Matt Moulson thought he'd be an Islander for the rest of his career. The trade that sent him to the Sabres on Oct. 27 still stings when the topic comes up. Moulson has since been traded to the Wild and comes to Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night for the first time in a visiting uniform.
"I made some of the best friends I've had in my life with that team. We were a pretty close group," Moulson told Newsday on Sunday evening, just after the Wild landed in Boston for a game Monday night with the Bruins. "To be taken away from that was tough. It was extremely tough on myself and my family, especially coming out of the blue like it did for me."
Moulson, whose 118 goals are tied for 20th most in franchise history, was 11 games into this season and playing in his usual spot on the left side of John Tavares when the Islanders traded him along with a conditional 2014 first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek.
The seeds of that deal were sown in the summer. Moulson, entering the final season of a three-year, $9.4-million deal, was hoping to start talks on a new contract. General manager Garth Snow did not like the Moulson camp's initial numbers, believed to be about $6 million per year, and the talks were brief. Neither side was pleased as the season began.
Even so, Moulson had grown from a ninth-round draft pick and afterthought in the Kings organization to a perennial 30-goal scorer with the Islanders. Tavares and Kyle Okposo weren't just fellow top scorers. Each is godfather to one of Moulson's children.
Moulson wasn't in Buffalo long before the Sabres cleaned house. GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston were fired. Pat LaFontaine came on board and hired Ted Nolan and Tim Murray, but then LaFontaine left, too. Another trade was in the works for Moulson.
"They were very up front and clear which direction they were headed," said Moulson, who had 11 goals and 18 assists in 44 games with the Sabres. "The second time around, it's a lot easier."
Moulson went to Minnesota for a pair of second-round draft picks late on deadline day, a few minutes after Vanek went from the Isles to Montreal. Moulson has a goal and an assist in six games with the Wild, which has the seventh-most points in the Western Conference.
"Your goal is to make the playoffs and play for a Cup, obviously, so this is a good situation," he said. "It's been a pretty crazy year for me, so it's exciting to have this chance."
Tuesday night will bring a bit more craziness. He will have a Coliseum suite filled with friends and family and an opposing team filled with friends as well. The Islanders have not said what they will do to acknowledge Moulson, but there surely will be some video tribute.
Okposo will be on the ice, but Tavares of course will not, having been sidelined for the season with a torn left MCL.
"It will be weird, but it would probably have been weirder if Johnny were out there," Moulson said.
As for ill will toward Snow or the Islanders organization, Moulson said there's none of that.
"I'd be wasting my energy wishing bad on anyone," he said. "I still want my friends to do well."