The Minnesota Wild cleared out nearly $10 million in cap space on Friday when they traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forwards Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. In the deal, they lost a top-four defenseman and solid third line wing. What they got back – well, that depends entirely on whether Ennis can return to the player he once was.
Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, Wild’s new winger was a solid point producer for the Sabres, notching between 0.54 and 0.71 points per game in each season – which works out to 44 to 58 points over 82 games. At one point, the Sabres believed he would be a No. 2 center.
He never developed the all-around game to play in the middle, so Buffalo moved him back to wing where it appeared he would be an above average second-line winger who could produce at high rates on the power play. But two concussions in a short period of time derailed his career. Since 2015-16, Ennis has only played in 74 games and scored 24 points.
If the 5-foot-9 winger can bounce back – after all, he’s still 27 years old – the Wild may have found another Bruce Boudreau reclamation project. Last season we saw players like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and even Jason Pominville return to their previous form after Boudreau put them in position and in a system that fit their skills and needs. Ennis is a terrific skater who might excel in a fast-placed system where he can create through controlled entries into the offensive zone.
Foligno is another player that Buffalo once had high expectations for. In fact, there was a rumor floating around that the Sabres could have traded him and Thomas Vanek to Boston for Tyler Seguin at one point. But instead of becoming the next Milan Lucic, Foligno has simply turned into a solid bottom six forward.
Over the last three seasons, he has produced 1.15 points per 60 minutes at even strength, which is comparable to players like Scottie Upshall and Dwight King. He has a plus-5.5% Relative Goals For Percentage over the last three years, which means that the Sabres have improved their goal differential by 5.5% more with him on the ice. And he has routinely been used against solid competition.
With Foligno, the Wild have a chance to create a fourth line with some physical ability and enough scoring touch to concern opponents.
Giving away Scandella hurts. While the Wild will earn around $5 million in cap space, which they will use to re-sign Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, it’s still tough to lose a top-four defenseman.
Scandella didn’t quite perform as well under Boudreau as some other players, but he was excellent in the playoffs. One scout said that he considered Scandella an above average overall defenseman, who is good in all areas – he can move the puck, step up in the play at times, play physical along the boards and is a smart player.
It’s not that he’s impossible to replace, rather his absence might give the Wild less flexibility with their pairs if someone gets hurt or players are struggling. Still, a Suter-Spurgeon, Brodin-Dumba top-four is very good.
Pominville will be thrilled to go back to Buffalo. The greatest moments of his career came there. The Wild will be losing a solid role player who bounced back from a rough ’15-’16 to have an excellent 2016-17 season. In fact, Pominville finished last year with the Wild’s best 5-on-5 scoring rate – though he played fewer minutes than some of the top Minnesota forwards. He’s still a good enough skater to keep up, smart and skilled.
While the Wild might have replaced his scoring with Ennis – if he bounces back – they did not find their Erik Haula replacement in this deal. The Wild may have targeted Johan Larsson, a former prospect of theirs, but were unable to bring him back to the organization. Now they must turn to free agency to fill out the missing piece.