Sunday night, Matt Moulson was sitting on his couch in the Long Island area when he received a call informing him that he’d been traded to the Buffalo Sabres. By 4:30 a.m., he was in a car headed for the airport, where he’d catch a flight to Western New York.
Over 12 hours after he'd been dealt from the New York Islanders for Thomas Vanek, Moulson was on the ice at First Niagara Center with his new teammates, preparing for their game Monday night against the Dallas Stars.
“I’ve never been traded so everything’s kind of a whirlwind right now,” Moulson said after the morning skate. “It’s exciting to be a part of a group of young guys that are excited to play and be in the League and compete. So I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun.”
The Sabres also received New York’s first-round pick in 2014 and the Islanders’ second-round pick in 2015. In the next two drafts, Buffalo now owns three first-round picks and six second-round picks.
Moulson has six goals and three assists in 11 games this season. He’s a three-time 30 goal scorer and was nearly a point-per-game player during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with 44 points (15+29) in 47 games.
It’s exciting to be a part of a group of young guys that are excited to play and be in the League and compete. So I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun. - Matt Moulson
The Sabres will need that type of production to continue to help make up for what they’re losing in Vanek. With 253 goals, Vanek had the fifth-most goals in Sabres history at the time of the trade. He had played his entire nine-year career in Buffalo, having been drafted fifth overall by the Sabres in the 2003 NHL Draft.
He was named co-captain along with Steve Ott prior to the start of the season. Ott will assume the captaincy full-time and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will be the lone alternate for the time being, according to coach Ron Rolston.
Sabres forward Drew Stafford had been Vanek’s teammate since 2006-07.
“It’s just the way things are going now. At the same time, it’s a business. It’s an unfortunate side of things,” Stafford said. “You’re going to lose guys, lose some great guys, some great teammates, but at the same time, you have to find a way to move forward and we have to focus on trying to get some wins here.”
With the Sabres 2-10-1 start and Vanek heading into the offseason as unrestricted free agent, the questions internally seemed to turn to not if, but when Vanek would be dealt.
“This was a situation I think everyone knew was going to take place. It just was the timing of it was probably quicker than people would’ve thought,” Rolston said. “Obviously losing a player that has meant so much to the organization over the years is tough. …[He] was a big-time goal scorer for us. He certainly will be missed. We wish him the best in terms of his goals that he’s after. I know he wants to be on a team that can make a push for the Stanley Cup. I know that’s a big goal of his and hopefully he gets that.”
The Sabres locker room also seemed ready for the move to come at some point.
“I think we’ve been prepared for this. There’ve been no smokescreens or anything that’s gone on from the organization from the top down,” Ott said. “Everything’s been very truthful from what’s going to kind of continue to go on here. You come in… work every day and work as hard as you can."
As for the player coming in, Rolston spoke highly of Moulson’s character. He said the coaching staff has watched a lot of film on him lately and spoke with many people who had worked with Moulson in the past, including Rolston’s brother Brian, who played with Moulson for half a season in 2011-12.
Moulson will be in the Sabres lineup on Monday and will wear No. 26.
“He works really hard and we want those types of players around our younger players, whether it’s in the locker room, in the weight room, at practice or in game situations,” Rolston said. “He brings that and he also has a track record of scoring goals and we just have to put him in the right spots.”
Moulson said that he doesn’t know anyone on the team well yet, but expects that to change rather quickly. Having grown up just over the Canadian border in Mississauga, Ont., he’s already pretty familiar with the area. He said he’s looking forward to playing in his first home game on Monday.
“It’s a great building,” he said. “The Sabres dressing room’s a little nicer than the visiting dressing room, so that’ll be a nice change for tonight.”
Even if his teammates and the color of his uniform and have changed, the areas of the ice he likes to play in won’t.
“I’m going to go out there and play hockey like I always do and try to score goals,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll be around the net as usual. I don’t venture too far from there so hopefully that’ll be a familiar spot for me tonight.”
Moulson also said he isn’t going to worry too much about his own expiring contract.
“I’m just going to take it day by day and if it’s for however long – a long period of time, short period of time, whatever they have planned – I’m going to play and compete and play my game and try and help this team get wins,” he said.