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Much-needed shake-up underway for Sabres, starting with Moulson

The Buffalo Sabres don't want their friendships torn apart.

They should have played better and harder then.

A much-needed shake-up is underway in Buffalo. General Manager Jason Botterill has seen enough of his cellar dwellers. Botterill waived Matt Moulson and acquired a piece of his past Monday, trading for forward Scott Wilson.

It's just the start for a team that is a pitiful 6-17-4 heading into Tuesday's game in Colorado.

"When you don't win they're going to dismantle," center Ryan O'Reilly said in KeyBank Center. "I've seen it before. It's frustrating. It's tough. There's so many good guys here that we have great relationships with, and when you don't win changes are made. That's how it goes."

On their own, Monday's moves won't turn the Sabres into Stanley Cup contenders. But they send a message that the players had better get their stuff together. Kyle Okposo used a stronger word than stuff, though it started with the same letter.

"We've got to win some games," said Okposo, who quickly turned from somber over losing Moulson to angry over Buffalo's plight. "If you don't win games, if you don't have results, good people pay the price for it."

It would seem the only players safe from trade chatter are Okposo, who has a no-movement clause, and franchise center Jack Eichel. Everyone else should be worried until Buffalo assembles a roster that can win.

"It's on us," O'Reilly said. "We've got to start doing it for guys' careers, start winning just to keep this group together."

Botterill and coach Phil Housley decided Moulson was no longer a fit for the group. The forward failed to produce a point in 14 games and was scratched in 13 others.

"We talked quite a bit throughout the last two weeks," Housley said. "Just the direction that our team's going, we have to make roster spots and try to push some other buttons and try to get some internal competition within our team."

Deposed GM Tim Murray signed Moulson to a five-year, $25 million contract in July 2014. The contract runs through the end of next season, though the Sabres can buy out Moulson in June.

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Moulson was a three-time 30-goal scorer with the New York Islanders earlier in his career, but the 34-year-old has seen his numbers plummet. He scored 13, eight and 14 goals during the last three seasons. He has 13 shots and a minus-9 rating while skating 10:17 per game this year.

If no team claims Moulson by noon Tuesday, the Sabres will assign him to Rochester. A claim seems unlikely considering a TSN report that said Buffalo was willing to retain part of Moulson's salary in a trade but found no takers.

The Sabres do not have salary cap problems, but they will receive $1.025 million in cap relief with the demotion. The 2013 collective bargaining agreement changed the rules regarding contracts buried in the minor leagues, so Moulson will still count $3.975 million toward the Sabres' cap even in Rochester.

"It's tough when you lose a guy like that," Okposo said. "He's been my best friend for a while. He means a lot to me. It's tough news, but at the same time it's a business. He knows that better than anybody.

"In saying that, it's tough personally, for sure."

Okposo and Moulson formed a bond while playing for the Islanders, and they're godfathers to each other's children.

"You could go around and ask every single guy in this locker room, and they don't have one bad thing to say about Matt Moulson and the way he is as a person and the way that he carried himself at the rink every day through a really tough situation over the past few years," Okposo said. "He's just a good man."

Eichel lived with Moulson throughout his rookie season.

"It's tough," Eichel said. "He's a good buddy. I owe a lot to him. He's been there for me since the day I was drafted. I've obviously become very close with Matt and his family. His wife and his two kids have basically been like family to me.

"I feel for him. He's one of the best guys that you can play with. I don't think that there's a bad word to be said about him."

There are plenty of bad words to be said about the Sabres, who are 1-9-2 in the last 12 games.

"We're in a business of winning, and we're not doing that right now, so there's going to be some changes," Okposo said. "Unfortunately, it was that, but we've got to figure out a way to win hockey games."

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The Sabres could have two new faces in the lineup against the Avalanche. Buffalo recalled center Evan Rodrigues before Monday's practice and traded for Wilson after boarding the plane. The 25-year-old arrived from Detroit in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Wilson has played parts of four seasons in the NHL, recording 13 goals and 32 points in 123 games. The forward played 20 playoff games during Pittsburgh's successful Stanley Cup run last season, putting up three goals and three assists. Botterill was with Pittsburgh when it drafted Wilson in the seventh round in 2011.

There's no way Wilson will be Botterill's final roster move.

"There's so many good guys in this dressing room that you don't want to see any of them leave," O'Reilly said. "If we don't win, it's going to happen."

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