Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Look at The Nashville Predators at the Trade Deadline

The following article was originally published as a special to NHL Hot Stove on January 21, 2010. It is reproduced here in its entirety for archival purposes.

The Nashville Predators are flying high in the highly competitive Western Conference and appear to be headed to a return to the postseason after missing the playoffs for the first time in five years last season by a mere three points.

The Predators do not have any players considered to be "stars" in the big picture of things in the National Hockey League. The Pred's success is based on a gritty brand of hockey where many different players can be the star of the game on any given night.

Team leaders include Captain Jason Arnott, Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, J. P. Dumont, Patric Hornqvist and young defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. None are likely to appear on the cover on NHL11 and most get overlooked in round table discussions of top players on the NHL Network.

The Predators have surprised folks this season with their resiliency and the break out years by Patric Hornqvist (19 goals) and Shark's castoff, Marcel Goc (9 points so far is his career high).

The basis for Coach Barry Trotz's success has been his "Band of Brothers" mentality where the whole is far greater than any of the individual pieces of the team.

Recently, Trotz explained that what he considered the "core" of the team was not the top five or six players or the leadership group, as most coaches would say, but the 26 or so players that have played and contributed to the team's success so far this season.

It takes a special player to play within that type of system. Alexander Radulov never quite understood that he wasn't a bit more special than anyone else, so he spent the majority of his time in Nashville in or close by Barry Trotz's dog house.

One of the worst trade deadline deals in franchise history was the Pred's pick-up of Peter Forsberg as the team was desperately trying to go deep in the playoffs in order not to be sold late in the 2006-07 season.

In spite of his talent, Forsberg was not a "Trotz-type" player and never provided any cohesiveness to the team. After amassing the third highest point total in the regular season, they disappeared immediately in the first round of the playoffs.

The Predators best deadline acquisition was the little known Czech player Jan Hlavac, who came to the Preds in 2008 and stepped into a second/third line role position and contributed 13 points in 18 games down the stretch. He realized why he was here and was willing to do what Barry Trotz wanted.

Last season, to the chagrin of many in Pred Nation, who wanted to sign a couple of big names to give the Predators a needed push into the playoffs, the Predators let deadline day come and go with out a single deal, or really many good rumors.

This season as the trade deadline approaches in early March, the Predators have a number of players that will be unrestricted free agents or restricted free agents at the end of the year. With Nashville's well known budget constraints, many of their current players will move on for more money elsewhere at the end of this season.

Will the Predators try to recoup something prior to the deadline or use their assets for the remainder of the season and stand pat as they did last season? The key pieces that will command raises on the open market include defenseman Dan Hamhuis, agitator Jordin Tootoo and both of the Pred's netminder's Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis.

Taking a look at each of these players and the chances that hey will be moved at the deadline is an interesting proposition.

Dan Hamhuis is unlikely to return to Nashville next season as the Predators have several young defensemen that need a place to play. Cody Franson has been a true surprise and Kevin Klein as transitioned to the second defensive pairing and will be the leader there next season. Therefore, I will project that Hamhuis is the most likely roster player to go at the deadline.

Jordin Tootoo is very hard to figure as far as his value is concerned. He has missed 28 games in two stints on the injured list this season and may not play much before the trade deadline. It is doubtful that he will be traded. Re-signing him is a real enigma as he is probably worth more to the team's marketing department than he is as an on ice commodity.

Prior to his recent injury, I had suggested to my blogger buddies that I wanted to see a trade where Tootoo would go to frequent trading partner, Philadelphia, in exchange for Dan Carcillo and a second or third round draft pick. That would eliminate the need for enforcer Wade Belak and give Pred fans another agitator to learn to love. In reality, it won't happen.

One of the Predator goalies will not return next year and my bet is that Dan Ellis will be elsewhere. The Preds do not have anyone ready to move in the second spot but there is a glut of back-up goalies that could be had for less than a million dollars giving the Preds room to resign Rinne to a nice contract in the $2.75 to $3 million dollar range.

I do not think that either goalie will be moved at the deadline as the Preds are dependent of the current rotation and have an incredible amount of games after the Olympics where both netminders will see plenty of playing time.

Finally, given the above analysis, what will the Nashville Predators do at the deadline?

I have two answers... little or nothing.

On the nothing side of the table, the Predators may stick with their "core" of twenty six players and hope that Barry Trotz will have more rabbits in his hat to convince the team that hey can continue to play with the leagues best and make it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time with what they have.

One added piece to the puzzle that may develop over the next few weeks would be the return of future star Colin Wilson who appears healthy for the first time this season and is just now rounding into shape in Milwaukee. If he could play as anticipated and work into a top three line center spot, he could be as helpful as a trade pick-up.

In the little category, the Preds could add a veteran or a role player to add depth to the young squad that has played well beyond their years. It is difficult to speculate on specific players that may be available but you would have to think it would be a player from the Eastern Conference from a team that feels they are out of contention.

Carolina scouts have been constant visitors to the Pred's press box over the last few weeks and Ray Whitney is probably available since he will be a UFA at season's end. The Islanders have also had scouts around but Doug Weight is the only player that looks like a rent-a-player and I can't imagine that the Preds would be interested.

I would be surprised if a Pred's deal would involve more than draft pics for a rental player. If a deal were made for someone they would like beyond this season then I could see a Hamhuis or a prospect going the other way.

Therefore, as a realist, knowing the Predators economic situation and the David Poile/Barry Trotz dynamic, look for the Preds to do little or nothing at the deadline.

I can hear the groaning from those who want a big name player or a glitzy name thrown around on the rumor sites, but I think the Predators have a plan that they intend to follow and unlike the last few years, it will be more fruitful and take them at least to the second round, if not further.

Barry Trotz has surprised the experts so far this season and will continue to do so as we head to the post season.

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