Captain returns: Sabres deal for Pominville
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — As pleased as Jason Pominville was upon hearing he was returning to the Buffalo Sabres, it was nothing compared to the excitement of his son, Jayden.
“My little guy already has his (Sabres) jersey on right now,” Pominville said Friday, shortly after the former Sabres captain and defenseman Marco Scandella were acquired in a trade with Minnesota. “My little kid said, ‘You’re going to have a chance to play with Jack Eichel.’ So he’s pumped.”
Traded to the Wild in April 2013 when Buffalo began a purge of veteran players, Pominville rejoins the rebuilding Sabres and a youth movement that includes Eichel, their star second-year center.
At 30, Pominville provides veteran leadership to an underachieving team that lacked accountability last season. Scandella, meanwhile, fills an immediate need on a revamped defense that added Nathan Beaulieu in a trade two weeks ago.
The Wild addressed needs of their own by freeing up salary cap space and filling forward roles by acquiring speedy play-maker Tyler Ennis and adding a physical presence in Marcus Foligno.
“It just wasn’t realistic that we were going to be able to bring our team back as it was constituted at the end of last year and into next season,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I think we checked a few boxes with the trade today.”
The teams also swapped 2018 draft picks, with Minnesota picking up a third-round selection in exchange for a fourth-round pick in a trade struck a day before the NHL’s free-agency period opens.
Scandella was the key addition for Buffalo, which is undergoing an offseason transformation under new general manager Jason Botterill and first-time coach Phil Housley. Scandella is a puck-moving defenseman, who is responsible in his own zone and has shown a capacity to log 20 or more minutes per game.
The seventh-year player had four goals and 13 points in 71 games last year. Overall, the Wild’s 2008 second-round draft pick has 27 goals and 89 points in 373 career games.
Scandella was the odd man out in the Wild’s deep group of defensemen, which includes Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba.
Fletcher said Scandella’s departure frees up more playing time for younger players such as Jonas Brodin.
Pominville is a versatile two-way forward who can play in all situations. He had 76 goals and 206 points in 327 games with Minnesota, and overall has 261 goals and 662 points in 905 career games.
The 30-year-old also represents a link to the Sabres’ successful past — he was on the teams that reached the Eastern Conference finals in both 2006 and ’07. Buffalo hasn’t won a playoff round since and hasn’t qualified for the postseason in each of the past six years during a stretch in which the team is on its fifth coach and third GM.
“Hopefully we can bring that same buzz to the city again,” Pominville said, recalling the mob of fans who watched playoffs games on a big-screen TV outside the Sabres arena. “You want younger players to have the chance to see and live what we were able to do.”
Ennis spent seven-plus seasons in Buffalo and was the team’s longest-serving active player. He’s a three-time 20-goal-scorer whose production has been hampered due to an assortment of injuries, including several concussions, over the past two seasons.
He’s looking forward to a fresh start in Minnesota, where he gets to play with Spurgeon, his childhood friend from Edmonton. The two grew up across the street from each other and happened to be working out together when Ennis was informed of the trade.
“My initial reaction was like ‘Wow, this is going to be awesome. We get to play together,” Ennis said. “I’m definitely going to miss (Buffalo), and everyone that made it special for me, but I’m very excited to be a part of the Minnesota Wild and have a fresh start.”
Foligno had his inconsistencies during six-plus seasons in Buffalo, but is coming off a season in which he scored a career-best 13 goals. He has 49 goals and 67 assists for 116 points in 347 career games. He’s a restricted free agent whose rights were retained after Buffalo issued him a qualifying offer this week.
At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Foligno provides a physical presence Fletcher thought has been lacking in Minnesota.
“We’ve been chasing Marcus Foligno for a couple of seasons now,” Fletcher said.
In separate news, the Sabres hired Chris Taylor to take over as head coach of their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, New York. Taylor returns to Rochester, where he spent 14 seasons as a player and coach. He spent last season as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Taylor has ties to Botterill as a player and as the Penguins former assistant GM. He also has a connection to Rochester’s newly hired GM Randy Sexton, who previously worked for the Penguins.