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Analyzing the Predators’ Offseason: Have They Done Enough?


Jul 31, 2013


Throughout my life, my productivity has faced a daunting nemesis. My enthusiasm for a task can often be sullied by a short attention span. While I can see the goal in my head, getting there can be a challenge. I can freely admit that I’m a “big picture” person, and I can become easily distracted while fleshing out the details. Compounding my problems is the fact that I tend to fixate on some mundane aspect of a project (I call it a lovable quirk, my shrink would brand it “obsessive compulsive disorder”).

Building a model airplane, I may spend so much time on organizing the pieces for ease of assembly that by the time it comes to actually put glue to plastic, I’ve lost interest to the point that I rush through the task and end up with a sticky, poorly-assembled result. Writing a blog, I could put so much energy into selecting the perfect picture that the content is infrequent and riddled with negativity (that’s my story, and I am sticking to it).

To make matters worse, the detail that I hover on may be of secondary importance, causing me to neglect the key elements of a task.  The ending product is in danger of suffering as a result. To use a loose analogy: it’s like spending a lot of money and time on getting the landscaping immaculate, all the while the roof is full of leaks. Sure, my grass is green and the shrubbery lovely, but weren’t there more pressing needs?

I’m starting to wonder if perhaps David Poile is possessed of similar character traits.

Going into the offseason, the Nashville Predators’ primary objective seemed obvious to even the most casual fan: bolster a Top Six that, on paper, might be among the leanest in the league. The same old story for the Predators: they needed to add, via free agency or trade, a dynamic player to go along with the cast of grinding character forwards. When a draft that seemed guaranteed to provide at least one such piece yielded the Predators a defenseman, the urgency and need for a fruitful free agency reaping became even more paramount.

On the eve of free agency, Mikhail Grabovski was placed on unconditional waivers for buyout purposes. Many fans thought, or at least hoped, that the Predators could bypass the sales pitch that has frequently come up empty for them, and simply take Grabovski and his typically reasonable contract off the wire. That didn’t come to pass, and Grabovski remains unsigned–his parting salvo toward Toronto bench boss Randy Carlyle likely didn’t endear him to NHL general managers.

There remained some optimism that Grabovski, or a similar talented, puck-possession oriented forward would be signed the old-fashioned away, among the fan-base. Personally, as I am wont to do, I took a pessimistic outlook, expecting a quiet, low-key signing or two. Mason Raymond was my prediction and I certainly didn’t expect a high-volume haul; that’s simply not David Poile’s style. After all, prior to the opening of this year’s free agent frenzy, the only player Poile had ever signed on day one in his Nashville tenure was last summer: backup tender Chris Mason.

I hadn’t been so wrong since I woke up on draft day and told myself, “When my head hits the pillow tonight, it will be heavy with contemplations of where Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Drouin will fit in to the opening night roster.”

I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that the Predators would dip into the free agent pool five times, or that four of those signings would be forwards. If you had told me that would be the case, I would have been thrilled. After all, the law of averages would seem to dictate that if you’re signing that many players, at least one of them would be a step toward addressing a weakness that virtually every fan and every media outlet is cognizant of.

Yet, in that grouping of forwards–Victor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, and Matt Hendricks–there isn’t a surefire, slam-dunk top six forward. I’ll discuss each player and give my opinions in a bit, but the prevailing idea is that David Poile certainly addressed the woeful bottom-six that featured a rogue’s gallery of “who?” types last season–but neglected that lurking need.

I’m not going to say that I don’t think the Predators are a better team than they were last season. I don’t want to be misunderstood in that way. I believe that if Mistress Health is kinder to Nashville this season, they should be back in the playoffs. My prognosis is definitely brighter than Dave Lozo’s, who ripped the Predators calling them a “blowout loser” in free agency. I do agree with some of his assessments; I do believe that part of the challenge for David Poile is that marquee free agents simply don’t wish to come here. The city holds an appeal to older players who are looking for a place to settle in relative quiet and virtual anonymity, but it lacks the sort of panache that a young star might find in a place like LA or NY.

