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.

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

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!


Topics: Buffalo Sabres, Cody Hodgson, Matt Moulson

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  • Jes

    Hodgson is good and yes he’s no Tavares. Honestly the only way we get that type of player is through the draft. Moulson however is good but honestly even Steen would be a no one on this team. Absolutely punch less offense. Another reason going with two defensemen at the draft in the first round IMO was a mistake.

    Also Nolan’s coaching style isn’t helping either. If Hodgson is to blame then Nolan is to blame just as much or even more. I remember seeing Moulson and that first line basically every night on the ice but since Nolan’s come they’ve disappeared.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      What’s up, Jes? :)

      However the team gets a first-line center, they need one desperately. I know the Sabres’ offense is terrible, and you can blame Nolan all you want, but if you had two first-line quality players on this team, you would have one line that could score regardless of how badly the other lines were. Great players get theirs, even on really crappy teams, right? If the Sabres front office still thinks Hodgson will become a great player, we’re in for some long years.

      • Jes

        Oh ya Hodgson was never destined to be a great player. He’ll always be a good player. Honestly his cap for points is about 80 IMO. And that’s with a superstar winger like Vanek on his side.

        But you’ve probably seen less of that first line since Nolan’s took over? I can’t be the only one who sees this. I hate the guys style and honestly the job is more fitted for guy who stresses offense or defense rather than just grinding it out or “hard work” per say.

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          You’re not the only one who sees it, but at the same time, the team has been more competitive since Nolan took over. Whether he is back next year is a whole different story. I just hope the Sabres’ front office personnel don’t honestly think they have a first-line center in Cody Hodgson, although I bet my bottom dollar they do, indeed.

          • qwicwted

            I don’t think management believes Hodgeson is a 1st line center – I think they were hoping that Grigorenko would live up to his potential and become the #1 Center. But I was also saying to myself that Moulson must have pissed Nolan off because sure aren’t seeing much of him. Makes me wonder if the writing is on the wall for him and he’ll be gone soon.
            I also wonder if Nolan is trying to bump Leino into that #1 spot. Its all well and good for us to talk “dream” trades, but again – you have to have something someone wants to make a trade. Right now, I don’t think we have very many, if any, quality assets and Nolan’s philosophy of “working harder” has helped in some respect. Perhaps the goal is to raise the value of such players as Stafford, Leino, Ennis et al.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            I know – the trade talk is just dreams and wishes. The Sabres are not going to grab an elite center unless they hit the jackpot in the draft within the next two seasons. :(

      • Dan

        So Richard I guess you missed the news. Hodgson on the worst team, 2 wins in 25 regulation games, in recent NHL history has 17 points. The #1 center on a very deep Boston team, Kreji, has 18 points. The #1 center on an exciting Montreal team, Plekanec has 15 points. Needless to say Hodgson is no Tavares but then again Tavares is a top 5 to10 center in all of hockey. Buffalo fans have a way of shedding negative light onto their best players. Too often I have heard people bitch and complain about Miller, Vanek and in the past Briere and Hasek.

        Jes is correct about Nolan’s style of Coaching. If Hodgson played for a puck possession team like Detroit under Babcock, his offensive #’s would be far better.

        I also agree with Jes comment about drafting two Defenseman last year. They had a golden opportunity to draft an elite forward, Nichushkin, and instead passed….they took the “Safe is Death” road. In a recent article about the current batch of rookies this year, Eric Bolen writing for SB Nation said the following about Nichushkin:

        “his advanced statistics suggest he’s actually playing the most complete game of any player from his class when it comes to puck possession and pushing that up the ice.”

        Perhaps the new Sabre management will demonstrate some new found testicles.

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          “I also agree with Jes comment about drafting two Defenseman last year.” I know – it’s not like I have made that argument numerous times.

          “So Richard I guess you missed the news.”

          What is it with our readers lately – can’t you make your point without being rude? I mentioned that the Sabres are terrible in the piece, so no, I didn’t miss the news. There are 35 other centers in the NHL, many second or even third line centers, who rank higher than Hodgson, most of whom would still score on this team. The bottom line is, do you think Hodgson is a TRUE first line center? You could just enter into conversation with me, right?

          BTW, Hodgson played in Vancouver and got his points . . . when paired with the Sedin twins, because Vancouver’s management wanted to increase his trade value. Hodgson is a good, second-line center – why is it insulting to say that?!?

