Allow me to go for the cheap joke here, the one about how the lights already seem out on the Sabres’ season when we’re still more than two weeks from Halloween. Or how it should be lights-out for Darcy Regier. Of course, we all know that.
There was something appropriate about the struggles to get First Niagara Center’s house bulbs up to snuff just so we could start the second period of Monday night’s snoozer against Minnesota.
There’s just so much this organization is in the dark about.
While teams like Calgary and Colorado are rebuilding but actually winning games and getting production from young players, the Sabres are slipping into the abyss. They’re the worst team in the league. They’re hideous to watch. When are they actually going to win a game? Tonight on Long Island? Any of the three after that (Vancouver, Colorado, Boston)? Yikes.
You really think Thomas Vanek is going to stay around with this group? Especially when he can go home to join the Wild and old friend Jason Pominville?
Pominville was the center of attention from start to finish on a day that ended with him scoring the winning goal on a power play in the Wild’s 2-1 win.
“It was a good day, a good way to finish it for sure,” Pominville said. “A special day that I’ll remember for a while.”
There was strong applause and some appreciative hoots from the crowd when Pominville was announced in the starting lineup. And lots of cheers when he was named as the No. 1 star. But it’s a shame the fans never really got a chance to really salute him.
When the first commercial break took place, the Sabres chose to use the Jumbotron to honor Kevin Porter for playing in his 200th NHL game, of which exactly 37 have been played for Buffalo.
Not a word was said to acknowledge the return of Pominville, a guy who gave a dozen years to the organization. A former captain. A guy who scored one of the most famous overtime playoff goals in franchise history.
The Sabres had a perfect opportunity to be classy. Instead, they were clueless.
Media in town covering the Wild tweeted their surprise. It’s not what a first-class organization does. You think Tampa Bay will ignore Vinny Lecavalier? You think Calgary will ignore Jarome Iginla? You haven’t seen baseball teams acknowledge former stars?
Yes, I realize Pominville isn’t a superstar in the Iginla-Lecavalier class. And that the Sabres didn’t acknowledge the return of Ted Nolan. Or Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. Or Brian Campbell. Nor should they have because of the way things ended in each case.
Pominville was different. His trade was a good deal for both sides. He didn’t ask out at all. Fans understood. It would have taken a quick PA announcement welcoming him back to Buffalo and thanking him for his years of service, a quick Jumbotron clip of his famous overtime goal in Ottawa. Let the fans applaud. Thirty seconds. Done.
Of course, it’s a problem when that might rate as the loudest applause of the night. And we can’t have that in Dysfunction Junction, where the sponsored dancing recycle bins take precedence.
Memo to the Sabres: You don’t just announce you’re Hockey Heaven. You act like it too.
Pominville’s goal actually foiled what had been a pretty decent middle period by his former team. It was a great passing play, seven tape-to-tape moves while alleged No. 1 center Cody Hodgson futilely trailed trying to stick check.
It ended with Pominville bouncing in a shot off Jhonas Enroth and celebrating with his classic arms-over-the-head pose. In that freeze frame, he looked just as he did after his great short-handed goal two years ago in Washington where he outworked Alexander Ovechkin.
“It was a good passing play, good entry,” Pominville said. “I think we all came up with speed. … I missed a couple early. I gotta say I was pretty happy about that one.”
Pominville never really thought he was getting traded until just about deadline day last April 3. He recounted Monday how he was shocked to turn on NHL Network and see his name listed as “No. 1 trade bait” on deadline morning, and realizing only then something might be going down.
He said he held nothing against the organization, that he understood they were just exploring all their options. As it’s turned out, it’s been a great move. The Wild have already signed him to a five-year, $28 million extension.
“When I took a step back and really took a hold of the whole thing, I said for my career it might be the best thing to go somewhere where the teams are headed in completely different directions,” Pominville said. “Obviously with the signings this team has made the past couple seasons, they want to win and they want to win now.
“Here is going through a little bit more of a rebuild process. There might be other moves coming where you see other guys leaving, so when you take a big look at the big picture, I’m pretty happy where I’m at now.”