Ownership has made headway in shedding the reputation of a franchise that can develop talent like no one’s business, but bids farewell when talent hits its prime and needs to get paid, but those old ghosts still linger in the minds of many. Signing Rinne to a massive extension and matching Philly’s offer-sheet to Shea Weber were positive steps, but some players haven’t forgotten that Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter, Scott Hartnell, Joel Ward, and a myriad of others are all in different uniforms. We may know the circumstances that surrounded those particular departures, but those details don’t matter and aren’t considered when a free agent is evaluating your viability as a signing option.

I also somewhat agree with his assertion that the Predators look to be a team with two third lines and two fourth, although I’d say it’s more like a second line, two thirds, and a fourth. However, with the exception of 2005-2007, that’s been the mold of the Nashville Predators, and Barry Trotz has always squeezed juice from even the most withered fruit. I’m of the belief that it can work, to moderate results. The 2013-2014 Nashville Predators will bear some of the hallmarks of the spunky, blue-collar squads of the past.

Unfortunately, I think that they are likely to suffer a similar eventuality that those lovable castoffs did: squeak into the playoffs, provide a tough test for a team or two, get bounced in the first or second round. That’s the price of Poile placing so much emphasis and energy on repairing the holes in the bottom six, while neglecting the fact that the top six is populated by players who are slotted a line or two too high.

So, let’s examine who the Predators signed, and what I think of each:

1. Victor Stalberg

This is my favorite signing of the day. Stalberg was someone I hoped the Predators would look at as a complement to a more high-profile signing. As it turns out, he was the high-profile signing, but I think he’s in a good position to succeed. He was undervalued by Quenneville in Chicago and has something to prove. He was benched at points this past season and hasn’t always made the most of his opportunities when placed with quality linemates, but I believe it may be a case of getting lost in the noise of more talented players.

2. Matt Cullen

I’m a little confused by this one. Matt Cullen is a fast, useful player. He can play in any of the top three center spots for stints, though ideally he’s a second or third line player. The problem? That’s a word for word description of Mike Fisher and David Legwand as well.

3. Matt Hendricks

A good story: drafted by the Predators in 2000 (the year Hartnell was their first round pick, to give you some perspective), but never signed. He worked his way through the minors to Colorado and eventually caught on with the Capitals, where he became a fan and teammate favorite. Hendricks plays a spark-plug, agitating style, very similar to Jordin Tootoo or Rich Clune. However, the issue again becomes redundancy. Do the Predators really need another Rich Clune, when they already have Rich Clune? One selling point: Hendricks has some supernatural and inexplicable ability in shootouts.

4. Eric Nystrom

I don’t really have anything here. Good teammate and he seems like a nice guy, funny on Twitter, but he’s an older version of Nick Spaling and head-scratchingly expensive.

Individually, these players are nothing to really write home about. The hope becomes that the sum of their parts is greater than the initial analysis would suggest. Fans all loved Vernon Fiddler, Jerred Smithson, and Joel Ward. Everyone loves an underdog and those guys were easy to root for. It’s sort of fun to have those types of characters back in the fold.

To Poile’s credit, the players he signed all shake out well in the “Fancy Stats” department and Nashville’s scoring woes owe equally to their perennially dreadful possession numbers as they do an inherent lack of skill. Perhaps this subtle, overlooked improvement will act in conjunction with growth from rising young players like Filip Forsberg, Taylor Beck, and Gabby Bourque. If that comes to be the case, then Poile’s vision of evil genius will come to fruition and I’ll gladly eat my skeptical words.

However, if they don’t, Poile will have spent an awful lot of time, energy, and cash on topiaries and water features. All the while, there’s an ominous scatter of shingles spread across the perfectly manicured, emerald green back lawn.

Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America