The dust has began to settle from July's free agency period. This year's free agent season saw Nashville be more proactive than in previous years, signing some depth players that the team needed for certain roles. Going into the draft, the Nashville Predators had several holes in their organization that we had previously identified:
- Top-Six Centers
- Physicality from the Defense
- Number One Goalie
- Re-signed Mike Ribeiro. This was not our favorite move. Even beyond the off-ice situation and potential PR disaster, he's an aged center being asked to replicate career numbers for the next two years.
- Re-signed Mike Fisher. This made a ton of sense. Fisher had a great season by his standards, and looks right at home in Peter Laviolette's system.
- Drafted a ton of centers. Iakov/Yakov Trenin, Thomas Novak, Anthony Richard, Tyler Moy... I'm thinking the team decided to play the "Law of Averages" and hope that one of them turns into something great. That's a good strategy, the Red Wings did this for years with late round picks and spent extra time grooming them in Grand Rapids.
- Signed Barret Jackman. I love this signing. This allows for Shea Weber and Roman Josi to play slightly more offense, and Seth Jones now how someone to watch his back while he does awesome things. Jackman isn't going to "wow" anyone, aside from making .gif worthy faces. But what he is going to do is provide a steady presence in the middle pairing, and allow for more balance deployment. There may not have been a better fit out there than Jackman for what the Preds needed.
- Signed Cody Hodgson. This is classic Predators. Hodgson got bought out by the Sabres after turning in a disastrous 2014-15 campaign. While his numbers were really dreadful, keep in mind that he wasn't put with skilled wingers like he will in Nashville. (Yes, that's still odd to say... Nashville has more skilled forwards than other teams.) Hodgson was the Canucks' top prospect at one point, if that's worth anything.
- Traded Magnus Hellberg. I know that David Poile, Paul Fenton, and Jeff Kealty will forget more hockey than I'll ever know... but this seems really dumb. They could've gotten a 6th round pick in 2017 for Carter Hutton, and we're seeing Apex Carter Hutton right now. Why did they not let Magnus do what Anders Lindback did for Nashville? He built his resume', and was traded for several picks*. Martin Jones also fetched a good trade package. Or they could've packaged Hellberg with another piece to land a bigger trade bounty.
- Signed Cody Bass and Max Reinhart. Hallo Milwaukee.
Again, the Jackman deal is a very good signing. It makes sense on multiple levels, and it weakens a divisional opponent. Plus, he's yet another good locker room guy. That's still a thing with David Poile, but it does tend to work here. I do like the strategy with drafting centers as well. Trenin and Novak both fit the need here, and Tyler Moy was a nice present to Jimmy Vesey. Moy will likely play beside Vesey this year for Harvard, so we'll be keeping tabs on the Crimson this year.
The Hodgson deal also deserves praise. Cody Hodgson is still young, and Laviolette prefers working with younger players (based on his track record). Also, Hodgson will be an RFA at the end of this year, meaning that if he works out in Nashville he could become part of the furniture here.
They also didn't trade away any of their top end prospects, which is both good and a shade bad (see below). But given how much we here at OTF love Kevin Fiala, let's call it a praise for now.
Obviously, we're not all fans of the Ribeiro deal. And we're going to leave it at that for now.
Signing Hodgson is a wise move, but this does create another logjam with players like Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki, Kevin Fiala, and even Calle Jarnkrok, Taylor Beck, and Gabriel Bourque. As of publish time, Nashville has 5 centers that actually played center last year. That's not a bad problem to have, and Jarnkrok is likely better suited for the wing anyways. Plus, he'll still take draws. The trouble is that someone in the Watson/Salomaki/Fiala group might not get the NHL spot this year. Last year's experiment with Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen pushed Watson back to Milwaukee for another year.
And that leads into my biggest criticism: Nashville could stand to make a trade. Teams in the NHL only play four lines. Hodgson & Steve Moses are replacing Matt Cullen and Mike Santorelli, and Kevin Fiala & Austin Watson are in a position to make the roster or spend another year in Milwaukee. Gabriel Bourque accepted his qualifying offer, and one has to suppose that Craig Smith and Colin Wilson will be signed to deals that will keep them in Nashville for several seasons. Does the organization need to move on from players like Eric Nystrom? Nystrom has two years left on his deal signed during the Summer of Discontent (2013). Taylor Beck proved to be a better companion to Paul Gaustad down the stretch, and Beck's best days are ahead of him. Nystrom's best days were when Barry Trotz played him top-six minutes.
The ideal situation could've been a trade that would consolidate some of the redundant assets to teams that are in dire need of cap relief. That didn't happen, and/or hasn't happened yet. So as of right now the Predators will once again be a team that's heavy on skill in several areas, but missing a key asset or two that other competitors have.
This team is built to
win compete this year and next, and then changes might need to be made. The stop-gap signings of Ribeiro and Fisher do buy the team some time for Watson, Vladislav Kamenev, and the plethora of draft picks to develop and rise to the roster (or show they aren't good enough). It also buys the team some time to plot their next trade, or see if Cody Hodgson can recapture and harness his potential. Again, Hodgson becomes an RFA after this deal which makes this a very smart signing.
The defense is solid. There is no complaint to be made. In fact, it may be the best in the league for both this year and next. The goaltending relies on Pekka Rinne not getting hurt. The future depends on Juuse Saros and Marek Mazanec pushing each other for supremacy.
By looking at the roster and decisions made by the front office to address their most glaring need, Nashville may be looking down the road to 2016 or 2017 as their window truly opening. That may be a reasonable opinion, but it also makes sense trying to win now while Rinne is in his prime and Shea Weber is being paid NBA money. It's hard to see this team not back to where they were last year, especially with the majority of the team taking a step forward in development and smart depth moves being made. But unless the team's young core takes another step forward or the veterans capture lightning in a bottle again, it might end exactly where they were last year.
*Lindback brought in two second round picks in 2012 (Pontus Aberg and Colton Sissons) and a third round pick in 2013 (Jonathan-Ismael Diaby)