One of the most surprising trades in the past few years in the NHL was when perennial loser New York Islanders threw all their cards on the table early this season, sending Matt Moulson, a first round pick and a second round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek.
The move backfired for gambling Islanders general manager Garth Snow. Vanek performed admirably alongside one of the best players in the game, John Tavares,but it was not even close to enough for Long Island to return to the postseason. The Sabres had no plans of making the NHL playoffs, and were as predicted in a position to sell when the trade deadline came around in March.
Just four months after the two scoring wingers were dealt for each other, both were on the move again. This time Moulson would make his way to Minnesota where the Wild hoped he would help their scoring woes, and Vanek was snagged by the Montreal Canadiens just before the clock struck midnight on the trade frenzy.
Now, with free agent frenzy around the corner, the two forwards could be on the move once again, joining their fourth team in about eight months. That type of movement would make Mike Sillinger proud, but it is not as alarming as you might think. Both were obvious candidates to move at the deadline as no one expected much out of the Islanders this season and especially not the Sabres. The trade for one another was fairly unique, but the deadline day moves, and subsequent free agent moves are not uncommon in today’s hockey world.
What would tie a neat bow around their story and connect the pair of wingers even closer would be if Montreal gets aggressive, and offers a one for one swap of the soon to be unrestricted free agents. Vanek has already said he would like to test free agency on July 1st, but that is just a thin veil covering the fact he wants to return to the state where he played college hockey, met his wife and spends his summers.
The Habs have nothing to lose in moving him, as they already know he has at least one foot out the door. Unfortunately it was out the door in the middle of the postseason, but I digress. On the other hand, Minnesota may be his destination of choice, but they would be wise to bring him in and get a deal done before anyone else can throw ridiculous amounts of money in his face. The Islanders reportedly already offered him 50 million over 7 years before trading him, so they may be enticed to do it again.
If the Wild plan on signing Vanek, they don’t have room to keep Moulson, so they aren’t losing anything either in dealing his rights before free agency opens on July 1st.
The Canadiens could be doing themselves a huge favor by bringing in Moulson before everyone else has a chance to drive up his asking price. Their biggest need may be on right wing, but a left wing depth chart of Pacioretty, Moulson, Galchenyuk, Prust, Moen would be extremely deep.
Moulson is 30 years old, and has scored 30 goals on three separate occasions in his career. Those 30 goal season were each of his first three full seasons in the league from 2009-12. During the lockout shortened 2013 season, Moulson was a bit off that goal scoring pace, but had 44 points in 47 games. He finished this season with 51 points in 75 games split between the Isles, Sabres and Wild.
Sure, some of his previous offensive numbers were helped by playing on a line with John Tavares during his time on Long Island. However, during his time with the Buffalo Sabres, whose 150 goals on the season is one of the lowest totals since teams starting playing 80 games. Moulson racked up 29 points in 44 games. So yes, he was able to contribute when playing with a great player, but he also scored at over a 20 goal per season pace when on a miserable team.
If Moulson were to sign with the Canadiens, his likely center would be Tomas Plekanec but could also be Lars Eller. They are no Tavares, but his production with the Sabres, where he scored at a 20 goal and 54 points pace would be the least you could expect from the winger. That 54 point pace would have placed Moulson second on the Habs this season behind Max Pacioretty, and would be welcomed on a team that finished in the bottom third in offense this season.
Moulson will demand a pretty heavy contract, but with Vanek, Paul Stastny and Jarome Iginla also on the free agent market, his price will likely be somewhere in the four to five year range and between four and five million dollars. That is a big price tag, but a very reasonable one when you consider the payoff of bringing in Matt Moulson.
The Canadiens are desperate for wingers this offseason, and wingers that can score goals. Seeing that they are already out of the Vanek “sweepstakes” that only involve the Wild, Moulson may be the best option on the market this offseason.
The best way to get Moulson to the team owned by Molson would be to trade him for the player he was traded for eight months ago. I can’t recall the last time two players were traded for each other twice in less than a year, but it could benefit the Canadiens greatly if they make that happen before the end of June.