          • Dan

            I was not rude and I was just making a point that you are unfair to Hodgson comparing him to a budding super star. 17 points on this God awful team is remarkable. “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.” You say you have nothing against Hodgson and then you say he only ever played well when paired up with the Sedin twins. Did you watch every Canuck’s game and every second played by Hodgson when he was in Vancouver…..I doubt it. The Kassian for Hodgson trade was a steal for the Sabre’s. Once again, Hodgson is playing on the worst team in decades and 17 points is remarkable.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            Well, your post didn’t start out nicely! Obviously I know the Sabres are bad – I have to write about them! lol

            I don’t have anything against Hodgson at all. Pointing out that he is (IMO) a second-line player isn’t insulting; it’s true! You didn’t have to watch every second of every game to know that – everyone who read about the trade knows Vancouver paired him with the Sedin twins to boost his production – and it worked. Yes, the trade worked out for Buffalo – didn’t say otherwise. But the Sabres did NOT get a first-line center in that trade.

            So: no problems with Hodgson. All I have a problem with is the fact that Buffalo seems to think he IS a first-line center. That’s not his fault; it’s the organization’s for over-valuing him, and it will hold this team back for as long as they view him as such. Thanks for the read!

  • davidmuscalo

    It was the intention of Regier that Grigo would be the future first-line center. I don’t believe Regier ever saw Hodgson as the long-term first-line center.

    Of course, Regier was wrong, Grigo will probably never be a first-line center. In the future (after a new GM acquires at true first-line center), he and Hodgson will likely vie for second-line center with ultimately one of them ending up as the third-line center.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Which only proves how badly the Sabres needed to replace Regier years ago. Hodgson has a better shot at playing second than Grigorenko does, IMO. Never been a huge fan of Grigo. Feel bad for the way he has been handled, but never saw superstar in him.

      • davidmuscalo


      • Thomas Eric

        What about gergenson and Larson? Where does that leave them

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          That’s the problem – the Sabres don’t have a lack of centers; they have NO elite centers, just an army of second- and third-line quality guys.

          • Thomas Eric

            I would take gergenson as my second line guy all day

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            Agreed – love Z.

          • Thomas Eric

            Could Larson move to wing?

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            Theoretically. But we’re still not sure whether Girgensons will be a winger or a center. Nolan is still moving him around to see where he plays best. I think Larsson is going to remain a center, based on his defensive abilities.

  • JerrySabresFan

    Thanks for the reads, Rich.

    Let’s play make believe: Who would be a great fit as a future #1 center for this team, and who/what would you like to see management give up to go and get him? Maybe in the 1-2 year time frame, but I’ll leave that up to you.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Oh boy – putting me on the spot, eh? I spent a lot of time last season pleading for the Sabres to make a run for Ryan O’Reilly. The Avalanche were letting him rot in the KHL, and the only reason they brought him back was because Feaster out in Calgary tried to grab him via an offer sheet. He’s physical, plays a two-way game, and wins faceoffs. Colorado has him at left wing this year, and he already has 16 points in 22 games (three games less than Hodgson has played). He can’t be traded until February, but I am willing to bet that the Sabres MAY have been able to make an offer for him if they had included both Vanek and Miller (and possibly a pick, no better than 2nd). The Factor has tons of upside for a team that puts him back at center and makes him the starting center.

      The other two centers I would love to see play for Buffalo are Logan Couture and Tyler Toffoli. Getting one of these guys would take a king’s ransom, however, as they are the future of their franchises. I suppose since we can assume Moulson is walking at the end of this year, the Sabres could offer him, a high draft pick, and another complimentary player such as Ennis or Stafford.

      Problem is, all of these teams are playoff bound, and with the exception of O’Reilly (who I really feel the Avs would have liked to have moved last year) these guys are so instrumental Buffalo would have to give up way too much to get them. :(

  • Doug Wilson

    Halleluiah & Amen!!! Your article is dead-on. I’ve been saying this since I’ve been writing in to you…we’ve needed a #1 center for too long and one that can win face-offs, as well. As you say, Moulson isn’t a bad player, but simply a casualty now of not having a good center man. But he’s just the most recent example.
    If possible, trade some of those #1 & #2 draft picks and Miller, along with Stafford, Ennis and the likes and get a couple of decent center men. I hate to see Miller go, but we can’t lose him for no return. Besides, how much worse can it get?

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Believe me, if I worked in the organization, this problem would have been solved during the offseason!

  • [email protected]

    If we trade anyone, I will make the bet that they turn out to produce for whatever team they end up on. That’s the way it is…

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Yep: Murphy’s law! But that is what happens when you go to a team with poven scorers and good coaches. I’ll take a few of those!!!

    • boonies

      with the exception of the Legendary Drew Stafford who looks slow and clumsy to my eyes…

  • Joe

    Thank god for someone finally agreeing with me that hodgson is not a first and barely a second line center. U also forgpt to add how he wont go into corners or along the boards to even enter into 1 on 1 battles for the puck he shys away and uses his stick and gets penalties bc hes scared to do a little bumping

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Well, I didn’t want to totally focus on the negatives of one player. You’re right, but I’m worried more about the organization’s lack of understanding than Hodgson’s limitations.

