Sabres Roster Has No Room for Pominville

Sadly, it appears that the population of Pominville will soon be declining. Jason Pominville, a fan favorite in Buffalo, will likely be looking for a new residence this coming season.

Born in Repentigny, Quebec, Pominville has played 1,060 games in 15 seasons, yet he says he has a lot more left in the tank. This summer, he’s been a regular at the gym and on the ice at Harborcenter in Buffalo. He’s keeping in shape and keeping his hopes high that he’ll be suiting up for another season. “I’m not stressed out about it,” said Pominville. “I just go day-by-day and go from there.”

Jason Pominville Sabres
Former Buffalo Sabres right wing Jason Pominville is waiting for his next contract offer. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Though the durable, unrestricted free agent winger doesn’t have a contract, it would be surprising if a few teams didn’t show interest in signing the veteran. He’s coming off a five-year, $28 million contract but at this point in his career would take a fraction of that for a one-year deal.

Population of Pominville

Pominville and his family divide their summers between Montreal and Buffalo during the summer, though his kids call Buffalo home. The baby-faced 36-year-old is a fan favorite in the Queen City where he’s played parts of 11 seasons – the majority of his NHL career. His only time wearing a different jersey was during a four-and-a-half-year stint with the Minnesota Wild due to a trade deadline deal in 2013.

Pominville’s place in Sabres history goes well beyond his name on scoresheets. He’s a consummate pro, dedicated to preparing for every game and living in the moment.

Last season, Pominville flourished playing alongside Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel. The “J. Crew Line” went on a tear and was one of the highest point-producing lines for several weeks. The trio was largely responsible for the team’s 10-game win streak that lifted them to the top of the league standings.

Related: Sabres Top Line Tearing up the League

For an offensively-starved team, perhaps Pominville could have spent more time with them. He still has a great shot and despite blocking one of his own into an open net, he’s a pretty good finisher. He was fourth in goals last season while averaging a career-low 12 minutes, 28 seconds. All but two of his 31 points came at even strength.

Even though he’s 36 and past his prime, Pominville is still productive. In 2017-18, he lit the lamp 16 times, good enough for fifth in goals among all Sabres and seventh in points.

Digging into stats courtesy of HockeyViz, Pominville, a three-time 30-goal scorer and an NHL All-Star in 2011-12, has been more than respectable his last two seasons.

Jason Pominville’s impact over the last two seasons with the Sabres. (Courtesy of HockeyViz)

In 2018-19, only 13 forwards who were 35 years old scored a goal. Among that group, Tomas Plekanec, Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz have since retired. Only three players older than him scored more than his 15 goals last season (37-year-old Carolina Hurricane Justin Williams with 23 goals and 39-year-old San Jose Shark Joe Thornton and Toronto Maple Leaf Patrick Marleau with 16 goals apiece).

Keeping an Open Door with Botterill

There’s a slim possibility Sabres general manager Jason Botterill will ask Pominville back for another season with the franchise.

“He’s been honest with me since the start. He’s been really nice letting me use the facilities to work out,” said Pominville. “I’ve known [Botterill] since he played and now as a GM and he’s exactly what I would’ve expected, he communicates really well and he’s communicated to me throughout the whole process and it’s made it easier on me.”

Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill
Sabres GM Jason Botterill hasn’t shut the door on a return for Pominville. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

“What I just said to him was if it ever came to a situation where there wasn’t room, we’d certainly follow up with him,” said Botterill when free agency opened this summer. “By the same token, I’d respect if he was going to move on to a different organization, just to give me a heads up.

In recent weeks, there’s been little-to-no action around the league, largely due to a significant number of restricted free agents waiting to be signed. Clubs are waiting to make their decisions, negotiating deals and finalizing their rosters.

Roster Shuffling and Secondary Scoring

Botterill spent the offseason acquiring Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson. Now, there’s not much room in the lineup or under the salary cap for Pominville. A return to the Sabres doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Last season, the Sabres fourth line was just as unproductive as its third line. And nearly as woeful as its second line. Once again, secondary scoring, especially the bottom six, plagued the team anchoring them to the league’s draft lottery.

Even subtracting the nostalgia component, it’s hard to believe the Sabres wouldn’t want Pominville in their lineup over Vladimir Sobotka, Zemgus Girgensons or Johan Larsson. While many expected the team to let the latter two players to walk in the off-season, they were both re-signed for another year. And for more than $3.1 million.

While Larsson performed admirably given his specific role last season, giving Girgensons another mulligan, takes a roster space from young players like Rasmus Asplund and C.J. Smith. It’s surprising the team can’t sign their fourth-leading scorer but can sign mediocrity for far more than what Pominville would likely take.

The Epitome of Class and Leadership

Pominville debuted with the Sabres in 2003-04 and finally made the team for good two years later. His most well-known goal was an overtime beauty. It was a shorthanded goal that pushed the Sabres past the Senators into the 2006 Eastern Conference Final. For trivia fans, it marked the first time in NHL history that a playoff series was decided by an overtime shorthanded goal. Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret’s famous line followed, “Oh, now do you believe? Now do you believe? These guys are good, scary good!”

Jason Pominville

Pominville’s has 521 points in 733 regular-season games played in a Sabres uniform, but his contributions go far beyond the scoresheet. His veteran presence, calmness and business-like attitude is well-respected in the locker room. And he has a deep respect for the Sabres’ crest.

The love for Pominville was on full display on Nov 3, 2018. Prior to a game with the Senators, team owners Terry and Kim Pegula presented him with a commemorative saber to mark his 1,000th game in the NHL. It was technically his 1,001st game (game 1,000 was a few nights before in a road game). He tallied twice in a 9-2 stomping of the Sens.

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Former teammates and coaches saluted their friend. Fans greeted Pominville with ovations all night long, from the seven-minute pre-game ceremony to the announcement of his name in the starting lineup and until he was called back to the ice as the game’s First Star after the final horn.

Sabre Fan Favorite

As the season wound down, Pominville was a healthy scratch. Given the team well out of the playoffs, management took a look at younger players in the system. It was frustrating to be in the press box watching, but he’s old enough to know the drill.

Last season, before his final home game, Pominville was overcome with emotion. “I’ve tried to soak in pretty much everything throughout my career,” said Pominville fighting back tears. “Since I’ve been drafted – that was in ‘01 – all I’ve wanted to do is wear the sweater. I’ve been fortunate enough to do it for a while.”

That night, the Sabres routed the Ottawa Senators, 5-2 and Pominville scored a goal. Fans seized the moment and roared for minutes, standing to applaud one of their favorite players. Prompted by goalie Carter Hutton, Pominville skated out to center ice and clapped for the fans.

After the game, Pominville acknowledged the fans, saying, “Thank you for everything. I left in tears and came back with a smile and who knows what is going to happen in the future.”

Landing Spots for Pominville

Pominville knows he can still play. He can still compete. But for a Sabres team that needs an overhaul and desperately needs to make the playoffs, he’s on the outside looking in. That said, he’s not going to accept just any offer or professional tryout offer.

Jason Pominville (Photo: Andy Martin Jr)
Jason Pominville isn’t going to jump at just any offer. (Andy Martin Jr)

Pominville doesn’t want to merely play in the NHL. And he doesn’t want to play for a team until February and then become a trade deadline rental. Instead, he wants to play for a team that offers a good fit for him and his family. He’s certainly earned that right. Rumors have had him possibly going to the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Senators, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins.

For now, Pominville is concentrating his efforts on a different team–he’s helping coach his son, Jayden’s team (Buffalo Junior Sabres’ under 10) with the help of former Sabre Matt Ellis.