At this very tricky time of year, NHL teams are keenly aware that the options open to them before the trade deadline represent theoretical possibilities for improvement, and even a stab at a championship, but guarantee nothing.
Few teams understand that better than the Nashville Predators, a club that, as always, will be worth watching from now until the 26th of February.
The Predators are always a team with a history worth examining because they’ve had the same general manager, David Poile, since the day they came into the league.
Ownership has changed, coaches have changed (they’ve had two!) and players have changed, but Poile, ever since he decided he’d rather be the general manager of an expansion team in Tennessee than GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has had his fingerprints on every Nashville decision.
Since first registering 100 points in a season and becoming a contender in the 2005-06 season, the Preds have sometimes dabbled at the trade deadline (we consider all deals in the two months before the official end of trading to be deadline deals) and have sometimes thrown all their chips into the pot.
The results have sometimes been counter-intuitive.
In 2007, for example, Poile made the most aggressive move of his NHL executive career, acquiring centre Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia for a package of players and picks. The Preds, for the first time, were really going for it.
And Nashville won a single playoff game before being eliminated by San Jose.
A decade later, at the 2017 trade deadline, Poile decided to play it cool. The only move made was to pick up journeyman forward P.A. Parenteau for a sixth-round pick to add a little scoring depth.
And guess what? The Predators beat the Chicago, St. Louis, and Anaheim and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before finally losing to Pittsburgh.
So which did they regret more: paying a heavy price for Forsberg in ’07 and getting nothing for it, or not doing much last winter when, in retrospect, perhaps another quality player or two might have made the difference against the Pens?
You’d think both results would serve to shape Poile’s thinking as the 2018 trade deadline approaches. Right now, the Preds are on a pace for a team-record 114 points, first in the Central Division, fourth in the overall NHL standings but second in winning percentage (.700) to only the Boston Bruins (.709).
The Preds have it all, depth and quality at all positions. A player in the top 50 of the NHL scoring race would be nice, as would be better numbers from No. 1 centre Ryan Johansen. That said, Nashville is still 10th in offence, averaging more than three goals a game. Only two teams, Boston and Los Angeles, are better defensively.
They’ve also got their top prospect, forward Eeli Tolvanen, already turning heads while skating for the Finnish Olympic team in Pyeongchang. Defenceman Dante Fabbro starred on Canada’s team at the world juniors and is a sophomore at Boston University.
So, as always, Poile has options, and with big names like Rick Nash on the market, the Preds are a favourite to do something big.
Earlier in his career, Poile was regarded as more of a conservative GM. That went out the window on Feb. 15, 2007 when he peddled forward Scottie Upshall, defenceman Ryan Parent, a first-round pick and a third-round pick to the Flyers for the 33-year-old Forsberg. The Swedish all-star, however, was bothered by injuries and in the last stages of a splendid career. He scored four goals in 22 regular-season and playoff games before moving on to Colorado that summer.
That failure, however, did not make Poile gun-shy. It emboldened him. The next time he was positioned to make a big move was 2011, the year he acquired centre Mike Fisher from Ottawa for first- and third-round draft picks, uniting Fisher in Music City with his wife, singer Carrie Underwood. The year after that, he picked up Hal Gill from Montreal for a second-rounder, Andrei Kostitsyn from the Habs for another second and added centre Paul Gaustad from Buffalo for a first-rounder.
In 2014-15, after acquiring Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, Olli Jokinen and James Neal in the off-season, Poile made a medium-sized move at the deadline, picking up defenceman Cody Franson and winger Mike Santorelli from Toronto for Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick.
In 2016, Poile upped the ante, dealing multi-talented rearguard Seth Jones for Johansen. That trade was on Jan. 6, demonstrating an intention followed by more than a few GMs to get out ahead of the deadline frenzy.
That summer, he made the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber stunner, which may have held him back at the deadline when he only made the Parenteau deal. Earlier this season, the Preds made the blockbuster three-way trade with Ottawa and Colorado that brought centre Kyle Turris to Nashville. We’ll see if that restrains Poile like last winter, or whether the experience of not doing more when he had a team good enough to get to the Cup Final will motivate him to make more happen by the 26th.
An injury to Johansen hurt the Preds this past spring, so another forward with scoring ability would be beneficial. Another D-man would help.
More of everything always helps, right? Except when it doesn’t. That’s the history of the NHL trade deadline.