Should the Buffalo Sabres have taken a moment to honor Jason Pominville upon his return to the city last night in a Minnesota Wild uniform?
He played 578 regular-season games and 45 playoff games with the Sabres after being drafted by them in 2001. He was the team captain when traded, and one of those players who became ubiquitous in the community for his charitable efforts and relationship with fans.
But according to Buffalo News writer Mike Harrington, there was nothing formally done by the Sabres inside the arena on Monday night to acknowledge Pominville’s contributions to the franchise.
No Jumbotron montage or shot of him on the bench so the fans could applaud his legacy. Nothing. They gave him about as much recognition as USA Hockey did last summer at Olympic orientation.
Matthew Barnaby called that decision “embarrassing” for the Sabres, writing that Pominville was “a great captain... player...and guy.”
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.
It's an odd phenomenon, the returning athlete. Essentially, it's someone who has taken another job -- whatever the motivation -- returning to his former place of employment. The majority, we imagine, expect some warm smiles and a moment of appreciation. We're sure others expect a cake or something. Pominville's reception was like going back to your ex-office and discovering it had been relocated to Bangladesh.
I get the outrage. I just don’t necessarily endorse it.
First, it should be said: To each team its own.
Much like retiring numbers, naming captains and filling out the roster for an alumni game, the decision to honor or ignore returning former players is a personal one, sometimes based on factors the public and media aren’t privy to like trade demands or behind-the-scenes drama.
This isn’t to say there was any of that with Pominville, mind you. As far as we know, he’s just a veteran player shipped out at the trade deadline as part of a rebuild. This wasn’t a player leaving for greener pastures – or in the cases of Drury and Briere, forced to because of the Sabres’ budget – but rather a player traded by the team.
But he’s also a player that never hoisted the Cup in Buffalo, nor could he be considered one of the team’s true stars.
There’s always going to be an aspect of “if you’re not wearing the sweater anymore, you’re dead to me” to management and some fans.
For me, there are criteria to being tribute-worthy, including:
• Whether the player was a homegrown product.
• Whether the player could be considered a fan favorite or cult hero.
• Whether the player had longevity with the team and/or is a stats leader in franchise history.
• Whether the player left on good terms with the team and the fans.
• Whether the player was part of a championship team of some sort, either conference or Cup.
• Whether the player was a “leave your blood on the ice” type of heart-and-soul guy.
Since it’s me writing this and you’re thinking it anyway: Does Zach Parise’s return to Jersey qualify for a tribute under this criteria?
I’d say it does. He fits every criteria. The only sticky wicket is the “good terms” criteria, because many Devils fans were bitter when he packaged up with Suter and left for Minnesota. But more, I think, accepted the fact that the Devils made a competitive offer but couldn’t overcome the familial and geographic advantages the Wild had.
We’ll find out on March 20, 2014, after Parise’s initial return to Jersey with the Wild was cancelled by the lockout. Maybe they give him a moment during the game. Maybe the fans will just have to create a moment themselves, should they choose to.
Sabres fans did on Monday. They cheered Pominville’s name in the starting lineup –an announcement the Sabres could have simply asked not be made, by the way. I’ve seen it happen before.
And then they cheered his name when he was named the No. 1 star of the night for performing the ultimate tribute to those disgruntled fans who honored his legacy: Beating the home team.