This summer saw many changes in the Predators lineup. Most notably was the exodus of veteran players; staples to the lineup that Nashville has depended on for many seasons to provide the experience and leadership alongside consistent play and scoring. The Predators now boast one of the youngest team in the NHL and this is due to many of the aforementioned veterans not being re-signed by the club. Although many Nashville faithful have not been pleased with the actions (or inactions) over the course of the summer, as the numbers and more importantly their record shows, the Nashville Predators and coach Barry Trotz thrive on plugging players into the lineup and adapting to a team first system (and maybe sprinkled with a little luck).
Some of the key subtractions going into this season in the Predators lineup were Marcel Goc, Steve Sullivan, Shane O’Brien, Cody Franson, Joel Ward, and JP Dumont. JP Dumont is playing overseas and Cody Franson has only played in 4 games (0G 1A -5), this leaves four left to play for other NHL squads. Many Predator fans have pointed to an anomaly that once a player leaves the “system” that Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators employ that they seem to flourish in their new digs. Talent such as Mike Santorelli, Rich Peverley (whose name is on the Stanley Cup) and Ryan Jones have gone on to have moderate to high success for their new franchises.
The question this poses is how has it been different this season? Has the shedding of veteran talent cost the Predators dearly? On the injury front for a little while…yes. But have the players that moved on to “greener” pastures been as effective for their clubs or have the Nashville players that moved into those roles managed to overachieve?
Steve Sullivan vs. Craig Smith
Sullivan, a crafty, speedy forward whose injury woes may have forced the Predators to not take the chance to re-sign him, signed a 1 yr contract to play for Pittsburgh. Craig Smith is an untested, green-horn who decided to forgo his last 2 yrs of college to earn a spot on the Predators roster.
Sullivan – 1G 5A 6P +/-0
Smith – 4G 6A 10P -1
The Predators may have gotten lucky with Craig Smith stepping up and firing off the 3rd best point totals for a rookie this season. Sullivan will definitely be missed as a great locker room presence and mentor for younger players, but Craig Smith has stepped comfortably into the 2nd PP unit and 2nd on the Predators in points.
Marcel Goc vs. Matt Halischuk
Marcel Goc is a hungry hockey player that goes to the hard areas, doesn’t quit and comes out with a great set-up for scoring opportunities. He is also known to let loose a deceptive wrister. His injury concerns hindered the Predators from committing another contract to him so he walked as a UFA to the Florida Panthers.
Matt Halischuk’s MO is almost identical to Goc except for Goc being a center and a face-off specialist. Everything else though and especially the hard-nosed play that earned Matt the nickname “Hustlechuk” is a nightly definition of a lunch-pail 3rd/4th liner that can match up to the other team’s top offensive line and contribute points on the off-night.
Marcel Goc – 2G 0A 2P -2
Matt Halischuk – 3G 2A 5P +1
Once again, Poile strikes gold with another “player to be named later.” Halischuk was included in the trade of Arnott to New Jersey last season. Halischuk has become an integral part of the bottom 6 forwards in Nashville’s lineup.
Shane O’Brien vs. Jack Hillen
O’Brien quickly became a crowd favorite in Nashville because of gritty play and a penchant for sticking up for his teammates. While not a scoring defenseman, O’Brien did all the little things, especially clearing out the puck and moving the puck out of the defensive zone that every coach loves. Hillen while only playing a handful of the Predators games so far this season has looked to be a serviceable blue-liner and can carry the play into the offensive zone. He also provides veteran leadership to Laakso and Blum.
Shane O’Brien – 14GP 0G 4A 4P +/-0 31PIM
Jack Hillen – 11GP 0G 3A 3P +3 8PIM
The undisciplined play by O’Brien in the playoffs may have cost him his chances at rejoining the Predators roster and so far this season, O’Brien has been to the box for 31 minutes compared to Hillen’s 8 PIM. The +3 rating also lends to Hillen’s brilliance in even-strength play.
Joel Ward vs. Colin Wilson
Many believe that Joel Ward was one of the costliest names that is not on the Predators roster this season. Ward’s play in last year’s playoffs earned him a healthy pay raise by the Washington Capitals in the neighborhood of $3M per year for the next 4 years.
Colin Wilson is a first-round pick that has not lived up to his potential and has been floundering in and out of the press box during the 2010-2011 postseason. Wilson is supposed to use his big body and puck-handling skills to better navigate in the offensive zone and create scoring chances. Many fans have been wondering if this is the season the much-hyped Colin Wilson finally arrives.
Joel Ward – 4G 3A 7P +6
Colin Wilson – 2G 5A 7P +2
Ward has the slight edge this season, so far, but the more players Nashville gets back from injuries (Kostitsyn) the more effective Colin Wilson can become. Ward was a great character guy and his success in Washington is well-deserved for such a hard-working individual.
One last thing to consider, in light of Pekka Rinne’s new contract and the ability to re-sign the core of the Nashville Predators, the salary gained over the summer is astounding. As of this writing, Sullivan, Ward, O’Brien and Goc combined cost $7.3 million, whereas the combined cost of Halischuk, Smith, Hillen and Wilson roughly equate to $3.8 million: a $3.49 million savings. Not to mention the buyout of Dumont’s contract and the trade of Lombardi and Franson to further build up cap-space and actual salary. These net amounts could be quite helpful in the re-signing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.