David Legwand, the original Nashville Predator, has sneakily risen to the pinnacle of the points standings for Nashville. This may be a back-handed compliment or a "one-eyed man ruling the blind" scenario but in and of itself his 28 assists have him tied for 20th in the NHL. On a team that boasts amazing faceoff men, Legwand's 50th in the NHL (Gaustad 5th/Cullen 9th).
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The main issue coming up for David Poile and Co. is whether or not to retain Legwand, and more than likely have to shell out a bit more than the $4.5 million cap hit he has earned over the last six seasons. My first piece for OtF asked whether or not the Predators should trade Legwand. This article reviews why the Predators should keep him or what might be going through Poile's mind as the Olympics approach and after that the resigning process/trade deadline close behind.
David Legwand and the Haynesworth Syndrome
Legwand signed a six-year contract extension on December 7th 2007. A front-loaded contract with a cap hit of $4.5M was the price for the Predators keeping their core talent in Nashville (Martin Erat being the other). Legwand set career highs in points, goals and assists in 06-07 and with him just entering his prime, he was set to break out as the prolific scorer the Predators drafted with the #2 pick in the 1998 draft.
With free agency looming, Legwand is once again putting on quite the show, making it hard for Poile to ignore what he contributes to the organization. Legwand is very consistent and has been at the top of Predators scoring for the last few years averaging just over 39 points a year since he signed his 2007 contract extension. A pay raise is expected along with the salary cap rising next season, but the question then becomes does Nashville have the money to retain Legwand after doling out a few questionably bloated contracts last season? Poile was able to unload the Hendricks contract for a veteran NHL netminder in Devan Dubnyk, but is that enough? When considering what Poile is getting for his money, is David Legwand worth the $4.5M or even $5-5.5M he may receive?
Comparables to Legwand
Leino was a bloated contract after having a breakout year in Philly, so it is what it is.
But the other three are very interesting.
Lecavalier was the player drafted #1 overall ahead of Legwand in the 1998 draft. Lecavalier went on to become one of the all-time leaders of the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning a Stanley Cup and having spectacular career point production. While both Legwand and Lecavalier have put up similar numbers over the last four years, their salaries have been vastly different, making Leggy a comparative bargain (buy-out money on top of current contract Vinny is getting paid over $9M this season).
Jokinen, a few years Legwand's elder, has been a solid player for many years bouncing from team to team. Aside from five breakout seasons of +60 points (65, 85, 91, 71, 61) Jokinen has had slightly better production and gets paid on par with Legwand over the last six seasons. The only downside to Jokinen and his production has been his age although he is surging back to life with the Winnipeg Jets this year with 31 points, 5th on the team.
Maybe the best comparable to Legwand in production and salary is the St. Louis Blues captain, David Backes. Great two-way center, gritty, scores and leads his team, Backes has been an All-Star and Olympian. He signed a reasonable contract with a cap hit of $4.5M, same as Legwand, and his production has been slightly better. Backes has received far more attention than his Nashville counterpart so it may come down to perspective and Legwand playing in a small market without the history of the Blues.
Trade Deadline Suitors
On capgeek.com, the teams that would have the available cap room as of this writing to take on Legwand's cap hit are few. Even fewer are the teams that have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
The first choice for relocation of #11 could be Colorado. The only problem here is the glut of centermen at Colorado's disposal, but few can bring the solid two-way play that the Avs are lacking. John Mitchell and Maxime Talbot aren't bad, but if a team brings in more talent that pushes the other talent they have down to other lines hence a well-balanced forward lineup. Legwand centering the Avs third line would give them the defensive-minded forward to cover the opposition's top lines while Nathan Mackinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny can lead the offensive front. The other key is Colorado trying to sign Stastny and O'Reilly in the off-season. If one of them goes, it would be much easier (and cheaper) for the Avs to re-sign Legwand so the blowback to losing one of their top scorers won't sting as bad.
Montreal, closer to the deadline, could have the LTIR cap room to accommodate Legwand's $4.5M hit. Tomas Plekanec is solid on both sides of the puck as are Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk. Legwand could bring another level of defense to their team by stretching out the talent like the Avs example or the Stanley Cup champion 2011 Boston Bruins. The Canadiens aren't flashy aside from P.K. Subban and the glove hand of Carey Price, and Legwand might be the perfect fit for their system. Montreal has been a previous trade partner with Nashville and they could offer picks or prospects (Zach Fucale would be a monster return with a 1st or 2nd rounder in light of Rinne's injury status).
Anaheim would also have the estimated room to fit Legwand's cap hit close to the trade deadline and they are on pace to not only win the Pacific, but maybe vie for the Presidents Trophy. The Ducks have to part ways with their mainstays of Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, both of whom are on their farewell tour. Andrew Cogliano is doing pretty good and Nick Bonino is having a career year benefiting from extended power play time. Legwand could anchor the third line and in the case of any injuries fill in on the 2nd line easily. Rather than having a solely offensive team, the Ducks could look more like the Stanley Cup-winning Kings by having a great mix of offense and defense in the forward core.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Many Predator fans, myself included, would love for Legwand to remain with the Predators, get his 1,000th game in and retire wearing the Gold and Blue. With his current production and the prospect of a thin market for quality centers coming up in free agency, the chances of keeping Legwand with the Predators appear slim.
The question then becomes "what then?" Torches will be lit if Poile lets Legwand simply walk away for nothing as Ryan Suter did. Yet there will be a strong contingent against re-signing if Poile goes too high on salary or length of contract. Many already say Legwand is overpaid and maybe worst of all, by holding onto Legwand, the change that everyone is clamoring for won't come about while holding on to one of the players who most exemplifies "Predator Hockey."
In this contract year, Legwand's situation has not typically been a major story around Nashville or the NHL at large, like Shea Weber's Norris Trophy consideration or the performance of rookie Seth Jones. Legwand is the definition of consistency in points, face-offs, playoff performance and appearance. Yes, appearance.
There has always been David Legwand.
One of the most crushing blows to Predator fans recently happened with Kevin Klein being traded off to the Rangers. It was taken for granted that Klein was always going to be there. Players have come and gone, some with video tributes, some with a cascade of boo's, but none has been as big a part of the team, for so long, as Legwand. He will always be counted as a member of the old guard, associated with the "archaic" dump and chase, grinding style of hockey for which Barry Trotz is known. But for what he brings to the team in defense, points, faceoffs and reliability, Legwand may be a key piece in moving forward. The Predators need a player like him as does any team looking to gain the top prize. The problem remains that the Predators went out and got clones of Legwand last summer that are comparable to the copies made of Michael Keaton in Multiplicity. Not to mention the talk of Fisher flirting with the idea of retiring.
In summation, not every aspect of the Predators system needs to be shed simply because it has been here since the beginning. Legwand's consistent level of play would continue to provide value for years to come, and he should remain a Predator.
Note: Sorry to all for the extended hiatus from writing. I have ventured into the world of ownership of a new store and my hours have been long, but the store is doing great and my crew is off and running now. Thank you for being patient. Cheers.
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