To say it's been a disappointing season for Matt Moulson wouldn't just be an understatement, it'd be a borderline lie. The Buffalo Sabres signed Moulson to a big contract last offseason expecting him to be a key piece in the franchise's upcoming turnaround, and one of the team's regular contributors on offense.
Instead, Moulson is a key piece of the most expensive fourth line in hockey, one that does not produce nearly what they're being paid. He currently has just five goals on the season, and amazingly has just one goal in his last 52 games. While last season wasn't a disaster, Moulson at least managed to put up 41 points in 77 games. At the rate he's currently scoring and being used, he might not crack 20 points this season.
The big question many Sabres fans have been asking recently is: what will Buffalo do with him this offseason? Is he just in an extended slump, or is he done? Should the Sabres buy him out and eat the money to free up some cap and roster space? Was his plan of hosting Eichel just a ploy to make sure he could never be cut or traded?
Sabres GM Tim Murray went on WGR yesterday with the Bulldog and Sal Capaccio, and was asked directly about Moulson's future. His candid answer gives hope for next season.
I won't say [he's] lost it at all. I see a player that's certainly clumping, I see a player that maybe has neglected some things in the last couple years 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.
But he's sat up through some tough conversations. He's sat up and taken notice and I would say that in the last five to six weeks that he has been our hardest working guy after games in the gym.
And we have a plan. We don't expect to see results tomorrow. We've talked with his agent, we've talked with him, we've talked with our strength and conditioning staff, and he doesn't miss an optional skate anymore. He doesn't miss a post-game workout anymore. So he's taking this real seriously, he doesn't want to just go away.
So I'll say slumping for sure based on some circumstances that we've addressed, and he's been 100% in, and the long term goal is to have him better and able to produce starting next September in training camp. But the extra work has started now, and we know it won't pay off tomorrow.
This is a great peek behind the scenes and a good look at how Murray, Bylsma and company are playing this in both the short and long term. Short term, Moulson has been moved to the fourth line and seen his playing time limited, both as punishment and as a way to allow him the energy to get those extra workouts in. Long term, it's clear Murray is waiting until next season for this work (and presumably the work that will happen over the summer) to pay off.
Who knows how effective all this will be, as Murray was quick to correct himself in saying that Moulson wouldn't be drastically different next year, but could Moulson remake himself into a tweener forward who can play on the third line, and fill in the top six when necessary, a la Jamie McGinn? Could he focus more on his defensive game and play a role on a shutdown third line? Anything would be better than what he's given the Sabres this season, and it sounds like Murray and Bylsma are banking on a different player coming to training camp next season.
You can listen to the entire interview here - there's some good comments about finding a permanent winger for Jack Eichel, and some Hudson Fasching praise among other things - or if you want to just hear the Moulson talk it starts at 18:30. Give us your thoughts on Moulson's recovery efforts in the comments.