The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 3, 2013

Wild surrender picks, prospects for Pominville


Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres have traded captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild sent prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett plus a first-round draft pick in 2013 and a second-round draft pick in 2014 to the Sabres before the NHL deadline Wednesday, for Pominville and a fourth-round draft pick in 2014.

That’s a high price, but the Wild were willing to part with some assets for a valuable two-way player in their attempt to reach the postseason for the first time in five years. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2003.

Pominville is an eight-year veteran and a six-time 20-goal scorer with significant special teams experience who could join Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise on the Wild’s first line. He played next to Parise in 2008 with the U.S. national team at the world championship.

“We played really well together. I like the way he plays. I think he’s going to help us a lot,” Parise said. “He works hard. I just think you look at the way he’s been used. Power play, penalty kill, reliable. He puts pucks in the net, he makes plays, he gets points. I think he plays a really all-around game. That’s what we’re going to see.”

After signing Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to mega-contracts last summer, the Wild went all in. They’ve been accumulating an impressive pool of young skaters in their system, so trading Larsson won’t leave their organization bare. Rookies Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker have been top-six forwards this season, and Mikael Granlund is waiting in the AHL in Houston for a second crack at the lineup.

“It just gives you a sense that they believe in the way we’ve been playing and they believe in our team,” Parise said in San Jose, Calif., before the Wild played the Sharks. “Now it’s up to us to elevate our game even more.”

Pominville is in the second-to-last year of his contract, with a $5.5 million salary each season. The 30-year-old right wing, a second-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2001, had 25 points including 10 goals in 27 games for the Sabres this season. He’s sixth in the NHL with 33 takeaways and 11th in the league with an average of 20 minutes and 53 seconds of ice time per game. He was picked for the All-Star game last year.

Hackett and Larsson will be sent to Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. The 23-year-old Hackett was a third-round pick in 2009. He has 13 career NHL starts. The 20-year-old Larsson was a second-round pick in 2010. He played in one game last season for the Wild.

The underachieving Sabres are retooling for the future after making four trades in the last three weeks, including defensemen Robyn Regehr to Los Angeles and Jordan Leopold to St. Louis over the past five days. General manager Darcy Regier’s high-priced roster has been one of the league’s biggest letdowns this season, in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight year and the fourth time in six seasons.

Longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired after a 6-10-1 start, and the Sabres were in 12th place in the Eastern Conference when Wednesday began despite ending Pittsburgh’s 15-game winning streak the day before.

Regier, on a conference call with reporters, said he wouldn’t use the “r-word” but acknowledged the beginning of a “process” to restock this sputtering team. High draft picks are good way to start.

“It’s going to involve rolling back a little bit organizationally,” Regier said. “Acquire the assets, the players, the draft picks and do it in a way that’s going to allow us to group enough young players together, or players together, in order to win a championship.”

Regier said he and Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher were discussing a different player when Fletcher told him he wanted to focus on Pominville. Regier called the decision “difficult” to trade such an integral piece of the team.

“It’s no fun being where we are. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan or in my position. There’s no enjoyment out of it, but there is an opportunity,” Regier said. “And what we’re going to do is seize on the opportunity.”