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  • Jason Pominville and the contract albatross


    In 2013, as the Minnesota Wild geared up for their first legitimate post season run in a decade, the team felt incomplete. A new owner, who had loosened the purse strings and sent his general manager out to sign the top 2 free agents in the previous offseason, had already made the statement that the team was entering win-now mode and not resting on its laurels toward winning a cup. The newly acquired faces of the team were both celebrating their new contracts with excellent seasons, which had been shortened by a work stoppage and kept Minnesota hockey fans drooling for the first game with their new stars leading the team. But the investment paid off and the Wild finished 2nd in the Northwest Division, and after a 4 year absence from the post season, the Wild had to take a close look at its ranks and address any perceived weaknesses. The season previous, the team had started out with the most points in the league through the first couple of months, only to utterly collapse and miss the playoffs. Though the team had added the two biggest names on the market, it also had lost a couple of other important forwards including Brian Rolston while breaking in a few youngsters in Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle. Ultimately, the team lacked depth and veteran leadership, so it was clear what the team should add as it approached the precipice of the postseason.

    Though the team had a couple of legitimate scoring threats in the newly acquired Zach Parise and one-time 50 goal scorer Dany Heatley. But beyond that, the forward ranks were fairly thin for a team hoping to make a deep playoff run. So when the opportunity to acquire a proven right hand shot 30-goal scorer and current NHL captain appeared, it was the perfect fit for what the Wild saw as an area of opportunity. Jason Pominville would come to Minnesota in exchange for unproven prospects Johan Larsson (currently playing bottom-6 in Buffalo), Matt Hackett (currently minding the net for AHL San Diego Gulls, who’s chant happens to be Let’s go Gu-ulls) and a first- and second-round pick over the next couple of years. It was a significant investment for a significant player, and the tradeoff of top draft picks has been a pain point for the two drafts it affected. When Pominville joined Minnesota, he was playing out the final year of his contract and it was clear that the Wild would not make such an investment in acquiring the player if they weren’t going to re-sign him. Pominville came over and played well before sustaining a concussion that would hold him out of several games leading up to the playoffs.

    Following a quick ouster at the hands of the Blackhawks, the Wild set their focus on continuing to build their roster towards having a Stanley Cup contender during the prime Parise and Suter years. That started with re-signing Pominville to a 5-year $28M contract through the 2018-19 season. The first season of that contract, in 2013-14, was a successful one, as Pominville fit in nicely playing alongside Captain Mikko Koivu and Parise on the top line. Pominville finished the season with 30 goals and 60 points in 82 regular season games and added 9 points over 13 playoff contests. Pominville’s iron man nature would shine through again the following season (he has 7 seasons with 82 GP) and his point total would fall to 18 goals and 54 points. This was concerning for a goal-starved team to have their top goal scorer suffer a 40% decline in goal output. Then came the 2015-16 season. Pominville just could not get himself going and it wasn’t until he was united with Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula by interim coach John Torchetti that he started to show up on the score sheet. He finished the season with just 11 goals and 36 points in 75 games, his lowest scoring total since 2005-06. This season, playing greatly reduced minutes, he has fared a bit better with 13 points in 28 games, but it has become clear that he is no longer the 60 point scorer he once was.

    Over the last three years, Jason Pominville has cost the Wild $112,000 per point. Other top-scoring wing Zach Parise has cost $132,253 per point over the same time frame. By contrast, Nino Niederreiter has posted 116 points and cost the Wild just $68,965 per point. This is a really objective way to look at things, but it helps illustrate the point that there is some income inequality amongst the point producers for the team. Where this really impacts the team is in their ability to retain their up and coming producers like Niederreiter, who have not yet reached their peak performances. With Pominville’s production delclining and his cap hit staying the same, he is becoming more expensive per point while the younger players are trending the other way. With the Wild up against the cap (like most teams in the league) it will be difficult to retain all of their home grown talent and look toward the future. Currently, the situation is that with the raises that are due to Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula , there is no way to fit them all under the cap. There is a mitigating factor that could help in the upcoming expansion draft, in which the Wild will likely use a young and promising player that makes somewhere in the $2M-4M area and might make it possible to retain all three, while having to backfill for the lost player through their prospect pool.

    However, if GM Chuck Fletcher can flex his dealer muscles and find a new home for Pominville, the team might be able to engineer a way to retain all of their pending free agents and perhaps make offers to a couple that will be RFAs after next season. It seems like the team will need somewhere between $5M-7M to sign their players for next year and that will come from some combination of the cap increasing, trading players to dump salary and losing salary to the expansion draft. Pominville isn’t an easy player to move, however. With his big cap hit and most teams being up against the cap, almost every trade evens out the money moving back and forth between the teams (Hence why the Wild could trade Niklas Backstrom for David Jones, who both were overpaid last season). So logic would say that Pominville could likely only be traded for a player with a similar salary. However, there are a few teams that have some cap space, and Chuck Fletcher would do a lot to prove his GM mettle and make up for past transgressions by finding a way to move Pominville’s contract and free up the space to retain the pending RFAs.

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