For years, many hockey fans and media – including some voices within THN’s editorial department – have made the argument that Matt Moulson’s success in the NHL has been solely attributable to the development of New York Islanders superstar center John Tavares. As THN copy editor Matt Larkin said on Twitter, we’re going to find out whether that’s true now that the Isles have pulled the trigger on a trade (http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/thomas-vanek-shipped-to-long-island-for-matt-moulson/) that sent Moulson and draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for star winger Thomas Vanek.
Personally, I’ve liked Moulson’s game for a long time and don’t put much stock in the notion his prowess is a byproduct of Tavares’ brilliance. If it were that easy for the Isles captain or any elite NHL center to bestow a boatload of points on linemates, you’d see a never-ending parade of low-salaried pluggers and grinders placed on No. 1 lines. Moulson has put up three consecutive seasons of at least 30 goals prior to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign – and last year, he produced offense at a nearly point-per-game pace (15 goals and 44 points in 47 games).
In addition, Moulson is one of the most durable, level-headed players whose job it is to stand in front of the opposition’s net on a night-to-night basis. The one game he missed last season was due to the flu and he didn’t miss any games in the previous three seasons. Moreover, Moulson had a combined 10 minutes in penalties from 2011-13; if you need someone who can score goals from the dirty areas of the ice and won’t put you on the penalty kill, you could do a heck of a lot worse that the 29-year-old Toronto native.
Moulson will be pursued by many teams between now and the March 5 trade deadline and not simply because, as a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, he’s not going to burden any team’s salary cap over the long term. He’ll be dealt because there’s little chance of him remaining with the moribund Sabres and because other GMs recognize he can finish plays. He won’t be the final piece of any team’s championship puzzle, but Moulson isn’t nearly as much of a coattail-rider as his detractors would have you believe.
Playing in the shadow of a phenom does provide players with some refreshing shade to grow their game, but it also can hide their true value.