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  • Phillyo

    Although your argument that Hodgson’s ‘non elite’ center status has a deleterious effect on Moulson’s production, I find the article gives too much a pass on Matt’s weaknesses. Watching him these past few years, it is evident that aside from being in the slot (he is second to no one), Matt is arguably a liability. He is not a good skater, gets routinely outmuscled for the puck in the corners & looks pretty lost in his own end. Given all his production, he still garnered a scant +/- while being an Isle. A great team guy, & would probably be more suited to the 2nd line on a playoff caliber team.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      You’re probably right – you can’t just blame someone like Hodgson. However, since Moulson has only been with the Sabres for a short period of time, and since he is certainly leaving during the offseason, I don’t want to beat up on the guy, since our lack of a really good center has been, and will continue to be, a serious problem. You make good points, though!

      • Phillyo

        appreciate that. We loved him on the Island, he was a great ‘feel good’ story & he came on the scene by complete surprise & helped pull us out of the basement. But as the league understood that you have to pay attention to him when he’s on the ice, they have pretty much shut him down 5on5. He was best used on the PP. I cannot imagine him getting first line $ if so, than a gm did not do his homework. I too take no pleasure to beat up on an overachieving class guy. But as they say in Bwooklyn…’it is, wat it is…” :)

  • Doug Wilson

    Well Richard, the G/M job is still open…maybe you got a shot! All kidding aside, I often wonder if the Sabre’s exec’s read these columns like Sabre Noise? Maybe they should or if they are, they’re not listening.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Hey – reading a site like this couldn’t hurt, right? :)

  • BryanD

    Hodgson hasn’t developed enough to be a stand alone first liner Moulson needs to be the player he was in long island. But his team is a group of second liners and third liners…this team needs a key center and not some drafted kid but a tried and true first line center . Trade Miller or wait till free agency and throw some money out there

  • Doug Wilson

    That’s exactly my point…it wouldn’t hurt a bit.. In my opinion, a lot of good advice comes from the fans, via these columns, and there are some pretty smart fans out there that really know this game.
    I’m pleased with the new mgmt so far, but it wouldn’t hurt for them to eaves drop on the fan’s opinions either.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Yeah, we’s is pretty smart ’round here! :) I certainly agree – there are plenty of fans who do know hockey quite well.

      On a side note, I was called the worst, most uninformed hockey writer on the web the other day. Guess I had my thinking cap on when I wrote this piece! lol

  • Doug Wilson

    Missed that “uniformed hockey writer” comment, but it sounds like it’s more personal related (on their part) than hockey knowledge and it seems way overboard. It also sounds immature on their part.
    Look, I don’t agree with everything you write either and vice-versa, but w/o the bantering back & forth would take all the fun out of it!

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Definitely – no one is going to agree with everything I write, I’m not going to agree with every reader, and we all accept that when we come here. Pretty much 99% of you guys who come here are smart hockey fans who can disagree with me without getting personal, and that’s why I always chip in when it comes to the comments, even if someone strongly disagrees with me. Often, I have more fun down here than I did in my writing up there!!!

      • boonies

        Rich may I suggest a story?
        It seems to the naked eye that the higher a player is drafted the better they are (are you taking notes? :p) With my demonstrated command of the obvious I wonder …
        How many of our enigmatic onagain/offagain types like Stafford ,CoHo ,Myers and etc. are in the draft day 10-20th spots where it seems to be feast or famine?
        Detroit has shown you can draft only half the time in the first round AT ALL in their 20 year playoff run and come up with a serious team; they traded for needed parts and almost never in the Top Five over that period of years…might be a nice story/subject to e xplore.
        Happy Thanksgiving!

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          Man, I’ve been arguing with some readers about the Sabres’ over-reliance on the draft for months! However, as other readers have pointed out, you have to have items of value in order to make solid trades. I would love to see the Sabres use some of these picks they have stockpiled to make a blockbuster trade, but they seem content to keep drafting in the hopes that they hit a home run.

          Of course, if they keep playing this badly, at least they will get one draft in which they pick in the top five! lol

  • Doug Wilson

    To Phillyo…I agree that Moulson has weaknesses, but the point is, when you have a talented center (like Taveras) to get him the puck, he’ll put it in the net more often than not and that is the Sabre’s #1 problem…scoring!!
    You can’t deny that putting him with an average center like Hodgson proves the point. (Hodgson is young and hopefully he will improve at his position).
    I see you’re an Islander fan, which is great. However, you need to be a Sabre fan to see what we’ve seen, over the past few years, with the lack of decent centers, as Richard’s article points out.
    I also wonder how this has impacted other players, i.e. Stafford, who we know can score and over the past few years has dried up! Sabre’s fans patience has worn thin on Stafford, including myself, but maybe he’s not entirely to blame?

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