Nov 5, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson (19) celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against the San Jose Sharks during a shootout at the SAP Center at San Jose. The Buffalo Sabres defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-4 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

What Matt Moulson's Struggles Say About the Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres fans, have you seen this man?

Nov 2, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Matt Moulson (26) tries to knock down the puck during the second period against the Anaheim Ducks at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Ted Nolan arrived in town (a little before, if we’re being precise) Matt Moulson has become the latest Buffalo Sabres’ player to pull a disappearing act, registering but one point in the past five games.   In fact, ever since he netted two goals in his debut with the blue and gold, Moulson has completely failed to pot one, which can mean only one thing: he’s a true Buffalo Sabres player now!

Ha ha.  (I have taken to inserting laughter into my posts to help some readers identify sarcasm.  I’m here to help.)

All kidding aside (more clues!), it’s safe to say that Sabres fans who were hoping that Moulson would help make this roster competitive have been extremely disappointed.  However, Moulson’s lack of scoring really is not his fault; rather, it can be traced back to a glaring deficiency that I have been arguing has plagued this Buffalo team for a few seasons now: the lack of a true, first-line center.

Anyone who has followed Moulson during his NHL career understands that his numbers are as good as they are due to the fact that he spent four seasons playing with superstar John Tavares.  That’s not to say Moulson isn’t a good player – I wouldn’t be much of a hockey writer if I suggested that.  (Hey – some of you don’t think I’m much of a hockey writer as it is!)  Moulson had a nice college career playing for Cornell, and he did major damage during his time in the AHL.  However, it is no coincidence that Moulson’s stretch of seasons in which he scored 30+ goals started in 2009, the year that John Tavares began his NHL career.  Tavares has managed to notch at least 30 assists and accumulate 50+ points in every full NHL season he has played so far, and Moulson has been on the receiving end of quite a few of those assists.

Fast forward to now, and Moulson is floundering.  Sure, you can simply say, “Well, he’s no longer on a quality team” – but in case you forgot, the New York Islanders were not much of a quality hockey team until they made the playoffs last season.  Somehow, Moulson and Tavares still managed to establish themselves as solid scoring threats.  Now that he’s paired with Cody Hodgson, however, Moulson is lost, because Hodgson is no John Tavares, and would be lucky to be a second-line center on pretty much any other team in the NHL.

I appreciate Hodgson’s committing to the Buffalo Sabres for the long term, and I believe he truly wants to become a leader on this squad.  Even so, if the Sabres organization is pinning Buffalo’s championship hopes on Hodgson becoming a TRUE first-line quality center, I fear they are mistaken.  Look round the NHL at the teams that are currently considered legitimate threats – they all boast (among other things, obviously) centers that can produce 50+ per year, even when their teams are struggling.  Sidney CrosbyRyan GetzlafJoe ThorntonAlex SteenJonathan Toews.  Hell, the absolute best teams boast at least TWO centers who are among the league’s top 25 centers right about now.  Hodgson currently ranks 36th among all NHL centers, and his 17 points are only 3 more than Calgary rookie Sean Monahan, who is just 19.

Yes yes yes – Hodgson is only 23, he still has time to develop – blah blah blah.  I have nothing against Cody Hodgson – you don’t see me asking that he be traded, now do you? – but the fact is, by the age of 23 most of the truly elite centers in the NHL had already established themselves as elite players.  Hodgson has not, and as his time spent with Moulson on the Sabres’ first line suggests, he just isn’t first-line material.  Buffalo currently doesn’t have any other options, so on the first line he will remain, but if the Sabres truly want to challenge the elite teams in the NHL for Lord Stanley’s Cup, they are going to need to land a center who actually is capable of playing at a level comparable to that of other first-line centers around the league.   Consider that priority number one for this team as they begin looking ahead to the upcoming flurry of trades, summer free agency market, and 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Want to chat?  Try to be nice, and leave your comments below, or @theamazingMrS!


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Tags: Buffalo Sabres Cody Hodgson Matt Moulson

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