BUFFALO, N.Y. — The shake-up is starting in Buffalo, where Sabres general manager Jason Botterill began making moves in a bid to improve a vastly underperforming team on Monday.
High-priced and little-used veteran forward Matt Moulson was waived for the purpose of being demoted to the minors. And Botterill pulled off a trade by acquiring forward Scott Wilson from the Detroit Red Wings to add a role player with Stanley Cup-winning experience to his roster. In exchange, the Red Wings acquired Buffalo’s fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft for Wilson.
Moulson’s demotion, though not surprising, provided a jolt to a team in the midst of a 1-9-2 slump that’s dropped the Sabres into last place in the overall standings. Buffalo’s offence has all but evaporated after being shutout in a franchise-worst three consecutive games before finally scoring in a 5-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"With the position we’re in, we’ve got to make some difficult decisions about our team and our lineup," coach Phil Housley told reporters before the team travelled to Colorado for a game on Tuesday.
Should Moulson clear waivers on Tuesday, he’ll be assigned to Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
The 34-year-old Moulson has no points in 14 games and has been a healthy scratch in seven of past nine outings.
He’s an 11-year veteran who is in the fourth year of a $25 million contract. The demotion leaves Moulson’s long-term future with the Sabres uncertain, though he’s due to make $5 million next season.
Moulson’s departure caught several Sabres by surprise, including star centre Jack Eichel, who roomed with the player and his family during his rookie season two years ago.
"I think more than anything, obviously, we’re not in a good spot as a team with where we are," Eichel said of the message the move sent. "You obviously never want to see something to happen to somebody you’re so close to, but at the end of the day it’s a business and you never know what’s going to happen."
Moulson has 46 goals and 123 points in 297 games during two separate stints with the Sabres over the past four-plus seasons. His most productive seasons came during a five-year stretch with the New York Islanders, in which he had 118 goals and 223 points in 304 games.
Wilson is no stranger to Botterill, who was the Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager before being hired by the Sabres in May. Wilson was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2011 and played parts of four seasons with the Penguins before being dealt to Detroit in October.
He has no points in 20 games this season and 13 goals and 32 points in 123 career NHL games. Wilson did have three goals and six points in 20 playoff games in helping the Penguins win their second consecutive Stanley Cup last season.
"As a two-time Stanley Cup champion, his experience will be an asset both on and off the ice," Botterill said.
In a separate move, Buffalo also promoted forward Evan Rodrigues from Rochester and demoted forward Kyle Criscuolo.
Rodrigues is a speedy playmaker who missed the start of the season because of a hand injury. He’s scored five goals and 10 points in eight games with Rochester since being cleared to play.