BUFFALO – Having grown up in nearby Mississauga, Ont., about a 90-minute drive, Sabres winger Matt Moulson said he’s well-acquainted with his new city.
“I used to love coming to Bills games,” Moulson said this morning inside the First Niagara Center, less than a day after being acquired with two high draft picks from the New York Islanders for co-captain Thomas Vanek. “So it’s a great city. Who knows, it could be for a long time. We’ll see what they have in store.”
Like Vanek, Moulson’s an unrestricted free agent following the season. Given the Sabres’ sorry state, the rebuilding club might just dish the 29-year-old again in a few months.
Still, Moulson said it’s “exciting” to be part of the young group.
“I’m ready to go,” he said.
Ironically, Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer, will wear Vanek’s old No. 26 and skate in his spot on the left wing beside center Cody Hodgson tonight against coach Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars.
“I’m sure I’ll be around the net as usual,” Moulson said. “I don’t venture too far from there.”
Moulson joked he hopes Ruff’s return to Buffalo overshadows his night. He took a 4:30 a.m. ride to the airport and arrived in time to skate with his new teammates this morning. He was on the couch Sunday night when he learned of the trade, something he called “shocking.”
“I’ve never been traded, so everything’s kind of a whirlwind right now,” said Moulson, who’s wife stayed in New York with their baby boy.
Now that he’s gone, the Sabres will acknowledge that, yes, they knew the slick Vanek, their top scorer and arguably best player, was going be traded at some point during this trying season.
“It just was the timing of it was quicker than people would’ve thought,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “Obviously, losing a player that has meant so much to the organization over the years is tough.”
Winger Steve Ott, now the Sabres’ regular captain, said the team had “been prepared for this.”
“There’s been no smokescreens or anything that’s gone on from the organization,” Ott said. “From the top down, I think everything’s been truthful from what’s going to kind of continue to go on here.”
Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder added: “We got a good player here. I think we lost one. It is for the future. I think that’s why we did it.”
But in Moulson, the Sabres have a huge asset for present.
“When you lose Thomas, it’s good to get somebody back that has that presence,” said Rolston, who said he watched a lot of video on Moulson and talked to his brother, Brian, his old teammate on Long Island.
Rolston said Moulson’s “really professional about what he does.”
“He’s in great shape,” he said. “He works hard. We want those type of players around our younger players.”
Sabres winger Drew Stafford, one of only three Sabres regulars left from the 2006-07 Presidents’ Trophy team – goalie Ryan Miller and Tallinder, who was just brought back, are the others – said it’s sad seeing Vanek leave.
“It’s just the way things are going now,” Stafford said. “At the same time, it’s a business. It’s the unfortunate side of things. You’re going to lose guys, lose some great friends, some great teammates. But at the same time, you have to find a way to move forward.”
The Sabres’ rebuild, Stafford said, is “definitely hard.”
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s just the direction we’re going.”
Update: Vanek spoke with reporters this morning in Long Island following his first practice.
The Austrian called the trade “a bit of a shock,” although he wasn’t surprised and he “knew it was going to happen sooner or later.”
“We traded pretty much every veteran,” Vanek said. “The message was clear they were going for draft picks and youth.”
He added: “I enjoyed my time there, but I didn’t want to be a part of that (rebuilding).”