Let’s be honest: The 2015-16 season was a pretty bad one for Buffalo Sabres forward Matt Moulson.
A three-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL, Moulson’s production has plummeted the past two seasons and seemed to hit rock bottom this past season when he managed just eight goals and 13 assists in 81 games for the Sabres.
That level of production was by far the worst of his career since he become a full-time NHL player seven years ago. Along with that drop in production, he also saw his ice-time drop all the way down to under 12 minutes per game — a massive fall for a player that was a top-line player in the league not that long ago — and was at times relegated to fourth-line duty. He was a healthy scratch at one point and at times received some harsh, public criticism from his coach and GM.
He is looking to change that this season.
Moulson said on Friday (via John Vogl of the Buffalo News) that he has a chip on his shoulder entering camp and that he is “coming in to prove a lot of people wrong who maybe lost a little belief.”
The Sabres could certainly use some kind of a bounce back season from Moulson.
Not only were they 26th in the league in goals scored last season, but they are still on the hook for the remainder of Moulson’s contract that runs through the end of the 2018-19 season and carries a salary cap hit of $5 million per year. Obviously with that sort of investment they are going to want more than eight goals in 81 games, and it certainly makes him one of the guys on the team that is under some pressure entering the season.
The problem is going to be whether or not he can recapture some of that scoring touch he had a few years ago when he was a steady 30-goal, 50-point player. Given his age (he turns 33 in November) and the way his production has declined over the past couple of years the harsh reality is that he is probably never going to score at that level on a regular basis ever again.
That doesn’t mean he can’t still be a useful player and be more productive than he was last season.
Even when he was at his peak his game was never really about speed or picking corners from 40 feet out. It was about being around the net and getting garbage goals around the crease, something that should not completely abandon him even as he starts to hit his mid-30s. Even though his scoring numbers have dropped in recent years, his defensive performance (at least from a numbers perspective) was still pretty strong last season. When he was on the ice during 5-on-5 play he was among the Sabres’ best forwards when it came to limiting opponents shot attempts and goals.
Given that, the best-case scenario for the Sabres might be Moulson transitioning into a different type of role because the days of counting on him to be a top-line scorer might have already come to a close.