The playoffs are going strong, and everybody is getting Stanley Cup fever. But if you're anything like me, you're more interested in what happens over the summer. That wonderful time of year where we get to draft the next hopeful superstar for the Predators, where we get to go after free agents to make our roster more complete, where big time trades happen, and where we make personal changes for the better (hopefully) of the Predators. By now it has had time to sink in, that Barry Trotz will not return to Nashville, at least not as the Predator head coach anyways. So now where do we go from here? That's mostly what this article is about.
First thing is first, it's got to start with the head man right?
Task 1: Find a new head coach.
This seems obvious, but isn't as easy as it sounds. The last coach we had, did a good job building a base foundation for the new guy...but what exactly do we need next? The obviously answer would be an offensive minded head coach, but that's not exactly detailed enough is it? Of course not. We need someone who can take the talent we have now and push them to the next level. But we also need someone who can develop offensive talent correctly, so that Jarnkrok and Forsberg don't get ruined on their development trek.
So is Laviolette a good choice? Somewhat...he did get Erik Cole to 59 points in 2005-2006 when the Carolina Hurricanes won the cup, and he had Erik Cole going above that mark the year after. He had Ray Whitney getting 59 points in only 63 games in Carolina's cup year, but the following year he had him explode for 83 points. Even Nashville's own Matt Cullen hit nearly 50 points in his 06 cup run year. To move past the Hurricanes, Laviolette got Scotty Hartnell to 67 points in 2011-12 (which if I'm not mistaking was a contract year for Scott) but really didn't do much more with him than Trotz did in Nashville. Claude Grioux did see an explosion of points in Laviolette's tenure, but Mike Richards and Jeff Carter actually saw a decline. Still 60+ points is something Nashville fans long for.
I think it's safe to say he's pretty good at getting the most out of the players he has. But what about the second part of it? What about developing prospects? James van Riemsdyk comes to mind here, and honestly JVR didn't turn it up until this year, the rest of the time he was only a 40 point player...not good for a top 5 draft pick. He only got a measly 44 points out of Sean Couturier in 123 NHL games. Hard to judge outside of that considering Philly traded a lot of picks to get players for the playoffs. But what about Carolina? Eric Staal ring a bell? Well he was Laviolette's first draft pick with the Canes. Andrew Ladd was the second first round pick. And the third first rounder? Well the third was Jack Johnson. That's pretty impressive, but don't start drooling yet...Laviolette never got more than 21 points out of Ladd in Carolina. And Jack Johnson never got a chance to play in Carolina. Staal on the other hand? Well Staal with exception to his rookie year, broke 70+ points each season with the Canes until Laviolette left. He continued this trend until the last couple of seasons, where he only broke 60 points once.
So we'll put a question mark by the developing prospects category, as he never really had a super prospect except for Staal. All the others either didn't play for him or didn't take off until leaving him. But the one he hit on? Oh man did he hit the homerun.
I would put Laviolette in the drivers seat to land this job, but wouldn't be surprised if another man by the name of Jeff Blashill came into the forefront either. Blashill is the man who has led the Grand Rapids Griffths to the Calder Cup last season, and potentially could do it again. The Red Wings young talent that has came up as of late, and even Calle Jarnkrok are products of Blashill coaching. Some say the Red Wings draft well, and they do, but the coaching side is just as important as drafting well. Moving on.
Task 2: Cut some ties
This is a painful process, but in the end, ties have to be cut with guys who no longer pull their weight or are in the end of their careers. Pekka and Shea are staying put, don't worry. As is Horny, Wilson, and Smith. But what else could we do to shake things up? That's up to Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher. Honestly, with Fisher's talks of next year being his last, it could be time to move him. I would hate it, because I love his game, but it's business not personal. Cullen was a terrible signing anyways, and while he did help out some, now he just clogs up a roster spot for a young guy. A team that needs veteran help to make that last push could come calling (hello Columbus), so it wouldn't hurt to dump Cullen into the laps of said Blue Jackets, but Fisher is valuable in the fact his big contract will help keep us above the salary floor. We have other needs to be addressed however.
A) What is Ryan Ellis' role on the team? Can he be traded for some more forward help?
B) Gabriel Bourque has shown offensive flashes, but honestly needs to either go to Milwaukee or be part of a package trade deal.
C) Nick Spaling had a breakout year by his standards, but again he is super expendable, and might be super valuable to someone.
D) Viktor Stalberg will either be loved or hated by the new coach, either way he needs to either find his game or be bought out.
At this point Gaustad and Nystrom are pretty valuable to the team, not worth their salaries, but not exactly terrible either. The sooner we cut those ties, the better.
Task 3: Re-Sign guys you want.
