From everyone's favorite book, Moneyball:
The A's front office realized right away, of course, that they couldn't replace Jason Giambi with another first baseman just like him. There wasn't another first baseman just like him and if there were they couldn't have afforded him and in any case that's not how they thought about the holes they had to fill. "The important thing is not to recreate the individual," Billy Beane would later say. "The important thing is to recreate the aggregate." He couldn't and wouldn't find another Jason Giambi; but he could find the pieces of Giambi he could least afford to be without, and buy them for a tiny fraction of the cost of Giambi himself.
In proving Ryan Suter's value, pundits often cite his 26:30 average time on ice, which was third in the entire NHL. Suter's massive TOI this past season, however, reflects not only the defenseman's incredible talents, but also poor preseason planning from the Predators last year.
The Preds, in an attempt to shed salaries in preparation of signing Shea Weber (woops), had jettisoned their entire third defense pairing from the season before: Shane O'Brien and Cody Franson. O'Brien and Franson, while not relied on in even strength situations, did some heavy lifting on special teams. Franson quarterbacked the second power play unit, while O'Brien played on the top PK pairing with Kevin Klein.
On Opening Night 2011, the Predators' bottom pairing was Teemu Laakso and Jack Hillen, who contributed nothing on special teams (or at even strength, really). This change in roster dynamic necessitated that Ryan Suter and Shea Weber play on the top power play and penalty kill units.
This season, however, the Predators will, by all indications, feature Ryan Ellis and Hal Gill as their third pairing. Ellis and Gill, besides being a hilarious sight gag due to their height discrepancy, are two of best specialists for their respective special teams duties. With his much superior shot, Ellis is already probably a better PP defenseman than Ryan Suter. And Gill, while no #20, is a very good fit for the Preds' passive PK system that relies mostly on shot-blocking and forward clears.
Let's compare their production on special teams last year to Suter's:
Gill was actually a little better on the PK, while Ellis was just as good on the PP, playing with inferior forwards and fewer offensive zone starts.
So, in a way, the Predators have already replaced some of Suter's most critical minutes. This allows David Poile to focus on finding a shut-down even strength defenseman like Matt Carle or Paul Martin, instead of needing another do-it-all guy like Suter. If the Predators can acquire such a player, they may successfully replace Suter, as Billy Beane said, "in the aggregate."