has a shot at redemption this season. There's probably not a fan in Buffalo who won't root for him on a personal level as most want to see a good guy like him succeed. But then again, how many times have we seen that sports is a business and if he can't get it together on the ice, Moulson will probably be playing somewhere else next season.
Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons
D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
G, Robin Lehner