SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Chuck Fletcher declared Wednesday afternoon, “We’re no longer a seller,” and the Wild general manager certainly proved that when he dug into his big bag of assets and spent a pretty penny to acquire the Buffalo Sabres captain.
In a trade that was designed to propel an already confident team into the playoffs, the Wild traded for Jason Pominville, a versatile 30-year-old right winger who should parachute right onto the Wild’s top line.
In exchange for the six-time 20-goal scorer who has twice hit 30, the Wild sent a large parcel to rebuilding Buffalo — prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett, a 2013 first-round draft pick and a 2014 second-round pick. The Wild also received a 2014 fourth-rounder from Buffalo.
“Hey, we recognize that we paid a price,” Fletcher said, pointing out that Pominville isn’t a rental (he has one year left on his deal at a $5.3 million salary cap hit). “But as a franchise we’ve spent a lot of time accumulating assets and trading for draft picks, and I think it’s a positive sign that as a franchise we’re now trading prospects and picks to acquire players.
“Typically that means you’re moving in the right direction. There’s always a balance. You can’t make these moves all the time. But if you never make them, how do you get better?”
When Zach Parise found out the Wild traded for Pominville, he grew an ear-to-ear smile.
“Heck of a player. Heck of a player!” said Parise, who played on a line with Pominville in the 2008 World Championships. “It’s really exciting for us. It just gives you the sense that they believe in the way we’ve been playing and they believe in our team. Now it’s up to us to elevate our game even more.”
Solid all-around game
Pominville has scored 185 goals and 456 points in 578 NHL games. He’s coming off a career-high 73 points last season, has scored 10 goals and 25 points in 37 games this year and has played all 82 games in five of his six full seasons.
He’s a strong penalty killer, has a booming shot and gives the Wild a much-needed right shot that can play the point on the top power-play unit.
“He’s a hard-working, 200-foot player, and like some of our other top players, … not only is he talented, he’s got a hard-working mentality and a high level of character,” Fletcher said.
Added former Gopher Thomas Vanek, Pominville’s star linemate in Buffalo, “The Wild, they’re lucky. Just a smart, good hockey player who can adapt to any situation and make his linemates better. He’s going to really help them.”
The Wild heavily pursued San Jose’s Ryane Clowe on Tuesday, but he wanted to play in the East and chose the Rangers. The Wild then set its sights on Pominville late Tuesday and into Wednesday.
The Sabres were looking to rebuild and asked Pominville for a list of eight teams he didn’t want to go to. “Everything he represents as a player you can multiply by a big number as a person,” Sabres GM Darcy Regier said.
Pominville couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. The hope is that he’ll make his Wild debut Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Larsson, one of three 2010 second-round picks and Sweden’s captain when it won the gold medal at last year’s world juniors, was considered a top prospect and a big loss. The first-round pick is obviously significant, too.
But the way the Wild justifies the price, the foundation of the franchise is in place for years with top-liners Parise and Mikko Koivu, No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter, cornerstone forwards Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund and blue-chip defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba.
From there, the Wild is loaded with young talent, from developing defenseman Marco Scandella, to forwards Brett Bulmer, Zack Phillips, Tyler Graovac and Raphael Bussieres to college-level players Mario Lucia and Erik Haula to Adam Gilmour and John Draeger.
It still has two hotshot young goalies with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson, who plans to come to North America next year.
In other words, Fletcher felt the Wild could afford the hefty price for Pominville.
“We have plenty of assets in the cupboard and plenty of talented, young players at every position,” Fletcher said. “At times you’ve got to dip into that pool of talent that you’ve accumulated and pay some assets to get, in this case, an All-Star NHL player.”