Over the last few days, the presence of two members of the Atlanta Thrashers organization on press row in Nashville stirred up talk of a possible trade between the two teams, with hockey's most infamous rumor-monger touting a potential deal for Ilya Kovalchuk. His reasoning was that the Predators ownership was interested in making a big, splashy acquisition to drive fan interest and ticket sales.
This (like his earlier hyping of the Preds pursuing Marian Gaborik as a free agent, or trading for Alex Ovechkin) was stupendously stupid on a number of levels. First, I highly doubt that with David Freeman selling off assets to pay his taxes, he's going to turn around and write a huge paycheck for any player, just on the hopes that the fans would flock to the ticket window and pay for him.
Besides, have you seen what ticket sales have been like in Atlanta? It's not like Kovalchuk is packing the house there...
Nevertheless, the fact that front office personnel from the Thrashers did come here for a couple games is noteworthy, so let me share with you a conversation I had recently with a Thrashers blogger as to a trade situation that might indeed make sense between Atlanta and Nashville...
The following conversation between myself and The Falconer of the outstanding Bird Watchers Anonymous took place over the last few days. Note that this is all informed speculation, we make no pretense of having access to mysterious "sources" on this matter:
Me: It looks like Atlanta's assistant GM and director of player personnel have attended each of the last two Predators games, and since the teams don't play until the end of January, that's fueling a lot of trade speculation, some of which (Ek talking up Kovalchuk) is beyond idiotic. So who might the Thrashers be willing to part with, and what might they be looking for? I'd love to see Slava Kozlov help boost Nashville's power play, for example.
The Falconer: To be honest I wouldn't read too much into it. If a trade were brewing then I would expect Rick Dudley to show up... But let's play this game anyway.
Kozlov has a no trade clause, so not him. Kovalchuck isn't going anywhere other than the KHL. The Thrashers are about to have 8 healthy D with the return of Boris Valabik so that would be my guess. Also Bryan Little has struggled mightily. Slater or Reasoner perhaps. Kari Lehtonen is probably not going to be a Thrasher next year, but who trades for an injured goalie.
The Thrashers are 7-1-1 since Kovalchuk's return so there is no urgency at our end, the team is earning points. Also there are glaring roster needs. If I had to guess I'd say the defenseman logjam--perhaps Anssi Salmela who really is a power play specialist.
Me: Dudley and Dobson were the names mentioned as in attendance, for what that's worth. If excess defensemen is Atlanta's problem, then I really don't see a match here, because that's probably Nashville's greatest strength right now. Might the Thrashers be interested in Dan Ellis, perhaps? David Poile said before the season that if Rinne proved a worthy #1, that they might deal Ellis, and that's certainly proved out so far. That would also make sense as to why the Thrashers would be in town the last two days, because that's been the likeliest opportunity to watch Ellis play for the last few weeks.
The Falconer: Hmm, well if both Dudley and Dobson were there than that's much more interesting. From the ATL end, Hedberg is playing his best hockey ever in a Thrashers uniform. With Lehtonen returning sometime in the spring, I can't see them adding Ellis unless NSH takes a goalie back the other way. I really find this a head scratcher because I don't see an obvious fit. What are the needs from NSH side?
Me: As far as what Nashville needs, I'd say a goal-scoring winger and/or a playmaking center (long term that's Colin Wilson, but I'd like to see a one-year band-aid until he's ready). Strange stuff, and it doesn't help that Ek is hyping Kovalchuk. I don't see that as even close to realistic.
The Falconer: If they were going to trade Kovalchuk they would probably have to fire Waddell first. He's not going to make that trade. If anything we could see a repeat of the Bouwmeester drama only this time the player departs for the KHL after his contract is finished.
It is possible that Bryan Little might be available but he's so young NSH would need to offer something of value in return.
Now there's an idea worth pursuing - might Bryan Little make a good fit with the Predators?
#10 / Center / Atlanta Thrashers
Nov 12, 1987
|2009 - Bryan Little||22||2||8||10||1||2||0||0||0||0||35||
|Assets||Is a top playmaker from the wing position, mainly because he's a natural center. Owns a good wrist shot and sound defensive instincts. Is a tireless worker.|
|Flaws||Lacks ideal NHL size and strength, and is only average in the skating department. Needs to play with more consistency.|
|Career Potential||Scoring winger.|
Last season, Little scored 31 goals, but is off to a slow start this year, having perhaps lost some prime-time duty since the Thrashers acquired Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov. I would think that in Nashville, there is ample opportunity to earn power play time. As a "scoring winger" with "sound defensive instincts", his scouting report certainly reads like something the Predators would be interested in. And we all know what a change of scenery can do for a player's offensive opportunities, right Rich Peverley?
An added boost here is Little's flexibility to play wing or center. Nashville has struggled for years to get any offensive production down the middle after Jason Arnott and David Legwand, and a player like Little would give the team a short-term solution if they wanted to put him between Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist, for example, and then move him over to the wing when Colin Wilson is ready for full-time NHL duty. Relying on Wilson to provide that punch this season might be expecting too much of a player stepping up from the NCAA.
At 22 years of age, Little is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and makes $850,000 this year; with only the single productive season, he shouldn't command a budget-busting contract quite yet, so from a financial perspective this is a player that David Poile should be able to work into both his short- and long-term plans.
Offensive talent + good defense + hard working + cheap = ideal acquisition target for Nashville?
At no little cost, however
The flip side to the question, of course, is what it might take to acquire a player like Little.
It was pointed out above that Atlanta already has 8 healthy defensemen, so a current blueliner is probably out, but what about a prospect like Jonathan Blum? His upside may well be higher than most of what Atlanta already has. I'm sure Nashville would love to get some value out of Ryan Jones in trade, as he's toiling away in Milwaukee making NHL money.
There are also draft picks, which might be of interest to an Atlanta team that is preparing to empty the bank vault for Ilya Kovalchuk, and will need to complement him with younger players on entry-level deals.
I'm sure the price would be significant, but quite less than what Phil Kessel would have cost in trade. Bryan Little might be the kind of meaningful, but not outrageous acquisition that can help make the Predators a more dangerous team come playoff time.