Huge changes have come to the Predators lineup over this summer, and none so puzzling as the addition and subtraction of Brett Lebda (waivers and a possible buyout) and the picking up of Tyler Sloan. The blue line for the Predators has taking quite a beating, and according to Poile, the rookies coming up through our farm system such as Blum, Laakso, Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis are going to fill the holes left by Franson, O’Brien, and now the shelved Bouillon.
Cody Franson’s loss was a salary dump, plain and simple, to remove the albatross $3.5M of Matthew Lombardi’s contract. As part of this deal, the Predators sent Franson and Lombardi to Toronto for Robert Slaney and Brett Lebda. There is also a condition 4th round draft pick involved where if Lombardi plays 60 games next year, we get the pick, if he doesn’t then Nashville gives Toronto a fourth rounder. This may have been the grossest overpayment ever to simply shed salary. Say what you will about Lombardi and his concussion symptoms (that I believe will hinder him from playing ever again), but Franson I envisioned as a Weber 2.0. Franson wasn’t quite as physical, but he had one of the fastest releases on a slap shot and his wrister has an uncanny knack for finding the back of the net. Coupled with the great chemistry Franson had with Blum and you have the makings of a great 2nd pair PP unit.
O’Brien provided grit, toughness, and exceptional ability on the PK (unless he was in the penalty box). Alongside Klein, O’Brien performed admirably in defense throughout the year and showed more discipline than ever by posting his lowest PIM totals since he came into the NHL. Bouillon was another staunch competitor that showed that lack of size doesn’t deter him from being one of the most physical defenders in the NHL. At one point last season before his injury, Bouillon led the NHL in hits, and his experience gives the Predators an invaluable presence on defense by not over skating or losing his man.
So what do the Predators have to supplement their depleted defensive core? Tyler Sloan, and unproven rookies.
Now, unproven rookies can turn out to be amazing, and I personally wish to see them excel beyond what the prognosticators have predicted for their NHL careers. The only downside is that this is the NHL, and the game moves much faster than it has in the OHL, WHL, QMJHL, and even the AHL, and it’ll be an uphill battle and a baptism by fire for the aforementioned rookies to acclimate themselves to the squad and their responsibilities in a timely manner. Time will tell for our newest home-grown additions and I’m excited and nervous to see the outcome.
As for Tyler Sloan? Sloan is the consummate minor leaguer. He has been entrusted numerous times to step up in the big leagues and has crumbled every time. Case in point, last season when the Capitals were driving for the playoffs, they had an injury in their defensive core. Instead of bringing up Tyler Sloan to fill in the necessary defensive slot, the Caps went with a rookie defender. This says a ton about Sloan’s defensive prowess. He does have some upside in the hits and blocked shots department, so he could be another Zanon if he could step up and play. This is risky thinking especially given his chances to prove himself in Washington and never panning out.
I have hit on the fact that with the Predators being so far below the cap mid-point, it is feasible to pick up a NHL ready defenseman so that the rookies aren’t thrown to the wolves and as a buffer for any unforeseen injuries. Some of these include for the 2010-2011 season:
Player: ____+/- RelCorsi PK RelCorsi ES
Bryan McCabe +2 .02 -.09
Scott Hannan +4 -14.3 -.09
Anton Stralman -11 15.1 4.7
Chris Campoli 0 14.5 3.7
Paul Mara +1 -2.4 -15.6
Jeff Woywitka +5 12.9 -3.4
Which of these defenders (if any) would you look forward to picking up in free agency to help the Predators?
Should Poile and Trotz simply go with the youth and give them this season to prove themselves?
Only time will tell if the Predators blue line will excel this year or fall flat. We still have the best D pair in the league (for a year at least) and if Klein, Blum and the rookies can step up, and if Bouillon returns, then Poile will once again look like a genius, even in the face of the perceived stupid off-season moves.