TAMPA, Fla. — Matt Moulson was expecting the call, Jaroslav Halak was basically praying for it and Cody McCormick essentially had no idea it was coming.
But the three departing Buffalo Sabres all derived a similar benefit by getting traded Wednesday: They’ve been sent from a last-place team into the thick of the playoff race.
Moulson and McCormick are going together to Minnesota to join former Buffalo captain Jason Pominville with the Wild. Halak took his gear and was gone from the Westin Harbour Island hotel here a scant two hours after the 3 p.m. deadline, headed for a flight to take him to Boston and the Washington Capitals’ game there tonight.
The Capitals entered Wednesday’s play just one point out of the final wild-card slot in the Eastern Conference and getting a goaltender like Halak, who went 24-9-4 with St. Louis, is what they feel they need to comfortably get into the top eight. Minnesota looks to be on easy street in the West, with a seven-point lead in the wild-card race and a 7-1-2 burst in its last 10 games.
Moulson was one of the hottest names on the trade market Wednesday, and has been at the top of the list of likely rental players almost from the time he was dealt from the New York Islanders to the Sabres on Oct. 24.
Getting dealt was zero surprise. The fact that it took almost to the deadline was.
“It’s definitely a relief after sitting around for a week seeing other guys get traded and wondering if you were going to be here,” Moulson said. “It’s good to finally have a place to go.
“It’s an exciting hockey city to go to, much like the fans in Buffalo. They’re passionate about hockey in Minnesota, the State of Hockey and all. They’re going to be good fans.”
The Sabres never made Moulson an offer as an unrestricted free agent, even though he was open to listening and Buffalo clearly needs goal scorers.
“A lot was going down with the team trading away guys like Ryan Miller and Steve Ott and building for the future,” Moulson said.
“It’s pretty much set in stone. I knew it was coming. Tim Murray was up front and honest about what was going on.”
Moulson said his priority now is playing for the Wild. Re-signing with them or going somewhere else is staying on the back burner for now.
“I’m going to Minnesota to help them win a Stanley Cup. That’s their goal,” Moulson said. “Anything I can help to win games I’m going to do. I’m not going to think about the other stuff because that will take care of itself.”
McCormick met reporters after having already spoken to Pominville, the Wild winger and former Buffalo captain.
“Jason Pominville said some things that were exciting, that made me excited to join the Minnesota Wild,” McCormick said. “Our wives are friends. Our kids are friends. It makes for an easier transition.”
McCormick was in his fourth year with the Sabres after being acquired from Colorado and injuries have plagued him the last three years.
But Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is intrigued by McCormick’s toughness.
“They wanted some size and grit,” McCormick said. “I’m just hoping to get there and be able to contribute to that.”
Halak becomes the 10th player in franchise history to suit up for a game with the Sabres but not play.
The ninth, by the way, was emergency backup goaltender Ryan Vinz, the HarborCenter employee who served as backup on Friday after Ryan Miller was sent to St. Louis.
At least Vinz got to sit on the bench and operate the door as players came and went from the ice.
Halak spent his one game with Buffalo on Monday in Dallas sitting on his own in a runway because the benches in American Airlines Center are too small to accommodate the backup.
Halak, who was the goalie when Montreal upset Washington in the playoffs and advanced to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, just bided his time with the Sabres knowing another move was likely in the offing.
“The last four days have been crazy,” Halak said.
“Getting traded and all the rumors being out there that I’m going to be traded again. I’m glad it’s over and now I’m really happy I have a chance to make the playoffs.
Halak said he was happy he would only have to worry about Washington star Alex Ovechkin in practice now and smiled when asked about the strange twist that allowed him to now play for a team that he was largely responsible for upsetting in a previous spring.
“I have great memories playing against them, sure,” he said. “Now I’m going to be their teammate and try to do my best. We’ll see how that’s going to go. I know they have a lot of hockey left and they’re in a playoff race. I’m going to try to do my best to help them get there.”