It's part of the biggest debate in the hockey world today. The importance of leadership, toughness, and "being good in the locker room" versus pure hockey skill. The eye test or underlying analytics. Which side should be trusted? Ink has been spilled, words have been screamed, and debates have raged on about the right way to build a winning hockey team.
If anyone ever asks me to describe the NHL in one photo, it's this until further notice. pic.twitter.com/iKcCjRNMPO— Travis Yost (@travisyost) July 14, 2016
The Nashville Predators have correctly shown they're worried about the skill of a player over his objective intangibles.
This movement by David Poile began in the summer of 2014 when he acquired an edgy, star winger in James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Neal was and is the best player in the deal, but his borderline behavior in the playoffs wore thin with Pittsburgh's management group.
You could make the case they wanted a net front presence in Hornqvist to shake up the forward group, and the Penguins don't have much regret with a Stanley Cup to their name this past season. However, Neal had just completed a 61 point campaign in only 59 games. He doesn't get traded if there were zero questions about his character.
Nashville has benefited from that fracture between team and player with a very productive 54 goals from their acquired top line winger the past two seasons.
Moving on to earlier this year. The biggest trade in franchise history up until a few weeks ago saw Nashville finally acquire a franchise center from the Blue Jackets. All-Star Ryan Johansen was shipped to the Predators after a shaky start to the season and not seeing eye-to-eye with new coach John Tortarella. But let's not kid ourselves. A respectable but not great 26 points in 38 games to start the year after coming off a 71 point season wasn't the reason for trading him away.
The friction between him and his coach because maybe he didn't have the right attitude was the driving force. Columbus did receive a very promising player in Seth Jones that fills a need in defense. However, you don't fill a need to only create another one.
But again, Nashville isn't complaining about the circumstances that gave them their long awaited first line center.
That brings us to the P.K. Subban - Shea Weber swap that shocked everyone. The flamboyant star player traded for the quiet leadership star player. We've discussed why this trade makes sense for the Predators, but what is Montreal's motivation? Ding! Ding! CHARACTER. ISSUES.
And once again, the Predators decided to take the better player.
The great part about breaking down these character issues is that it's a such a big stretch to call them character issues at all. Untimely penalties, disagreeing with the coach, or having a big personality are hardly egregious enough to warrant trading away an All-Star, but here we are.
Nashville has now acquired four of their best five players via the trade market in the past three years. Besides the gross misevaluation by Washington of prospect Filip Forsberg, the trades were largely influenced by things outside the player's ability to play hockey.
All of these moves have now positioned the Predators a more consistent Pekka Rinne away from being among the top Stanley Cup contenders.
The focus on intangibles over production from some NHL organizations is a bewildering stance, but I don't think Poile and company are in any hurry to change that old school mindset as Nashville continues to take advantage of it.