No Pizza For Spicoli: Saying Goodbye to Matt Moulson

Yo! Pizza over here, dude! - Christopher Pasatieri

Matt Moulson meant more than just goals to the Islanders.

I didn't expect to write two odes to ex-Islanders this weekend. But I guess that's how it goes.

The trade of Matt Moulson to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek is, at this moment - less than an hour after the deal went down, getting mixed reviews. Some see it as an tantalizing upgrade for John Tavares, some see it as a step sideways and some (most?) are wondering how this addresses the Islanders' goaltending and defensive issues.

All of that remains to be seen. More immediately, Moulson's removal means the closing of a chapter for the Islanders. Not the one about building a contender, because that one's still going on.

The chapter that closed was a fable. One in which Cinderella's Fairy Godmother gets her to the ball, she dances with the prince, they fall in love, she becomes a beloved and productive princess* and tells her evil stepmother and stepsisters to get bent because she's never going back to that shithole ever again.

On July 6, 2009, Matt Moulson signed a one-year two-way contract with the Islanders. A Penguins draft pick in 2003, he basically bounced all over the hockey map before finally making the NHL with the Kings, who signed him as a free agent. He scored six goals over two seasons with Los Angeles. They let him walk and the Islanders snapped him up. The hockey world did not tremble at the news.

And from that moment on, he found the back of the net again and again and again and again. His game wasn't elegant or electrifying. Yes, he played on a line with hometown friend John Tavares. But those pucks don't get behind goalies by themselves. Someone had to whack them in while falling down, with ogres hanging on their back or by silently sneaking behind everyone and shooting before anyone knew what happened. That last one was my favorite move.

Last year, when I decided to finally commit to my first Islanders jersey purchase since 2001, my choice was Matt Moulson. Three straight 30-goal seasons, a remarkable achievement of consistency in today's NHL, meant that Moulson was no flash in the pan. Wearing his name on my back wasn't going to be an ironic joke a few years from now. He was a productive and proud Islander, much like my previously personalized jersey, a dark blue Michael Peca No. 27.

His generous, easy-going demeanor - including a running gag around Lighhouse Hockey about Moulson being an updated version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Jeff Spicoli - was just icing on the cake.

But since then, and through another solid half-season of 15 goals in 48 games, I came to realize that Moulson meant more than just goals. Everyone, including myself, had taken Moulson for granted and simply expected him to score a bunch of goals every year because that's just what he does. We had lost sight of what he really was.

Every NHL team signs minor league free agents every year. Somebody's gotta fill those roster spots and that cap space. Most of those players remain minor leaguers. Some come up to the NHL and become responsible fourth liners, or third liners if the team is talent deficient. Every once in a while, one of those guys has a good performance in a playoff game and his parents or wife get to shine in the spot light for a night or two.

Not Moulson. Here was an anonymous AHLer, signed for peanuts to a two-way contract, who lined up against the NHL's best for five seasons (missing a grand total of one (1) game the entire time) and scored dozens of goals every single year.

It doesn't matter if his center was John Tavares, Bryan Trottier or Bozo the Clown. Moulson produced. Wind him up, send him over the boards and he'd head to the net and wait to knock an errant rebound or bouncing puck behind yet another goalie.

Thirty NHL general managers want this to happen to them. To uncover that true gift that keeps on giving. Not a guy who got hot after the team was well out of the playoffs and cashed in before disappearing the next season. Not a guy who skates like Bob Bourne one week and Bobcat Goldthwait the next.

Moulson went from the scrapheap to the first line and never looked back. Even this season, where he was moved up and down the line-up in order to find Tavares some chemistry with others, Moulson just scored goals all the time.

Some will think it was dumb luck on the part of Garth Snow that he struck gold with Moulson. No way Snow could have known what he had just signed. Or, Snow knew exactly what he was doing, signing a guy who had scored goals at every level and who just needed a regular spot to show he belonged in the NHL. We will never know the truth because when the Islanders signed Moulson, none of us had ever heard of the guy. The story now will most certainly be colored by whoever's telling it.

Snow's gone to the bargain bin since, picking up Michael Grabner, Thomas Hickey and Colin McDonald and making them solid regulars on a playoff team. But with due respect to those guys, their rides from nowhere to Nassau Coliseum aren't nearly as long and remarkable as Moulson's.

Thomas Vanek is not the fairy tale. He's a fifth overall pick that's been a dynamic, copious goal-scorer since college. He was a lock to be a star. And now that he's an Islander, he's expected to do what stars do and help the team take the next step to contender status. I, and everyone else reading this probably, hopes that he does that.

No one knows what happens to Matt Moulson this season and into the future. But I know I'll miss him because I may never see his story play out again. The good news is, I've got the jersey. And whenever I put that jersey on, I'll remember the story and the man and smile.

* - No Lady Byng jokes, please. This is serious business.

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