Should the New York Islanders Lock Up Matt Moulson Long-Term?


Apr 16, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders left wing

Matt Moulson

(26) reacts after scoring against Florida Panthers goalie

Jacob Markstrom

(35) during the first period of an NHL game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders are in no way under financial constraints when it comes to fielding a roster that comes in under the NHL’s $64.3 million salary cap for the 2013-14 season. (That is, unless you count the in-house spending restrictions imposed by team owner Charles Wang, who has more or less mandated that GM Garth Snow spend only what’s necessary to reach the cap floor since Snow took office in 2006.)

Regardless of how you view the organization’s financial situation, the Islanders are one of the league’s better-positioned teams when it comes to salary cap space. In short, the Isles have immense flexibility to sign free agent players, re-sign their own talent, or both of the above.

At least, on paper.

So when it comes to re-upping their own guys to cap-friendly, long-term deals, it’s no surprise that many of those deals get done with little or no squabbling between team management and the player in question.

Case in point: Matt Moulson.

Going into the final year of his current three-year, $9.4 million contract, the 29-year-old Moulson told Newsday’s Arthur Staple that he wasn’t concerned about the prospect of playing his contract year without negotiations on an extension having taken place:

Currently, the Isles have several core players inked to long-term deals through at least the 2015-16 season: Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, Michael Grabner, Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares.

With that many players in the fold, does it make sense for the Islanders to lock up Moulson as well? Or will his performance this season dictate the front office’s next move? Snow seems content to hand out multi-year deals to the players who fit the Isles’ system, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Snow would trade Moulson to another club.

Moulson’s current contract carries a cap hit of approximately $3.13 million, making his production over the life of the deal an absolute bargain. He recorded 69 points (36G, 33A) in 2011-12—good for 22nd in the NHL—and 44 points (15G, 29A) in the lockout-shorted 2012-13 season.

Even before signing his current contract, Moulson had seasons of 48 points (30G, 18A) and 53 points (31G, 22A) to his credit. After the 2011-12 season, he became the first Isles player since Zigmund Palffy in 1997-98 to record three consecutive 30-goal seasons.

And to top it all off, since joining the Islanders in 2009, he’s played in all of the team’s games except one. At the time, Moulson held the organization’s third longest consecutive-games-played streak at 284 until he sat out with the flu last season on Apr. 6.

Moulson is a dependable 30-goal man who shares great chemistry with Tavares on the team’s top line. For the type of money Moulson is making, his on-ice production is something most NHL GMs would kill for. And when you throw in his off-ice attitude—repeatedly saying that he loves the team and truly wants to remain a part of it—a contract extension after this season practically writes itself.

For comparison, Moulson’s 2013-14 cap hit is similar to that of Washington’s Joel Ward (33 years old), Dallas’s Rich Peverley (31) and Los Angeles’s Dustin Brown (28).

But production-wise, Moulson far outpaces all three of his salary-cap comparables. He’s a career 0.696 points-per-game player in the regular season, a number much higher than the career averages of Ward (0.388 PPG), Peverley (0.555) or Brown (0.605).

The knock on Moulson is that his style of play isn’t deserving of the big raise he’ll likely be in line for next offseason. His defensive capability is sorely lacking, he doesn’t have world-class skating ability, and most of his goals come from rebounds in close to the net.

All that being said, the NHL doesn’t award “style points” if a player scores goals that are more aesthetically pleasing, and while a player’s plus-minus rating is a general indicator of his defensive skill, it’s not the be-all end-all in the world of statistics.

Moulson is a good fit within the Islanders’ system, nicely complementing Tavares’s playmaking ability up top. And even when Tavares decides to exert his will on a game by shooting first instead of passing, Moulson has awareness and skill enough to get Tavares the puck in good places on the ice.

For what he is—a durable, consistent offensive player with good positional awareness in the attacking zone—Moulson is deserving of a long-term deal with the Islanders after this season, something along the lines of four years and $20 million. To this point in his Isles career, he’s outperformed expectations and contract terms alike.

Next season, Moulson will still be putting up 60 points and high-fiving Tavares after yet another Isles goal; the only difference is that Moulson will be cashing a bigger paycheck after the game.

If it ain’t broke, don’t not re-sign it. (Or something like that.)

Thoughts on a possible Moulson re-signing? Sound off in the comments section below. And don’t forget to follow me on the Twitter machine: @MichaelWillhoft