Matt Moulson, who was acquired via trade from the Sabres on Wednesday, is a three-time, 30-goal scorer in the NHL and should add more punch to the Wild, which ranks 25th in the league in scoring at 2.36 goals per game.
Jerome Miron/Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the second consecutive year, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher was active right at the NHL’s trade deadline and once again his trading partner resided in Buffalo.
Fletcher, after hinting at such Tuesday after trading for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, made another move Wednesday, acquiring forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick from the Buffalo Sabres for forward Torrey Mitchell, a second-round draft pick in 2014 (previously acquired from Winnipeg) and a second-round pick in 2016.
"To be honest with you, when I drove in this morning, I had no idea we would be able to make a trade," Fletcher said after the trade was formally approved by the league Wednesday. Fletcher added. "I made some calls, I was kicking tires on a few different players and I started to realize very early in the morning that we might have a chance."
As he stated the previous day after trading for Bryzgalov, Fletcher said the key was not giving up a first-round pick or young prospects such as Mathew Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel, three players Fletcher said were mentioned in trade talks by other teams.
Moulson, 30, is a three-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL and should add more punch to the Wild, which rank 25th in the league in scoring at 2.36 goals per game despite a strong 2014 run in which Minnesota has put itself securely in seventh in the Western Conference as the wild-card leader with five straight wins.
"We have been better offensively lately, but when you look at our club, you probably wouldn’t describe us as a high-end offensive team," Fletcher said. "I think that’s fair. We’re very good defensively. We’re sixth in the league defensively. We usually limit the chances against. Coaches do a great job, the players buy into how we want to play. But if we can add somebody that can help us score another goal every other game or something to that effect, we think that’ll make a big difference."
An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Moulson was traded to Buffalo in October from the New York Islanders in a deal that included Thomas Vanek. Moulson, who has 135 goals in seven NHL seasons, had 15 goals and 29 assists in 47 games last year after the lockout.
He had six goals and three assists in 11 games with New York this season before the trade, and has tallied 11 goals and 18 assists in 44 games for Buffalo.
"I think the rumors out there had me traded about 300 times by the time I got into Buffalo," Moulson said. "It’s tough not to look at, but I’m extremely happy I ended up in Minnesota. I’m thankful for everything the Sabres did for me this year, but it’s great to be part of the Wild."
Both sides wouldn’t speculate on a longer stay via an extension for Moulson in Minnesota than the 20 games in 37 days to end the regular season beginning Saturday in Dallas and the playoffs.
Moulson said he hasn’t thought about being an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Fletcher said the Wild are "open-minded" but also talked about the salary cap space in place for next season, which increased further by losing the final season of Mitchell’s contract for 2014-15.
"Matt Moulson’s a good hockey player," Fletcher said. "He’s scored goals in this league. He’s an intelligent player, moves the puck well, he’s gritty, he gets to the front of the net, he’s a guy we think will thrive in the playoff drive that we’re undergoing now and if we’re able to get into the playoffs to help us there. This is a move made to help us win games right now.
"To me it was very important to recognize what our players have done. Again, we weren’t prepared to give up our top prospects or our first-round picks, but I felt if we could move anything else to help our team this year and to show our team this year that we believe in them, to reward them for what they’ve done in the last two months in particular, I felt it was very important. It’s very important in this business to send messages and our players have played hard. Our coaches have done a great job. Who knows where this team will go, but I’m pretty excited to see the journey."
Fletcher said the team has scouted Moulson for several weeks and all of the Wild’s top scouts had been through Buffalo to see Moulson play, where he had taken Vanek’s role as a top-line player.
Moulson, who should slot into one of the Wild’s top two lines, said he’s more prepared for the move to Minnesota after being traded once already this season.
"I think I’ve gone through the most change I’ve ever had in my career so far this year with being traded from the Islanders and going through some changes in Buffalo," Moulson said, later adding: "But I guess it’s been rumored for a while that they’d probably try to shop me off again, so I’m definitely a lot more ready for it this time than my first time around and something I’ve prepared for, got my family prepared for.
"We’re just excited to be a part of the Wild family now."
McCormick, 30, will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season after spending parts of the past four seasons with the Sabres. A center, McCormick had one goal and four assists in 29 games with Buffalo this season. McCormick has 19 goals and 40 assists in 358 NHL games over nine seasons with the Colorado Avalanche and Sabres.
"He’s a hard-nosed player," Moulson said of McCormick. "He’ll do anything for his teammates and the team, and I just think when I learned I was going with Cody I was maybe a little bummed out for him (because McCormick had been in Buffalo for four seasons) but extremely excited that he would come with because he’s a hard-nosed player that only knows how to play the game hard, and he’s been around at least for a few years. So he’s a great teammate and a real great, hard-nosed player."
Mitchell, 29, has been with Minnesota the past two seasons after signing a three-year, $5.7 million contract as a free agent in 2012. He had one goal and eight assists in 58 games for the Wild this season and four goals and four assists last season while playing primarily in a third- or fourth-line role for Minnesota.
Mitchell had reportedly asked for a trade this week, but Fletcher refused to speak about any trade request.
"I don’t know if I want to go there and even confirm or deny that, but looking at our situation going forward, it was opportunity for us to create some cap space," Fletcher said. "That’s the best way to put it. For next year, to move a contract and create a little bit more flexibility, and certainly this will be an opportunity for Torrey to go to Buffalo and play a bigger role, and hopefully reignite his career."
Last season, Fletcher made the big move with time running out on the deadline to acquire forward Jason Pominville from the Sabres for a first-round draft pick, which turned into defenseman Nikita Zadorov, and prospects Johan Larsson and Matthew Hackett. Minnesota got a fourth-round draft pick back in the deal, which was used to acquire Bryzgalov from Edmonton to add goaltending depth.
Pominville, who leads the Wild with 22 goals and 42 points this season, signed a five-year, $28 million contract extension with Minnesota in October.
"Last year with Pominville, he had a year left on his contract so we were prepared to pay a big price," Fletcher said. "We really felt we needed to add more talent and with Pominville you’re getting a guy that was a captain in this league, who has a tremendous amount of character and a very good two-way player. But he’s also a talented offensive player. We wanted more talent to play with (Mikko) Koivu and (Zach) Parise and (Ryan) Suter and to play with our top end guys. . . . This year there was a little bit more risk, I suppose, because Moulson’s contract is expiring. But yet any time you’re paying second-round picks for good hockey players, to me it’s a really good move. We’re very comfortable with the gamble."