September is here, and that means Nashville Predators hockey will be back in our lives in just a couple of weeks. Games that matter begin in just under a month. It’s about damn time. There are only so many Predators highlights on YouTube for me to watch. I had watched them all by mid-July and been twiddling my thumbs since then. As far as the Preds’ offseason goes, they didn’t make any big splashy moves. That’s okay. David Poile elected to stay the course with the roster he has now, and I think that is probably the smart move.
First of all, the Preds made it pretty clear that re-signing Ryan Ellis was the top priority in the offseason. I have only one thing to say about that:
Ellis signed an eight-year contract extension at $6.25 million per season. That AAV is assuredly below market value, but he probably was also able to squeeze a couple of more years on the end of the contract. However, Poile was also able to avoid giving him a no-trade clause. That means Pekka Rinne is the only member of the team to have one, and his contract expires after this season. With the re-signing of Ellis, the Preds’ top four will remain intact over the next two seasons, at least. The best blue line in the NHL will remain in Nashville during that span.
Another move of note that the Predators made in the offseason was signing Dan Hamhuis to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million. As great as the Predators’ top four defensemen are, the bottom pairing was pretty mediocre. Alexei Emelin just wasn’t getting it done. In fairness to him, he was asked to play top four minutes and matchups while Ellis was hurt last season. That’s not a role he’ll thrive in at this point in his career. Even after Ellis returned, Emelin struggled. Hamhuis is definitely an upgrade over Emelin, and I think that will be pretty clear this season. Hamhuis played top four minutes for the Stars at time last season and was pretty effective. This was a great depth signing on the blue line that should help solidify the third pairing.
Outside of those two moves, the Predators still had a pretty silent summer. Poile locked down his three restricted free agents in Miikka Salomaki, Ryan Hartman, and Juuse Saros. All three of those players took team-friendly deals, especially Saros. Nashville has its future between the pipes locked down for three more years at $1.5 million per season. I know some were looking for Poile to make a bigger move, but I think that sticking with the team he has for now is smart. This roster won the Central Division and the President’s Trophy last season. While an early and disappointing playoff exit had many calling for changes, that seems like a knee-jerk reaction to an off 13 games in the postseason for this team. This team can win big, and they did just that by racking up 117 points in the regular season. It just didn’t quite pan out in the playoffs, and that happens in the NHL.
Besides, I don’t think there were many moves to be made this offseason. As far as free agency goes, there aren’t many great deals to be found in that arena. $12 million-dollar deals for Leo Komarov and Jay Beagle are evidence of that. The Predators were always, at best, a longshot for John Tavares. He obviously signed with the Maple Leafs, and the only other free agency piece that really interested me was James Neal. Neal ended up signing with the Flames on a five-year deal worth $5.75 million per season. That’s a reasonably priced contract given the year he just had for Vegas, but five years is substantial for a 31-year old. As badly as I would have loved to get the Real Deal back in Nashville, I’m okay with not giving a long-term deal to a player on the wrong side of 30. That said, I still love you Nealer and wish you all the success in the world in Calgary.
The other option for Poile to make a move outside of free agency was obviously via trade. The Preds’ GM has a penchant for fleecing other general managers, or at least getting a fair deal for both sides. However, let’s take a look at the pieces that the Predators have as potential trade bait. Assuming you don’t want to lose a significant roster player, which Nashville wouldn’t as a Cup contender, then what you have left are prospects and draft picks. Last season, Poile traded away one premier prospect in Sam Girard and a first round draft pick. In terms of prospects this season , the Preds have two that would carry a lot of weight in a trade. Those two are Eeli Tolvanen and Dante Fabbro. Both players would be off-limits to me if I were Poile. One thing the Predators likely need to round out an already dynamite roster is a scoring winger. Why pay someone ridiculous money in free agency or trade valuable assets to get one when you already have a winger with all the potential in the world right in your lap? One of the reasons the Preds didn’t add a forward this summer is probably because they want to see how Tolvanen does in camp and/or to start the season. If he can give you 40-ish points in his rookie season, then there is no reason to give up future assets in the form of cap space or draft picks to get another forward. Fabbro is the top defensive prospect in Nashville’s system. He’ll finish his career at Boston University this season before turning pro. I wouldn’t trade him simply because of looming contract negotiations with Roman Josi. That handsome fella will be able to make crazy money in two years when his contract is up. If the price gets too steep for the Predators, then having Fabbro coming up the pipeline makes that pill a wee bit easier to swallow. It’s kind of like losing Suter was a little easier to swallow with Josi on his way up. Ah, the circle of life.
If you think the prospect pool is a little shallow, then there is certainly no diving in the pool of draft picks the Predators have to trade. In 2019, the Predators have their full assortment of draft picks plus an extra pick in the fourth round from the Colorado Avalanche. But the Predators will likely want to hang on to those. In the 2018 NHL Draft, the Predators didn’t make a pick until the fourth round. You do not want to do that two years in a row. If you want to burn down the future of the franchise, don’t draft in the first few rounds for two drafts in a row.
Between a limited prospect pool and only drafting in the last four rounds of the NHL Draft in 2018, I think Poile made the right call to wait it out. Don’t get me wrong. This team has a window to win a Stanley Cup here and now, but don’t make moves if you don’t have to. The second and third lines need to drive more offense in the 2018-19 season. The Predators can’t continue to lean only on the top two lines for the bulk of their offense. If those two lines get off to a slow start and Tolvanen still isn’t quite ready, then Poile may consider pulling the trigger on a move. In that case, dialing perennial dummy Marc Bergevin’s number may not be a bad idea. Until then, patience will be key.
If you want evidence that staying the course and patience works, look no further than the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions. In the 10 seasons leading up to their Stanley Cup run, the Washington Capitals won their division six times and the President’s Trophy twice. They made it out of the second round zero times. Some were calling for Alex Ovechkin to be traded because the team couldn’t win in the playoffs without him. Those imbeciles were proven wrong this season. The Capitals believed in the core and their leadership and were eventually rewarded. For another example, let me throw it back to the big bad Red Wings of the 1990s. I read a book this summer (I really just wanted to work the fact that I read a book into this blog) about the Russian Five for Detroit dating back to the late 80s and early 90s. Growing up a Preds fan since day one, I had no idea the Red Wings went through their own struggles to win a Cup. In 1994, 1995, and 1996, the Red Wings finished atop their division and had the league’s best record twice. In those three postseason appearances, the Wings were upset in the first round by the San Jose Sharks, swept in the Cup Final by the Devils, and knocked out in the conference finals by the Avalanche. People wondered if Steve Yzerman could lead that team to the Promised Land. People questioned Sergei Fedorov’s toughness. People doubted that a roster with so many Russians and Europeans could ever win in North America. In 1997 and 1998, the Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cups.
What I’m saying here is be patient. The Predators have the roster, and they have at least two to three more seasons to win a Stanley Cup. Sometimes it just takes a few tries. Don’t panic that the Preds didn’t significantly upgrade the roster. Sticking with it is sometimes the best plan.