A Known Unknown

Sometimes I wonder what we really know about anything at all.

I know that’s the vaguest lede you’ve ever read, but consider Jason Pominville. What do we actually know about the guy who wears No. 29 for the Buffalo Sabres?

Start with the numbers. The Sabres captain has 17 goals and a team-best 47 points, six points higher than Thomas Vanek. Pominville is a minus-7, although no one really likes that statistic anymore anyway. There are some advanced metrics you can browse if you’d like but there are some other, more common things we know about the right winger.

Pominville has played for the Sabres since 2003, dressing for a single game that season when he was 21 years old. In 508 games he has 162 goals and 243 assists. He has a five-year, $26.5 million contract that expires after the 2013-14 season. He shoots right-handed.

Pominville was born on Nov. 30, 1982 in Repentigny, Quebec, Canada. He was drafted 55th overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by, of course, the Sabres. He played for Shawinigan in the QMJHL and then played four seasons in Rochester before joining Buffalo. His middle name is John.

Add in some other empirical evidence. He chews his mouth guard between whistles. On Oct. 11, 2010 Pominville suffered a concussion on a hit from Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson. Pominville says he never saw him coming.

Pominville has an 87 ranking in NHL 12. He has scored one of the most famous goals in Sabres postseason history.

Enough of the stuff we know for sure. At best, most of the above are simple facts. Statistics and place of birth, the sports equivalent of a soldier’s name, rank and serial number. What we know is that Pominville plays hockey and he’s produced relatively impressive numbers doing it.

But what about the more complicated stuff? What do we really know about the things we talk about in sport so often?

For example, is Jason Pominville a good captain? Is he a leader? Is he worth his contract? Tradable? Coachable? Is he a good teammate?

… well?

Honestly, how could we possibly know any of that? What we know is what we see on the ice and what we hear from the media. Nothing more. Quite frankly, none of those ingredients combine to answer any of those questions. That’s one of the things that’s so interesting about sports: even when we think we know something, there’s a good chance we know nothing at all.

Best of all, those questions are often what we talk about most. Those questions matter. Jason Pominville is one of 22 players on the Sabres roster. Every single one of those players has a collection of facts and unanswerable questions attached to them. Combine them together and you get thousands of questions and millions of meaningless answers that make the phone lines light up at sports radio stations and keep Twitter abuzz.

I have very little to actually say about Jason Pominville. No real opinion of him, anyway. I know he’s good with the media and has an oftentimes incredible shot from the slot. Female fans find him attractive and he seems like a nice guy. Once you get past that, however, it’s hard to say much more. I think that’s telling.

How much can you actually assume about him without sounding silly? How much is he to blame for the struggles of this Sabres team? What credit does he deserve for the successes of the past? Debate about these things sounds reasonable, but to assume you know is crazy talk. The same goes for the other 21 players on the Sabres roster, and I think that’s an important point to make.

There are plenty of problems on this team, I think we can all agree with that. Beyond that lone fact, it’s tough to agree upon much of anything. Some problems (lack of scoring, uneven goaltending) are the known knowns. Others (motivation, struggles at home, chemistry) are far from a known anything. Playing the blame game has its fun moments, but fixing things takes much more than that.

All I know is, I sure hope someone knows more than I do.

One Comment

  1. Mike

    Great post. I think you nailed it as usual. I think Jason Pominville could be a good captain, but Im not sure its for this team. Based on their records in previous seasons, I think the team performs better when they have a strong personality with credibility to hold everyone accountable. Im not sure that leading by example gets it done. Weve been told that Pominville has the universal respect of everyone in the room, and Im sure thats true. But maybe thats true because Pominville isnt going to ruffle anyones feathers. I think Pominville might be a great consensus captain in a divided locker room. Who knows; maybe that is what is going on here. Maybe hes the one guy nobody hates because hes pretty much impossible to hate because theres nothing there to hate.
    Pominville is a solid player but unremarkably so. Even his postgame interviews have become noteworthy for his lack of noteworthiness over the years. This team needs an identity, and Im not sure Pominville is it. I mean, come on. Its ambiguous whether or not we should even consider him American or Canadian.