- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It’s hard to believe that Matt Moulson is in his first trip back to Long Island since the surprising blockbuster trade that sent him from the New York Islanders to the Buffalo Sabres in October.
But the former core forward is on his third team of the season now, playing for the Minnesota Wild after being moved by the Sabres at the trade deadline earlier this month.
The whirlwind season hasn’t left the 30-year-old Moulson much time to process all of the events that have transpired since he left, but there appears to be little love lost between he and his former club.
Though he still keeps in touch with some of the lifelong friends he made on Long Island -- John Tavares and Kyle Okposo in particular -- it doesn’t sound like there will be an Islanders reunion in his future.
“It’s been said that I wasn’t in the future plans, so I don’t think that will quickly change,” Moulson said. “I’m just going to concentrate on helping Minnesota to win right now.”
Moulson still sounded shocked about how it all went down.
“It definitely kind of caught me off guard,” Moulson said. “At the time, I thought I’d be here for the rest of my career. We never had discussions about any future plans or anything. That kind of caught me off guard.”
Moulson entered the 2013-14 season on the last of a three-year $9.4 million deal looking for an extension that would keep him with the team for years to come. With the Islanders, Moulson had blossomed into a three-time 30-goal scorer and forged irrefutable chemistry with the team’s star, and his best friend, Tavares. But, the two sides never had substantive contract talks, despite Moulson’s willingness to stay and forgo unrestricted free agency.
It was a stunner, both for Moulson and his family -- he and wife, Alicia, had recently celebrated the birth of their son, George -- and for Islanders fans, who viewed the gritty goal scorer as a vital component of the team’s future. Moulson was shipped to Buffalo, along with a pair of picks, in exchange for Thomas Vanek. Vanek, a pending unrestricted free agent, was peddled to Montreal at the deadline.
At the time, it was a deal that was heavily scrutinized. After the trade deadline, GM Garth Snow came under fire for what was considered a pretty underwhelming return on Vanek, who rejected a lucrative long-term offer by the Islanders earlier this season. Regardless, neither Vanek or Moulson are around anymore and the Islanders appear headed for yet another bottom-five finish.
Simply put, it’s not what Moulson had envisioned heading into the season, particularly after the team’s competitive series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring -- a postseason appearance that appeared to signal a step forward for the long-struggling club.
“When I was here and how close I felt to the guys and to the team, I didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” Moulson. “I always figured in my mind that something would get figured out and I would’ve stayed. I told myself it could happen, but I didn’t think it would happen that early. But that’s the business of hockey.”
In his third jersey of the season, Moulson is well-acquainted with the business of hockey now. He’ll get another taste of that Tuesday night when he faces some of his old Islanders buddies at Nassau Coliseum.
“Obviously, this game will be a little more special," he said. “I’m sure once I get out there, it’ll be a little weird.”
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance