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Pominville's departure signals overhaul for Sabres

by Chris Ryndak

BUFFALO – The Buffalo Sabres will be looking for a new captain, who will lead a far different team.

Jason Pominville
Right Wing - MIN
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 25
SOG: 94 | +/-: 1
Buffalo traded its captain, Jason Pominville, and a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to the Minnesota Wild for goaltender Matt Hackett, forward Johan Larsson, a first-round pick in 2013 and a second-round pick in 2014 in the last hour before the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday.

"Jason Pominville may have been at the bottom of the list of players I wanted to move," Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said.

Regier's decision to trade Pominville is the biggest move he's made since stating this past weekend that the team would be open to almost any trade involving roster players and prospects in an effort to set the franchise up for long-term success -- with the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Heading into Wednesday, the Sabres sat No. 12 in the Eastern Conference with 34 points. Five points behind the New York Islanders for the eighth Stanley Cup Playoff spot, they are four points ahead of the last-place Florida Panthers.

"We made a determination that it was about the Stanley Cup and recognized the opportunity in that – meaning that maybe we could have stayed in the race, maybe we could have acquired a player, maybe we could have made a run at it like we did last year, either got in or just out," Regier said. "But the reality is that the preference is to build for a Stanley Cup versus a playoff run."

Pominville had a modified no-trade clause and Regier asked him earlier in the week to submit his list of up to eight teams to which he would not accept a trade. Regier said that when he asked Pominville to prepare the list, he has no real intention of trading him, but wanted to keep his options open. Minnesota had expressed in interest in Pominville three weeks ago, but Regier said that interest had waned until Tuesday night.

"We were actually talking about a different player with Minnesota," Regier said. "Last night, I got a call from [Wild general manager] Chuck Fletcher and he said, 'We'd really like to focus in on Jason Pominville.' It went from that late last night to over the course of this morning and this afternoon."

The Sabres began selling assets Saturday when they sent veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues for a second-round draft pick and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Monday night, Regier traded defenseman Robyn Regehr to the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of second-round picks in 2014 and 2015.

Leopold and Regehr are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

The Sabres opened the season with eight defensemen on the roster, but are now carrying six after the trades of Leopold, Regehr and TJ Brennan, who was dealt to the Florida Panthers on March 15 for a fifth-round pick in 2013. Rookie Mark Pysyk and Adam Pardy have been called up from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League to fill out the lineup.

Pominville's contract expires at the end of the 2014-15 season. Next summer is also when the contracts of Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek and goaltender Ryan Miller are finished. With the salary cap going down next season, Regier has said that it would be difficult for Buffalo to keep all three players. The Sabres front office would not have been able negotiate extensions with any of them until the start of the new League year.

Buffalo opted not to deal Vanek, Miller, forward Drew Stafford or any other player as the trade deadline came and went. Regier would not comment on any talks that may have involved players other than Pominville, but did say the trade market this year was smaller and specific to each team's needs.  

Now the process of evaluating the Sabres roster will carry into the summer, the GM said.

"To what extent is yet to be determined, largely because of the marketplace. We'll see what the marketplace brings after the season and we'll go from there," Regier said.

Pominville served as the team's full-time captain since the beginning of the 2011-12 season. This season, the 30-year-old right wing has 10 goals and 15 assists in 37 games. In 578 career games during nine seasons with Buffalo, Pominville has 185 goals and 271 assists. He has the ninth most assists in franchise history.

The Sabres chose Pominville in the second round of the 2001 NHL Draft (No. 55). After sticking with the Sabres during the 2005-06 season, he scored one of the most memorable goals in Sabres playoff history. In Game 6 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Ottawa Senators, Pominville scored shorthanded in overtime to clinch the series.

Pominville was named an All-Star last season for the first time in his career. He's twice had seasons of at least 30 goals and had a career-high 80 points in 2007-08.

"He was drafted by us and everything he represents as a player you can multiply by a big number as a person," Regier said. "[I'm] extremely grateful for everything he's done and wish him only the best."

Regier will talk with Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston on Thursday about the vacancy at captain.

Hackett, 23, was a third-round draft choice by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Draft (No. 77). In 13 career games, he is 3-7-0 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average. He was 19-20-3 with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League this season. He also backstopped the Aeros to a 14-12 record in 26 postseason games, reaching the Calder Cup Finals in 2011. He is the nephew of former NHL goaltender Jeff Hackett.

Hackett is now one of several goaltending prospects Buffalo has including David Leggio, Connor Knapp and Nathan Lieuwen.

"[Hackett is] obviously a very good prospect and so he'll compete at some point for a job here," Regier said.

Larsson is a 20-year-old left wing who made his NHL debut with the Wild on Feb. 17. He recorded two shots in 14:02 of ice time in his only game this season. He was drafted by Minnesota in the second round (No. 56) in 2010. He had 15 goals and 22 assists in 62 games with the Aeros, including six power-play goals, in his first professional season. The Wild recalled him Tuesday. Regier said he can also play center.

Hackett and Larsson will join the Rochester Americans. They were preparing to play with the Wild in San Jose on Wednesday when they were pulled off the ice during the morning skate. Regier said it's too early to know when they'll play for Buffalo.

Buffalo has two first-round picks and two second-round picks in the 2013 NHL Draft, three second-round picks in 2014, and two second-round picks in 2015. Regier called the draft the lifeblood of the organization.

"If you don't have a foundation of players with which to add free agents to, you're not likely to be successful and we weren't," Regier said. "It means that you have to build the foundation first and then you can add some free agents, but you're not going to build the foundation through free agency."

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