Jason Pominville signed a five-year, $28 million contract with the Minnesota Wild last week, meaning that the team’s entire top line, which also consists of Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, is signed through 2017-18.
Keeping the top line together is a good sign for the Wild. Not only do they avoid losing two prospects and two picks for only a little over a year of service from Pominville, but they also have three leaders on their top line.
On a team that has a lot of young players in big roles—namely Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund—it is nice to have a top line that all have strong leadership qualities. Along with Ryan Suter, an alternate captain, Parise, Koivu and Pominville are the leaders in the locker room and will be productive players on the ice.
Parise is one of the best two-way players in the game, Koivu is an elite playmaker and Pominville has had two 30-goal seasons with the Sabres and consistently scored at least 20 goals during his time in Western New York.
There’s also this guy named Thomas Vanek who he played with in Buffalo. Ever heard of him? Former Minnesota Gopher, has a house in Minnesota, about 6’2”, 180 pounds, big teeth, kinda gangly. (Okay, he weighs over 200 pounds).
Well that dude is a two-time 40-goal scorer and is apparently pretty close with Pominville—and his contract is up after this season. Wouldn’t it be nice to get that guy when Dany Heatley comes off the books next year?
I think so too.
Keeps the Top Line Together
Before everyone jumps to the conclusion that the Pominville signing is just a ploy to bring Vanek back to the Twin Cities, don’t forget that Pominville is a talented player in his own right. He has scored at least 20 goals every year since his rookie season, when he only played in 57 games, and had exactly 34 in 2006-07 and 30 in 2011-12.
The Wild paid a hefty price for him, sending Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and two picks (2013 first-rounder and 2014 second-rounder) to Buffalo to acquire him at the trade deadline last season. Yet with plenty of players in their early 20s on the roster and more to come in the farm system, the team needed to have enough veteran presence in the locker room to win now. After all, Parise and Suter weren’t brought over to win in their late 30s.
The Wild also surrounded Koivu with two players who can put the puck in the net.
For years, the Jacques Lemaire Wild appeared ready to take every game into overtime tied at 0-0 and try their luck with four-on-four or in the shootout. While that is acceptable for an expansion team early in its history, the expectation in the hockey-mad Twin Cities is for the team to go out and win games instead of trying to hang on and get the extra point every night.
Parise, Koivu and Pominville should dictate play every time out. They should play with each other for years to come, meaning they will develop chemistry very few players throughout the league have with one another.
The best teams are made up of a nucleus of talented players: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa in Chicago. Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter in Los Angeles. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal in Pittsburgh. And so on.
The Wild know that and have put three of the league’s greatest—Parise, Koivu and Pominville—on the top line and then have a slew of young guns providing secondary scoring on the second and third lines.
Leadership for the Young Players
There are teams that are too young. Look no further than the new Central Division, where the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche are stacked with top draft picks, but struggle to win consistently year in and year out. Even in the old division, the Edmonton Oilers had so many top draft picks lying around they could have been featured on Hoarders.
Nobody is arguing that Winnipeg’s Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian aren’t great players. Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon all have a bright future ahead of them. Edmonton’s Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov were all No. 1 overall selections.
Still, those teams always find themselves out of the playoffs or, in Colorado’s case, get bounced in the first round the year they qualify even when a player on the other team spots them a game-winning goal in overtime.
The Avs and the Oil are expected to be bad again this year, and the Jets will likely be one-and-done in the playoffs…if they get that far. All three have a chance to be good in the future and could potentially be surprise teams this year, but history has told us that most young players need a strong veteran core to win championships.
The Wild have that. It’s no coincidence that four of their best players are in their early 20s and another four are in their early 30s. Niederreiter, Coyle, Granlund and Brodin may have a great future ahead of them, but Parise, Koivu, Pominville and Suter are in their prime right now.
Three of those guys wear a letter and the fourth, Pominville, used to wear one in Buffalo.
Umm…That Vanek Guy
Speaking of Sabres captains…Thomas Vanek.
Well, he’s kind of a captain. He’ll wear the C at home and Steve Ott will wear it on the road. It’s completely goofy, the kind of thing that makes a player go: “Yeah, I’m getting the hell outta here”—or at least so the Wild hope.
Vanek is from Austria, but played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota and has a home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. He also plays for a team that is rebuilding and selling off parts.
The Wild may have to trade to get him, but they should have the upper hand in negotiations. Not only does Vanek have ties to the Twin Cities, but Yahoo! reports that he and Pominville are close, and Vanek actually drove Pominville to the airport when he was acquired at the trade deadline last season.
Make no mistake, Pominville was signed on his own merit, but it never hurts to lock up a guy long term who is friends with a superstar forward and, well, Vanek has to be enticed with what’s going on in the Wild organization.
After all, Minnesota’s future looks awfully bright.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.