[Ed: This is the first of two pieces on the trades David Poile made yesterday. Check back in an hour for Bobby's suggested explanation of what's up and a slightly more optimistic outlook!]
The Predators made two transactions on Wednesday, one more baffling than the previous one. On the one hand I understand the acquisition of Brian Boyle. From all accounts he’s a tremendous man, a warrior—literally and figuratively—and someone you’d quite genuinely want around your team. He’s big and can serve a purpose on the Predators power play as a netfront presence by generating chances himself or taking away the sight lines for opposing goalies. The Predators' power play, in a word, is bad:
It is one of the worst in the league, and generates little to nothing in the low slot. That is precisely Brian Boyle’s game.
I won't throw another chart at you, but he also serves a purpose in a defensive, fourth-line role. Here is what David Poile said about the acquisition:
My question is, why is that particular skill set worth a second-round pick in the 2019 draft? Nashville has only made five picks in the top two rounds of the draft in the last four years. If they hold on to their 2019 first-rounder that will make just six picks in a five year stretch. The prospect pipeline is dangerously thin and the Nashville front office continues to bleed assets for, at best, marginal returns. See them all here if you like.
Nobody is seriously mistaking Boyle for a top-six or even top-nine player—I’m sure the front office would admit as much themselves—but how many bottom-six forwards does a team actually need? Take a look at the roster as currently constructed. Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons, Calle Järnkrok, Ryan Hartman, Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Miikka Salomäki, Austin Watson, Frederick Gaudreau, the Phillip Di Giuseppe experiment, anyone they call up from Milwaukee, and now Boyle. If you collect ten of them, can we spin three for an actual top-six player? The answer is no, because bottom-six players, especially fourth-liners, can be brought in off the street.
The trade market is constantly shifting; values fluctuate depending on team need and availability of that kind of player. Poile followed his Boyle comments with the following:
Are the Predators now bidding against their own valuation of Boyle as worth a second-round pick? What will it take to acquire someone a large segment of the fan base covets—a top-six forward? Boyle for a second now increases the value of everyone else, and an asset you could have used to acquire a larger piece for the playoffs is now property of the New Jersey Devils. What do you have left to chase Wayne Simmonds or Micheal Ferland, much less someone like Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, or Matt Duchene—players who could tip the scales in Nashville’s favor? The best of what Nashville has left to offer is Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro and a first-round pick. The cap space is there; the Predators currently have $19 million to play with. If we are getting to the “all-in” point with our current roster, we need difference makers, not bottom of the lineup guys. What is the roadmap to acquire one?
I could stomach Boyle for something less than a second-round pick. I get the merit of having him on the fourth line versus not having him there at all, but the price was too steep. Maybe that’s the price of doing business, but timing is also a consideration in any market. Would Devils GM Ray Shero have stuck to his asking price of a second round pick on deadline day?
That brings us to the more puzzling and contentious re-acquisition of Cody McLeod, maybe the last of his kind as an actual fighter in the NHL. McLeod spent a couple of months with the New York Rangers after getting waived by Nashville, and now he’s been re-acquired for something of value. Seventh-round picks don’t generally turn into NHL players, but it’s still something; it’s still a commodity that has value. Call in a lottery ticket if you wish, but you don’t simply throw them in the trash. Here is Poile in his own words:
Let’s unpack this one. Anytime an NHL GM acquires a player who looks bad by any metric, whether that be possession numbers or just plain old points, the go-to is how good he is in the room and how great of a leader he is, something intangible, something we can’t measure. The reality is that McLeod has ten points in his last 110 NHL games. It’s even worse by any measure deeper than points. He gets absolutely caved in at both ends of the ice.
He could possibly be the very worst skater in the NHL, not worth acquiring at any price. Come playoff time, what is his purpose? Is he getting into the lineup to fight Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien or Vegas’s Ryan Reaves? Buff isn’t that stupid. Taking himself off the ice for five minutes is far more impactful than if McLeod sat in the box the entire game. The Predators would be best served never dressing McLeod even one time, because the player he takes out of the lineup is much more likely to contribute to the on-ice success of the team.
That takes us into leadership. When Mike Fisher retired, the C was handed over to Roman Josi. Ryan Ellis wears an A along with a rotation of Ryan Johansen, Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg. That's five players who already serve as your leadership core. Is that contingent of players lacking in leadership ability? If that group of players has control of the locker room, what does it say about them that the GM thought the team needed two more good locker room guys?
Never mind the fact that this is essentially the same team that took to the ice last year. The only new addition is Dan Hamhuis, who has already worn a Predators uniform. So how can fans not ask this question? It’s as if we take whatever is said in media availability as gospel and never inquire to know more. If the leadership group as currently composed is sufficient, why were two other “leaders” needed in the locker room? You can have too many cooks in the kitchen.
Over the summer we were told that the team didn’t want to make any significant changes to the roster, that this group wanted another crack at the playoffs. Fine, that’s what you got. But now the team or the leadership group isn’t good enough?
One last thing—that’s comportment. Why does the team feel the need to keep or add borderline dangerous players to the team? Let’s stick with on-ice play. The Predators have had two well known off-ice issues in the last few years. I am not here to comment on those actions. We are consumers of an entertainment product, however, and we were sold the same bill of goods on Zac Rinaldo, who was suspended on five separate occasions by the NHL. Cody McLeod is a dangerous player. He takes penalties and gets into fights. That's the extent of his hockey-playing abilities. Let’s not forget his suspension for this hit:
Does the team need dirty players to win? Is the team asking for them? Does the coach want them? Is the GM making these decisions on his own? Maybe after full consultation of the rest of his front office staff? It’s getting to the point where these transactions can no longer be defended. Poile offers this:
Big and not good at hockey isn’t a winning recipe in this league anymore. The playoff series against Winnipeg last year is a frequent reference point. The Jets have size, but their size is actually good at the game of hockey. Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers can all play hockey. The Predators didn’t lose to the Jets last year because of size, they lost because of speed. Any time Winnipeg was able to open the game up, they won. The Predators could only win by slowing the game down. They are now doubling down on that strategy this year, as these two acquisitions would indicate. Larger questions remain—ones that will likely never gets asked much less answered.