Over the past 72 hours, much has been made about some comments made by Nashville’s all-star defenseman Ryan Suter. After an initial incendiary reaction that had many in the hockey world writing him out of town, Suter clarified his statements the next day. Unfortunately for Predators fans, while Suter may have taken a little bit of the sharp edge off of his statements, the ultimate message was the same: he’s no closer to signing a long-term extension, and such a decision will likely wait until after the season. Naturally, there’s a good deal of hand-wringing going on throughout the Preds’ fanbase. To some, Suter is as good as gone, he needs to be liquidated into the maximum return possible. To others–no worries, Suter is just putting the team first, and will no doubt re-sign the day after the season ends, hopefully with the raising of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Like in so many other cases, the real material is found between the lines.
Earlier today, Kevin Allen wrote in his column possibly the best non-Nashville perspective that I’ve seen yet on the situation. Like has long been suggested, this isn’t a simple matter of trying to lowball Suter. Just like the inability to get Weber inked to a long-term extension before arbitration wasn’t a matter of dollars. The Predators have demonstrated a willingness to open up the purse for their core players, as demonstrated in Rinne’s huge extension. David Poile would like nothing more than to make these two young men extremely wealthy. So what’s the hold up?
As Allen suggests, Suter and Weber are at the top of their field. If either is to hit the open market, they have their virtual pick of where to land, and will be paid top dollar no matter where that is. Contrary to the assertions of many of the national talking heads, it’s nothing personal for Suter\Weber. It’s not that they are unhappy in Nashville. But at the same time, they’re not so happy that they’re willing to exchange a big payday for a chance to win. As you well know, Nashville has consistently come up short in the postseason. They are the picture of consistency when it comes to strong regular seasons, but invariably their lack of offense catches up in the playoffs. This season has shown some cause for optimism, with the offense and power play vastly improved, so it’s not like the Preds are all that far away from being a Cup contender, rather than just a playoff contender. A strategic deadline move or two could be enough to vault Nashville over that hump, making them more than just “that hardworking team that really gave us trouble on our way to winning the Stanley Cup.” Suter and Weber, like the fans, want the Nashville Predators to be more than just a test along the way.
And so that’s where it stands. The paths of these young phenoms have been inextricably tied since they made their debut, and their future in Nashville will continue to be so tied. A deep playoff run, made possible through the acquisition of a couple of key pieces(preferably the non-rental variety), followed by fruition of the months of promises of increased spending by ownership, and there’s likely nothing to worry about. Suter will finally put our minds at ease and sign his name on the dotted line. Chances are, Weber will do the same shortly after. They’ve made no secret their fondness for playing together, and have both admitted that their careers have been a hot topic in their conversation. So for David Poile and the Predators ownership, the ball is squarely in their court.
The 2006/2007 Nashville Predators fell short of achieving their ultimate goal, losing in 5 games to a dominant San Jose Sharks team, but no one could say they didn’t “go for it.” On February 15th 2007, David Poile made the biggest trade in team history, bringing Peter Forsberg to town. It was eventually revealed that this uncharacteristic trade was unusual for good reason–it was more or less ownership-mandated, Craig Leipold’s last ditch at a deep playoff run and making it work in Nashville. Ultimately, it was a failure for both that incarnation of the Predators and Craig Leipold, but the team now faces a similar crossroads. While nothing so dire as an imminent trip to Canada’s steeltown is on the line, a lackluster postseason showing could mean the loss of the franchise’s first homegrown superstar, and likely the eventual departure of his partner. With so much on the line, there’s good call to make a similarly bold overture. The make-up of this team possesses many of the intangibles that the earlier versions lacked, and as I’ve said many times in the past, the scoring balance is great, but it lacks a high-end, dependable scoring threat. It could also use an improvement to the second defensive pairing, one that would see Hillen on waivers and Bouillon relegated to situational\non-every night use. Without those additions, the Predators will likely still make the playoffs, but I can’t see them getting by some of the Western Conference powerhouses. With the right additions–that admittedly may come at the cost of a high-profile prospect or two–the Nashville Predators could be a peer to those teams, rather than the bluecollar underdog that they need to keep an eye on.
And ultimately, realizing that potential and status could be the thing that keeps Suter and Weber in town, and cements the franchise as a perennial powerhouse, as opposed to reeling and picking up the pieces.