When teams are having a horrible season, one of the bright spots lies in the hope that things are going to get better. The Buffalo Sabres' fan base might be frustrated with the way things have turned out in recent months, but the fans must also acknowledge the valuable future assets acquired through their recent trades. The last two seasons, the Predators have taken very reserved actions at the trade deadline. Despite getting rid of the original cornerstones of the Predators' franchise, the trades have also brought in some considerable future talent. Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok have had moments of glory that keep the fires of hope burning, at least for the time being. The other notable trade has been the acquisition of Michael Del Zotto, but obviously that trade is a little more complex. In addition to FF9 and Iron Hook, the Predators prospects that have been brought up from Milwaukee have had their shining moments, albeit mostly brief shining moments. They have helped us die hard fans retain some hope for future seasons.
However, Milwaukee's shining moments in Nashville are bittersweet. Many of the players called up have been relegated to the 3rd and 4th lines playing with the grit lines when their skills call for a little more delicacy and a little less primal urgency. To contrast, many of the Predators' acquisitions are going to need replacement sooner rather than later given their age. This duality has only been agitated by Barry Trotz's line pairing and dog housing decisions, and these decisions have sapped fan-base morale for two very important reasons.
One of the hardest parts of dealing with this soured season is how this years decisions and actions have darkened the fans' vision of the future. We all know that Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, and Roman Josi's contracts are solid long-term signings. But many of the contracts handed out this year are long and have yet to yield any manjor short-term gains. The lack of immediate impact from this last year's transactions has been clouds on the horizon in regards to the Predators' future. Viktor Stalberg and Eric Nystrom are locked up for the next four years. Despite the faith shown in these two players by their multiple year contracts, Stalberg has yet to really shine as the player we are paying him to be. Nystrom has been a little bit of a surprise, but calling his signing anything more than lackluster would be an exaggeration. The Clunestigator was locked up for two years as was Matt Cullen. While I have enjoyed Clune's Twitter humor and (over-) willingness to drop the gloves, energy players are better at providing gusts of wind for sails than fueling a rudderless ship. Matt Cullen provides a veteran presence, but the depth of his veteran influence is something that can never really be fully evaluated, especially this season.
In addition to the struggles with old players with long contracts, the handling of prospects has also shrouded the future vision of the Predators. At the beginning of the season, I was very excited to see some of the young talent in Milwaukee brought up to see what they could do. I would love to see some of the younger prospects paired up with some of the younger stars on the team or with some of the veterans that have a little more experience to lead the play of the younger players. Instead, the prospects have been relegated to the fourth line with fourth line minutes and grit players for linemates. If anything, the flashes of prospects' good play should be hailed as miracles. The one exception is Calle Jarnkrok, and he is an outlier due to the time he spent in the Red Wings' organization as opposed to the Predators'. The small sample size of prospect play has given the fans a very short sneak preview of things to come, which only further darkens our visions of the future.
If the Nashville Predators are a puzzle, then the prospects are pieces that management couldn't figure out where on the puzzle they belong after only briefly trying. The veteran acquisitions are puzzle pieces belonging to different puzzles all together, and the fans are left with a picture of mismatched and missing pieces. The bad contractual decisions made by management give the Predators future outlook a decrepit spin; while, on the other hand, the management has chosen to keep upcoming bright spots hidden in Milwaukee or behind a lack of playing time. The managerial decisions have only gained negative momentum when implemented with the current coaching staff. When players are brought up from Milwaukee, the Predators' controlling forces serve their cups of coffee by putting them in the doghouse or giving them time on the fourth line. Where Predators' fans could be excited about the current prospects, we are instead left to hypothesize about how things could be different. Even though I still retain hope for the near future of the Predators' organization, the outlook could have a few less rain clouds and a few more rays of sunshine.