Between now and Feb. 29, sportsnet.ca will be taking an in-depth look at teams and the decisions facing them leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. Today: Nashville Predators
GENERAL MANAGER: David Poile
2016 DRAFT PICKS: 1st (NASH), 2nd (NASH), 3rd (none) 4th (NASH), 5th (NASH), 6th (NASH), 7th (NASH)
CAP SPACE ON DEADLINE DAY: $43,570,394
TEAM MODE: Hoped they’d be a bigger threat by now.
When David Poile took a deep breath and tried to land the franchise centre of his dreams, he was probably hoping he wouldn’t need to do much more this season.
That was Jan. 6, the day he dealt one of his elite youngsters, defenceman Seth Jones, to Columbus to get the centre in question, Ryan Johansen. Almost seven weeks later, it’s unclear as to whether the Nashville Predators could indeed use a little more help to survive the dogfight for a Western Conference wild card berth in which they find themselves.
Johansen has been solid, but not exactly the saviour. The Preds are 9-7-4 since he arrived, and he has four goals and 12 assists in those 20 games, including one goal in his past 11.
In other words, he’s not (yet) producing at the .865 points per game clip he was in his last full season in Columbus. Winger James Neal has six goals in those 20 games mostly alongside Johansen, so that tandem has yet to explode.
With lots and lots of cap space, the budget-concious Predators could choose to spend and add prior to the deadline. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what Poile has in mind.
“If we don’t make any trades this year, I’m comfortable,” Poile recently told The Tennessean. “We made a big trade that should have made our team better… And to this point, it hasn’t.”
Some things are changing. The Preds have turned into a stronger road team of late, and goalie Pekka Rinne seems to be getting his game together. His season save percentage of .906 is still low by his standards, but in his last three starts he’s stopped 85 of 88 shots.
That should quiet any talk of Nashville needing some goalie help after rumours of goalies like James Reimer and the now-injured Kari Rammo heading south.
With that strong blue-line corps, still formidable despite the loss of Jones, all eyes naturally turn to the front lines, as they usually do in Music City. The Preds still are in the bottom half of the NHL when it comes to scoring goals, and despite Poile’s words and the tendency of the club not to be a big spender, the presence of names like Eric Staal, Mikkel Boedker and Andrew Ladd on the open market is going to have some arrows pointing to Tennessee.
We know Poile has called Tampa GM Steve Yzerman about Jonathan Drouin. But there are lingering memories of last year’s deal in which the Toronto Maple Leafs sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for a first rounder and Brendan Leipsic, a deal that didn’t spark the Preds in the post-season.
Cody Hodgson didn’t pan out as a free agent flier, and Kevin Fiala (11th overall in 2014) has yet to crack the NHL lineup on a permanent basis and is currently working on his game in Milwaukee. Defenceman Roman Josi still leads the team in scoring, while the likes of Colin Wilson (four goals) and Mike Fisher (eight goals) haven’t been able to give the team the necessary secondary scoring, and the Preds are actually scoring a little less as a team this year than they did last year despite the addition of Johansen up the middle.
The compelling factor here may be Rinne. He’s 33, and in a season in which he’s shown some signs of slowing down, Nashville’s window to win with the outstanding Finn in net may be coming to a close.
The Preds have three games before the deadline, starting in Toronto with the Leafs Tuesday. Two tough tussles with the Blackhawks and Blues follow, and if Poile gets the sense his team is starting to roll, he may be more inclined to enhance his group.
Wilson, Fiala and Austin Watson are cards he could play to get a frontline forward. If he knew that he’d be able to sign Harvard senior Jimmy Vesey as soon as his season concludes, that would be most helpful, but he doesn’t, and is worried he could lose Vesey to unrestricted free agency.
Still, Poile has a solid team, money to spend and options. That’s more than most.