Trying to make sense of Nashville's Brian McGrattan claim

This afternoon's news that the Nashville Predators claimed enforcer Brian McGrattan from the Anaheim Ducks, and placed Zack Stortini on waivers, has many Preds fans scratching their heads, not just due to the swap of these two players, but in light of other roster developments as well.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if there might be broader implications from this move. Join me after the jump for some pure speculation...

Stortini vs. McGrattan comparison

This swap of Stortini for McGrattan represents an upgrade in fisticuffs, but a downgrade in hockey talent. At least Stortini averaged between 7 and 9 minutes a game over the last few years; McGrattan's range has been more like 3 or 4. In 14 of the 34 games he played in his last NHL season, McGrattan spent more time in the penalty box than he did on the ice (by point of contrast, that only happened in 3 of 15 games for the late Wade Belak).

In the old-school (and I'd argue, outdated) mindset that drives teams to employ enforcers, McGrattan represents an ICBM-class deterrent to opponents who might mess with your stars. The problem is that in the modern NHL, these enforcers haven't been shown to really prevent anything, as they aren't even on the ice long enough to make an impression.

So here's how  his value to the Predators strikes me - McGrattan is more of a specialist in the role of tough guy, without even the pretense of adding to the team's forecheck or penalty killing.

23-Man Squeeze

We also face the issue of the 23-man Active Roster, which is about to come under pressure as Mike Fisher and Francis Bouillon come off Injured Reserve. In light of those developments, I could understand why Stortini might be sent through waivers in the hopes of assigning him to Milwaukee, but again, why bring in McGrattan at the same time?

3 Lines vs. 4 Lines

Maybe, then, the Preds are going through a change in mindset as regards their forward lineup. Rather than spread the ice time out relatively evenly across four lines (only Stortini is averaging less than 10 minutes per game right now), they could look to move to a 3-line setup, with the remaining three forward spots taken up by specialists who play only rarely at even strength. Such a roster might consist of a dedicated power play/shootout man (for example, Cal O'Reilly), a penalty killing checker (someone like Jerred Smithson or Matt Halischuk), and a goon (McGrattan) filling specific roles, while three main lines did most of the heavy lifting.

The problem with such a lineup is that shortening the bench up front has not typically been a smart move for Nashville, a team loaded with good, but not great, forwards ("death by a thousand bee stings", indeed). A sample lineup might look as follows:

Wilson - Legwand - Smith
Kostitsyn - Fisher - Erat (once healthy)
Smithson - Spaling - Hornqvist
Halischuk - O'Reilly - McGrattan

Even with this group, I've left names like Jordin Tootoo, Niclas Bergfors, and Blake Geoffrion out of the mix, but they could just as easily be swapped into the 3rd or 4th lines, as two forwards watch from the press box each night (assuming the Preds want to continue carrying 22 or 23 guys with the team).

Still, we're currently looking at 15 forwards, who could use a jolt of star power if they're really going to run with more of a 3-lines-and-some-supporting-specialists mindset.

A Quantity for Quality Trade In The Works?

Perhaps, then, the Predators may be positioned to make a trade in order to relieve some of the numerical pressure on their roster and upgrade their Top 9 talent up front. While some guys like Blake Geoffrion could be sent to Milwaukee and help pare the Active Roster to 23, most of the other names (Bergfors, O'Reilly, Halischuk, etc.) would require waivers to go down, and would almost certainly get claimed.

So which teams might make a trade partner in such a scenario? Anyone looking to undertake a long-term rebuild and shed mid- to high-price talent, I would think. I'll leave the identification of possibilities as an exercise for the comments below...

To sum up:

  • The presence of McGrattan on the roster undermines the ability of the team to field a competitive 4th line
  • If the Preds want to focus more ice time on the top 3 lines, they need an influx of established star-quality talent 
  • The Predators will soon be under pressure from the 23 Active Player max, and have a limited number of players who could head to Milwaukee without passing through waivers (Blake Geoffrion, Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Jonathon Blum, Mattias Ekholm & Anders Lindback).
  • There is supposedly room in the budget to add talent at some point during the season, with the mid-point of the cap range ($56.3 million) being the likely upper limit of their range

Now remember - this is pure speculation on my part. For all we know, David Poile may be content to have McGrattan watch from the press box most of the time, and stands ready to send younger players to Milwaukee when Fisher and Bouillon return to active duty.

So what do you think? Do you smell further moves coming as a result of this, and if so, which teams might make viable trading partners?

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