ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the second time in less than a week, a high-profile Minnesota Wild player will return to his former home to play in front of fans who used to cheer for him.
Defenseman Ryan Suter was booed by Nashville Predators fans each time he touched the puck at Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 8. Forward Jason Pominville expects a warmer reception Monday night when the Wild play the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Suter willingly left the Predators to sign a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild on July 4, 2012 -- likely dooming him to villain status in Nashville for the rest of his career.
Pominville's circumstances are quite different.
As one of the highest-paid players on a team looking to rebuild, the Sabres traded Pominville, a two-year team captain, to the Wild at last season's NHL Trade Deadline. For Pominville, it was an opportunity to jump from a team out of contention to one in the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoff race.
"It'll be fun to go back, see the guys, play against guys you played with for a while," Pominville said. "Hopefully I don't get the same treatment Ryan did."
On the surface, it's a trade that appears to have worked out well for both teams. Buffalo got a pair of high-end prospects and a pair of high draft picks from the Wild. Minnesota got a player who is well-respected in the locker room and in the organization -- so respected, in fact, that last week he signed a five-year, $28 million contract extension that will keep him in St. Paul through the 2018-19 season.
"It's a huge, huge thing for our group," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after the signing. "This guy is such a valuable player for us, a valuable teammate. He has respect from his teammates. It's a great job by our organization to get him signed and it's great of him to show that commitment to our organization."
Pominville's coach for all but a few games in Buffalo was current Dallas Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff, who was a strong endorser of the Wild's move when asked about it when the Stars played in Minnesota last week.
"I really felt he was our all-around best player," Ruff said. "The type of player that could play through anything, any situation -- could use him penalty killing, power play, great shot … and on top of that, he's an even better person.
"Those kind of players are really hard to come by."
It's been a whirlwind few months for Pominville since the trade that brought him to Minnesota. From the day the trade took place April 3, Pominville has been almost constantly moving. Having spent most of eight full seasons in Buffalo, he said it was difficult to leave so quickly, without having a chance to say goodbye to many people with the Sabres who became a part of his life.
"It was kind of 'bang-bang, you're out of here,'" Pominville said. "I didn't even go down to the arena to get my gear; our trainer, we met somewhere and he brought it to me. I was always treated real well [in Buffalo], so it'll be nice to see everyone again."
As difficult as the process of uprooting his family and career was, Pominville says it was the best thing that could have happened.
"A lot of things have changed in my life," Pominville said. "But I think when you step back and look at the big picture, I think it's a good thing for me."
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