BUFFALO – The news the Sabres would waive Matt Moulson hit 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 Monday 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 for years.
This season, expected to be a year of growth with a new coach and general manager, they rank dead last in the NHL with 16 points. They’ve lost four straight games and 11 of the last 12 entering Tueday’s road tilt against the Colorado Avalanche.
They need to make moves. Moulson going first wasn’t surprising. The graying winger, 34, has zero points and a minus-9 rating in 14 games this season.
To Okposo, removing a popular veteran sends a strong message to the bottom-feeding team.
“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 GM Jason Botterill for two weeks. As the Sabres practiced without Moulson on Monday morning, the team issued a one-sentence press release saying he would be waived at noon “for the purpose of an assignment.”
“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.
Still, waiving Moulson was difficult. 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.
Expect more moves as Botterill remakes the team and fixes mistakes from the previous regime. Shortly after waiving Moulson, the Sabres acquired forward Scott Wilson from the Detroit Red Wings.
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, whose lack of speed hurt him, and playing him sparingly on the fourth line. He played two final games before sitting out Saturday’s 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh.
If Moulson clears waivers today, the Sabres can trim $1.025 million from the salary cap, according to capfriendly.com. They’ll likely assign him to the Rochester Americans. He could have his final season bought out following the year.
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.”
Moulson hasn’t played in the AHL since 2008-09, when the Los Angeles Kings sent him to the Manchester Monarchs. After the Islanders signed him to a two-way contract in July 2009, he quickly morphed into one of the league’s top scorers, compiling 97 goals over a three-year stretch.
The Sabres acquired Moulson in early 2013-14 before dealing him to the Minnesota Wild. They re-signed him months later.