Matt Moulson’s season has been a disaster. He’s a shell of the player he used to be.
Moulson and Sabres General Manager Tim Murray have differing reasons as to why.
Moulson, who heads into Saturday’s home game against Minnesota with one goal in his last 52 games, says a lack of confidence has been his downfall. Murray says Moulson didn’t work hard enough to keep up.
“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,” Murray said Thursday during his weekly appearance on WGR 550-AM Radio. “He’s sat up through some tough conversations. He’s sat up and taken notice, and I would say in the last five to six weeks he has been our hardest-working guy after games in the gym.
“We have a plan. We don’t expect to see results tomorrow. We’ve talked to his agent. We’ve talked to him. We’ve talked to our strength and conditioning staff. He doesn’t miss an optional skate anymore. He doesn’t miss a postgame workout anymore. So he’s taking this real serious. He doesn’t just want to go away.
“This is almost like coming off an injury where we’ve changed his daily routine, his workouts, his pregame, postgame, day off. He’s bought into this like a young player. Bad habits creep in. Bad habits creep in in all walks of life. We’ve addressed it. He’s addressed it. He’s stepped up.”
There’s no denying Moulson has changed his habits lately. He’s stopped being one of the first players off the ice following practice. He takes part in optional skates.
But Moulson denies the insinuation that he slacked off previously.
“I don’t think my workout’s changed very much,” he said Friday in First Niagara Center. “I train extremely hard in the summers. I just think it was a case of I kind of lost my confidence and building that back up by the way I’m working. I don’t think my workouts have really changed. I’ve taken my off-ice performances pretty seriously my entire life.”
Informed of Murray’s comment that Moulson neglected things in regards to workouts, the forward said: “OK.” Asked if he neglected things, Moulson replied: “I don’t know. There’s always room for improvement, so maybe I decided to improve some things.”
The improvements have yet to show up during games. Moulson, relegated to a fourth-line role, has just two shots in the last five outings. He skated only 6:53 Tuesday against Edmonton. He’s been held without a goal in seven games, a slump that pales in comparison to the 44-game drought that preceded it.
The three-time 30-goal scorer has five goals in 64 games and 18 in his last 141.
“Obviously, not the way I wanted it to go,” the 32-year-old said. “You want to help your team win and contribute. You always want to do that. I think for anyone that likes scoring goals you want to have more of them.”
The troubling part for the Sabres’ organization is Moulson’s contract situation. He’s in the second season of a five-year, $25 million deal, signed when Murray was well below the salary-cap floor. The numbers scream “buyout,” but the financials would be tough to swallow for a team hoping to contend and spend to the cap in the coming years.
According to GeneralFanager.com, buying out Moulson in June would leave Buffalo with a cap hit of $2.88 million for the next two seasons, $3.88 million in 2018-19 and $888,888 for the following three years.
Changes to the collective bargaining agreement in 2013 make merely sending player to the minors a less attractive option. If the Sabres sent Moulson to Rochester, he would still count $4.15 million toward Buffalo’s cap.
“The long-term goal is to have him better and able to produce starting next September in training camp, but it has started now,” Murray said on the radio. “The extra work has started now. We know it won’t pay off, like I say, tomorrow, but I fully expect he’ll come back better next year.
“I don’t expect to see a drastically different (player) but I expect to see a different, more competitive Matt Moulson next season.”
Moulson, whose main contribution to the Sabres is housing and mentoring Jack Eichel, wants to remain in Buffalo.
“I love this city and this organization,” Moulson said. “I’m obviously trying to put in the work to where I want to be. It wasn’t going to happen overnight. I’m trying to build that back up.
“Some times are a little tougher than others.”