On Pominville’s return to Buffalo

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I’m sure you guys are past arguing about whether or not the Sabres should’ve done anything for former Sabres captain Jason Pominville when he came back to Buffalo on Monday. Don’t care, I didn’t really get my two cents in yet, so deal with it.

In his first game back with his new team, the Minnesota Wild, Pominville was the storyline, before and after the game, earning the first star and notching the game winning goal in a 2-1 Sabres loss. The Sabres organization decided not to do anything special, didn’t bother to recognize him during the game, just went about it like any other game.

And the great part? They got killed for it afterwards. The Buffalo News got in on the action, as Mike Harrington tore the decisionArtvoice’s Puck Stop just did another piece about it.

From Harrington:

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.

From Kulyk & Farrell:

Jeers to the Sabres front office and game ops crew for not giving their former Sabres captain any love on the HD board. The script was simple: first TV timeout you run the highlight reel of the overtime series clinching goal against Ottawa in 2006 (“Now do you believe! These guys are good! Scary good!”), then show Pommers on the bench and let the fans do the rest. A goose bump moment stolen from the fans. But hey! The kiss cam and dancing recycling bins sequences were epic.

Or, the team could’ve taken a history lesson and did something really nice. Like they did in November 1997, when former captain Pat LaFontaine made his first appearance in Buffalo since being traded to the New York Rangers.

Somehow, no one brought this up, but thanks to my extensive library of vintage hockey games on VHS, here’s a refresher:

To quote Jim Lorentz:

“A terrific gesture on behalf of the organization and I know Pat LaFontaine appreciated that.”

Now what about this was so hard?

I’m not going to argue that Pominville was as beloved as LaFontaine, because he wasn’t. People didn’t hate him. And he did score maybe the most famous goal of the last 19 years of the franchise’s history. And he sits among the franchise’s leaders in many categories. And he left amicably, unlike LaFontaine. And he was your captain, a position that deserves honor.

So why can’t you do the same thing? Or at least, at a tv timeout, play some highlights and acknowledge him?

Sabres President Ted Black was on WGR 550 this morning and was asked about it (go to about 18:35 mark) and seemed to shrug it off as something they hadn’t ever done to his knowledge. And it’s entirely possible that he nor anyone in the office knew it. And that’s an organizational flaw. That obliviousness came into play in the third jersey fiasco, and happens again here.

IMG_20131016_194548_052At the heart of it, it’s something extra that you don’t need to do that you can do. And whether or not Pominville appreciates what the organization did for him with or without the gesture is irrelevant. You’re not doing it just for him. You’re doing it for the 19 other guys on Minnesota’s bench and the 20 guys on Buffalo’s bench. Show them that your organization goes above and beyond for the guys that go to battle for them, regardless of how it ends.

We talk about the recruiting problem here, how it’s important to convince players to come to Buffalo instead of 29 other NHL cities. Face it, Buffalo is Buffalo. It’s not an easy sell, so you gotta pull out all the stops. And this is a situation where you could’ve put on a show that does nothing but make your organization look good.

The Sabres don’t have a good track record these days on treating players well. Ask Teppo Numminen, who got suspended for getting heart surgery. Ask Nathan Gerbe, who was bought out and the organization acted like it never happened. Hell, even Tim Kennedy left town in a cold way. And then you can throw in guys like Brad Boyes and Jordan Leopold, who both had poor things to say about the culture. Whether or not you did right by these guys in private doesn’t mean it looks like you did in public. And that perception is needless and incredibly easy to fix.

They fucked up by not acknowledging him. They did. Not every player deserves it. But Pominville did.

Black talked about how they’d make an exception to the precedent for Lindy Ruff when Dallas comes back later this month. That’s great. What they should be focused on is asking themselves why they feel there should be a precedent for not acknowledging their players in front of their fans.

Watch that video and watch LaFontaine. And then look at the guys on the benches. You need to show those guys every night, whoever is in your building that night, that Buffalo is a better organization than they think. Because when you’re calling their agent in July to try to sign him, or get him to waive his no-trade clause in March, he needs to be willing to come here. Show him why they should be willing.

Moreover, show your fans that you care about your players. Snubbing Pominville like that and refusing to own up to buying out Nathan Gerbe builds a terrible culture of don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-ass-on-the-way-out and there’s zero reason to feel that way. Guys that play here, whether one game or 1,000, are Sabres forever. Treat them like it. Why wouldn’t you?

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Posted on October 17, 2013, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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