Michael Del Zotto and Ryan Ellis (if not traded) come to the top here. But I'd go ahead and try to get the Honey Badger extended too. Everybody else I'm kinda iffy on, we don't have a ton of UFA's with exception of Carter Hutton, and I don't care either way what happens with him. If someone feels like he is a starter for them, then by all means I'm going to be happy for him. But our crease is becoming overly crowded as of late. I think if any other RFA's pop up that other teams would like to trade, Nashville should be more than willing.
Task 4: Draft heavy.
Now you swing for the fences, hard. If Virtanen or Nylander fall anywhere near your spot, you trade up. I don't care if you have to give up a first and Gabby Bourque, you make that happen. In the second rounds you draft more off need than anything else, and while forward is a need our defense core is going to be bare unless we spend one of those seconds on a D-Man who can wait in the wings and develop slowly. I'd prefer to stick with prospects from Sweden or Finland, as they seem to work better for us. But this is the time where you restock Milwaukee's shelf big time. I like Adam Mattsson in round 2 at some point, the big Swede is a left handed shot and can either go directly to Milwaukee or stay in SEL for another year. It's important we get as many picks as possible in this draft, because Milwaukee is going to need some restocking with a rebuild on the fly.
Round 1, Pick 7/8: Jake Virtanen, Winger, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) or Round 1, Pick 11: Kasperi Kapanen, Winger, KalPa (SM-Liga)
"Virtanen is the big banging power forward who can score that Nashville has been missing, while Kapanen has a NHL pedigree, has played against grown men, and is a speedy winger with great vision who can play a 200 ft game."
Round 2, Pick 42, Shanye Gersich, Center, Omaha Lancers/University of North Dakota
"Hard to pass up Gersich, he's going to be in the NCAA the next couple of years so you worry about his conditioning with them playing so few games, but I think if he goes to North Dakota (one of the best NCAA programs) he'll learn a ton, and when he gets to Milwaukee his conditioning will be taken care of. If we take our time he could surprise us, has good work ethic and offensive skills."
Round 2, Pick 46, Adam Mattsson, D, Sweden
"6 ft 3 already, could grow up to 6 ft 5. Weight is kinda small, but can gain experience in the SEL for a year or two before making the transition to the North American game. If he comes over after a year in Sweden, he could be NHL ready in two seasons."
After that it's a tossup, so I won't go there.
Task 5: Find bargain free agents.
It's so tempting to say go after Stastny, go after Vanek, go after Moulson, go after Gaborik, but the fact is Vanek is pretty much sold to Minnesota. Not sure where Moulson goes, but I'd venture to guess Montreal will be interested, as will Toronto. Fact is, Nashville just can't match those guys for upfront payments. We damn near killed ourselves matching Weber, and I don't see us getting in a bidding war with anybody else...but there are a couple of value free agents we can sign.
Free Agent Target 1: C Derek Roy, St. Louis Blues.
It seems to me that St. Louis is content to back off the "WIN NOW" approach. Which is fantastic for me, because that means letting go of Derek Roy, who had 37 points in 75 games. I know what you're thinking, that's a terrible number, but the fact is under an offensive system Derek Roy flourishes, but lately being trapped as a 2nd/3rd line center on teams known for defense first has really hurt him. I think if he comes here, he's the number one center day one, and I think he hits 60 points at least. And we'll get him for about 4.5 million.
Free Agent Target 2: LW Mason Raymond, Toronto Maple Leafs.
Let's be honest, we messed up not signing him last year, or did we? Toronto got him for 2.5 million and got 45 points out of him. A quick winger who can shoot the puck? I'll take it, and if we can get him for roughly 3.5 million a year, I'm as good as sold.
Defense? Did I really go there? With this team? Yes, I did. And here is why. When Klein left we lost a lot of things, a PK guy, a solid defensive defenseman, a leader, and most importantly the Kleinhawk (we can get 3 of the 4 back). I'm arguing for Willie Mitchell because even at his age he still logged 20 minutes on the ice. He also logged 128 blocked shots, plus over 100 hits. Hitting isn't everything, but getting between the puck and the net is. With his veteran leadership and defensive speciality, this journeyman defenseman could very well allow Del Zotto, Jones, Ellis (if he's here), and whoever else focus on their offensive game while he handles the hard minutes in the PK game. We have to be better on the PK.
Free Agent Target 4: G Justin Peters, Carolina Hurricanes.
He's a backup goalie who has legitimate NHL experience behind a superstar. That's all I'm adding, if we don't resign Hutton then Peters appears to be a viable option.
Task 6: Make people believe again.
If you have some big free agent finds, a good draft, and a new coach...you've done pretty good. But this is the most important step for the Predators. They have to make people believe again, the fanbase needs to be re-energized to where we sell out every single game again. Teams out west have to legitimately fear us making the playoffs, and most importantly teams have to fear coming into Bridgestone Arena again. I never want to be overrun with Blues or Blackhawks fans ever again, the way you end that is by making the Predators fans believe we're on of the best...again.
If all this can be done, we will be in the playoffs again, and as you well know anything can happen in the playoffs.