Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher had to be a happy man Friday.
Not because he traded defenseman Marco Scandella and not because he acquired likely bottom six forwards Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis.
What had to make Fletcher’s day was Buffalo’s willingness to take back winger Jason Pominville and the final two seasons of the five-year, $28 million contract he signed in October 2013.
The Pominville contract – much like Thomas Vanek’s deal– serve as cautionary tales for how not to do business in a league in which there is never a guarantee the salary cap will increase on a year-to-year basis and any known goal-scorer 30 or over shouldn’t be trusted to produce long term. (While the Wild ended up buying out the last year of Vanek’s contract, at least he only received a three-year commitment at $19.5 million. Vanek was 30 years old when he signed.)
It’s easy to now question whether giving free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012 was wise, but at the time it looked to be a good move and those were special circumstances considering where the franchise was at and the excitement that pair brought. Those two players have failed to get the Wild anywhere near a Stanley Cup, but the team has been to the playoffs in each of the five seasons since they signed and the Xcel Energy Center has been sold out.
The Wild hadn’t been to the playoffs in five years when Fletcher sent prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett, plus a first-round draft pick in 2013 and a second-round pick in 2014, to Buffalo for Pominville and a fourth-round selection in 2014. The trade came in April 2013.
Pominville had four goals and five assists in 10 games as the Wild made the playoffs but lost in the first round to Chicago. Pominville played in only two playoff games as he battled concussion symptoms suffered when he took an elbow to the face from the Kings’ Dustin Brown shortly after joining Minnesota.
The following season, the then 31-year-old Pominville reached 30 goals for the third time in his career and added 30 assists in 82 games.
But Pominville began to go off the cliff the next season, dropping to 18 goals in 82 games. That figure decreased to 11 goals in 75 games in 2015-16 and 13 goals in 78 games in 2016-17.
First-year Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was frustrated enough by Pominville’s performance by late last season that he made him a healthy scratch for the first time since the veteran joined the Wild in March.
While Fletcher appeared to give up a lot to get Pominville, few have questioned the trade. The contract extension is another story. You have to wonder how much Fletcher factored in that Pominville was 30 years old on the day he signed the extension. One had to figure there was a good chance his best goal-scoring days soon would be behind him.
Pominville’s new contract also did not kick in until the following season because he still had a year remaining on his previous deal that took him through his 30-goal season in 2013-14. Like so many players, Pominville got a limited no-trade and no-move clauses, something that gave him the ability to keep his name on the Wild’s protected list for the recent NHL expansion draft.
The contract ended up being a great deal for Pominville and mostly a headache for the Wild. Fletcher was finally able to jettison that contract on Friday – gaining $5.6 million in salary-cap room in doing so – but the hope has to be that Fletcher doesn’t jettison the lesson that should have been learned about giving a long-term extension to a goal-scorer who isn’t getting any younger.