Matt Moulson beats San Jose goalie Martin Jones on Feb. 8. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Waiving Matt Moulson difficult for Sabres

BUFFALO – The news the Sabres would waive Matt Moulson hit Sabres winger Kyle Okposo hard.

Okposo spoke emotionally and looked shaken discussing the likely end to his best friend’s long Sabres career. Moulson and Okposo became close years ago as New York Islanders teammates. They’re even godfathers to each other’s children.

“It’s tough when you lose a guy like that, he’s been my best friend for a while,” Okposo said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “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.”

It’s a business the hapless Sabres have been failing at all season. They rank dead last in the NHL with 16 points and have lost 11 of the last 12 games.

They need to make moves. The graying Moulson going first wasn’t surprising. The winger, 34, has zero points and a minus-9 rating in 14 games this season.

To Okposo, removing a popular veteran from the team sends a strong message.

“Get your (expletive) together,” Okposo said. “I don’t know, win some games. That’s what happens in this business, if you don’t win games, if you don’t have results, good people pay the price for it, myself included.

“I got to pick my game up, everybody’s got to pick their game up, we got to find ways to win. We’re in a results business, business of winning.”

Sabres coach Phil Housley said he had been discussing the move with general manager Jason Botterill for a couple of weeks. The Sabres officially waived Moulson at noon.

“The direction that our team is going, we have to make roster spots and try to push some other buttons and try to get some internal competition within our team,” Housley said.

He added: “With the position we’re in, we got to make some decisions about our team and our lineup, and sometimes they’re tough decisions.”

Housley said the Sabres “let a good person go.”

“Under the circumstances that we’re in, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of guys affected with the decision, maybe emotionally, maybe it’s motivationally,” he said.

Moulson’s popularity possibly helped him stick around longer. The three-time 30-goal scorer mostly struggled after former GM Tim Murray awarded him a five-year, $25 million contract July 1, 2014.

Moulson scored 35 goals in 253 games under the deal. In his career season, 2011-12, he scored 36 goals for the Islanders.

After an eight-goal season in 2015-16, Moulson rebounded with 14 goals a year ago, although he scored 11 times on the power play.

The Sabres had been scratching Moulson and playing him sparingly on the fourth line before giving him another opportunity last week. He played two games before sitting out Saturday’s 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh.

If Moulson clears waivers, the Sabres can trim $1.025 million from the salary cap, according to capfriendly.com. The Sabres will likely assign him to the Rochester Americans.

How did Moulson handle a difficult situation this season?

“Like a pro,” Okposo said. “I think you would go around and ask every single guy in this locker room (and) they don’t have one bad thing to say about Matt Moulson. The way he is as a person and the way that he carried himself at the rink every day through a very tough situation over the past few years, he’s a good man.”

Moulson invited Sabres center Jack Eichel to live with his family as a teenage rookie two years ago.

“It’s tough, he’s a good buddy,” Eichel said. “I owe a lot to him. He’s been there for me since the day I was drafted. Obviously, I’ve become very close with Matt, his family, his wife, his two kids. They’ve basically been like family to me.

“I feel for him, one of the best guys you can play with. I don’t think there’s a bad word to be said about him.”

The Sabres also recalled forward Evan Rodrigues this morning and sent center Kyle Criscuolo to the Amerks.

Housley said defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (flu) likely won’t fly with the Sabres to Colorado, where they continue their four-game road trip Tuesday.

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