Winger Matt Moulson bounced around plenty this past season, but he will be a member of the Buffalo Sabres for the foreseeable future as they signed him to a reported five-year deal according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN:
Matt Moulson signs with Buffalo Sabres, 5 years x $5 M AAV— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) July 1, 2014
Moulson started the 2013-14 campaign with the New York Islanders before a pair of trades landed him with the Buffalo Sabres and then the Minnesota Wild. Although he enjoyed some good moments as he ultimately posted 23 goals and 51 points overall, he was unable to enjoy the same success in Buffalo and Minnesota that he did on Long Island.
Over parts of five seasons with the Isles, Moulson developed into a legitimate top-line player alongside John Tavares. From 2009-10 through 2011-12, he reached the 30-goal mark all three seasons, which is an impressive feat for a player who was a ninth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003.
Moulson had just six games of NHL playoff experience entering his postseason run with the Wild, so it was unclear how he would react. Despite seemingly possessing a game that is tailor made for the playoffs, he simply didn't rise to the occasion.
According to Daniel Friedman of WFAN, Moulson was lackluster to say the least during Minnesota's two-round run:
I'd take him on my hockey team any day of the week, but Matt Moulson hasn't had the best playoffs -- just 3 points (1G, 2A) in 10 games.— Daniel Friedman (@DFriedmanOnNYI) May 8, 2014
His penchant for going to the dirty areas and scoring tough goals simply didn't pay off in the postseason, but his health may have had something to do with it. Per Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a pair of injuries hindered Moulson down the stretch:
Fletcher said Moulson had an oblique and groin injury that limited his skating ability.— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) May 16, 2014
Although Moulson's tenure with the Wild wasn't a total loss, he clearly wasn't the same player that Minnesota hoped it was getting when it struck a deal with Buffalo.
Because of Moulson's subpar showing in the playoffs, Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal felt it was clear that Moulson would be a rental and nothing more:
The Matt Moulson trade deadline experiment didn't blow up in Minny's face, but he didn't give them much. This was a one-and-done deal.— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) May 14, 2014
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher was essentially mum regarding Moulson's standing with the team after the season, and he didn't give any indication that he intended to bring Moulson back into the fold.
Fletcher seemed confident in the pieces already in place and suggested that the Wild wouldn't be particularly active in free agency, according to John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
I will say this is the first (offseason) I don't feel compelled to go out and do something. That's not to say we're completely satisfied with status quo, but I think we do have the right to be patient. We've earned that right with how we've played, and with some of the depth we've now acquired.
Moulson's inability to click with the Wild allowed him to test free agency, which was ultimately the best possible scenario for him. After getting tossed around from team to team throughout the 2013-14 season without having any say, the 30-year-old forward finally got the chance to determine his own future.
How will Moulson fare in his new surroundings?
He also came to realize that players like him are at a premium in free agency. It is quite rare in the current landscape of the NHL that superstar players hit the free-agent market, so a consistent 30-goal guy like Moulson unsurprisingly garnered a ton of interest.
Now that he has a nice contract and some security in tow, it will be interesting to see how Moulson fares in his new surroundings. Many credited Tavares for the success that Moulson had with the Islanders, but Moulson has an opportunity to prove that he can create his own chances and be productive as an individual.
Moulson isn't the fastest or even the biggest player, but he has made the most out of his skill set as an NHL player. He most definitely earned the contract he received and everything he has done over the course of his career suggests that he will live up to it as well.
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