Last week, fan-favorite prospect Rem Pitlick was claimed off of waivers by the Minnesota Wild. It certainly wasn’t something that fans of the Nashville Predators expected to happen before the season even started. 2021-22 was the year that Pitlick was supposed to get his shot at cracking the NHL roster. He looked excellent in the ten games he played during the 2020-21 season, and he looked even better with Yakov Trenin and Colton Sissons in the preseason.
Now, all of that is gone. The hope for him to make the Preds’ lineup as a full-time player is no more. I, like many others, are not happy. However, it got me thinking: how can this keep happening? There is seemingly no organization in the league that lets its players go for free or misses the mark more than the Predators.
Actually, check that. The Buffalo Sabres are pretty bad. Sorry, y’all.
None of this would matter if this were uncommon. Every once in a while, a team loses a prospect or a young player who flourishes in another system. But why is this such a big deal? Why does it matter enough for me to write an article about it?
Forwards Struggle Enough As It Is
It’s no secret that the Predators’ forwards can’t score. It’s talked about every season, and that narrative won’t budge until some significant change occurs. Players with the raw skill of Filip Forsberg should be scoring around 80 points a season, if not more. That hasn’t happened in Nashville. Instead of a forward leading the charge in the point-scoring category, it has been a defender. As much as I love Roman Josi, that shouldn’t be happening for multiple consecutive seasons.
The Predators can’t afford to throw their prospects around with no care in the world. Pitlick was a player who proved his worth, both in the AHL last season and in the very brief stint he played in the NHL while everyone was injured. Any forward prospect is valuable to the Predators, considering how so many of the others have turned out.
Over- and Underdevelopment Can Only Hurt
There have been plenty of prospects who ended up not living up to their expectations because they were either in the minor leagues for too long or called straight up. The first example that comes to mind is Dante Fabbro.
Fabbro was not ready to play top-level professional hockey straight out of college. It was clear from the jump. However, management and coaching believed it was a smart idea to push him into the top four after moving out P.K. Subban, which has singlehandedly stunted the young defender’s development. He hasn’t been the player that everyone expected him to be, and it’s almost imperative that he gets everything in gear. We are entering the area where the term “bust” is brought up, whether fairly or not, and that’s never good.
That’s underdevelopment, but what about overdevelopment? At this point, I think sending down Philip Tomasino is the start of overdeveloping a prospect. Starting the year in the AHL certainly won’t stunt his development, but what’s the point? He’s proven at multiple levels to be arguably the best offensive prospect the team has had in its history. Why make him sit down in the minors any more than he has to? It’s unnecessary, and I think that’s the problem most people take with the Predators’ development strategy.
Pitlick didn’t get the time of day last season because veteran players were taking his spot. The main one was Erik Haula, a player who provided some value—but certainly not as much as Pitlick did in his short time with the team. Haula didn’t even touch Pitlick in terms of even-strength production alone.
That’s another trend with the Predators organization that has caused prospects to lose their window. They bring in “just okay” veterans on short-term deals who inevitably push young players deserving of a spot out, and it stunts the prospects’ growth. It’s a very preventable problem, but it happens far too often.
Deciding When to Let Players Go
We have seen this issue before the Pitlick incident. We saw it with Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis. We may have to see it again before the season’s end with the expiring contracts for Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm. The front office cannot figure out when to trade players to extract value if they can’t or won’t re-sign them.
Most fans agree that the “competitive rebuild,” or whatever David Poile would like to call it, should have started earlier. After the team got bounced in the first round by the Dallas Stars in 2019, it seemed inevitable that they would be headed on a downward spiral. However, the core players ensured that they stayed together because they believed they could accomplish tons in the postseason. They didn’t.
Team management waited too long, and the value of certain players diminished. Not only did the value of the players who stayed go down, but some also left, like Craig Smith. He was heading into free agency, and it appeared as if the team wasn’t going to bring him back. They tried, but it didn’t work out. In the end, he went to the Boston Bruins on a three-year contract worth $3.1 million. He certainly would have been worth something on the trade market, but instead of getting a deal done that gave the team some value in return—even if it was just a couple of draft picks—he left, and the team got nothing.
The same thing happened with Arvidsson. Instead of trading him while his value was high after a season in which he scored 34 goals, they waited. He went from 34 goals and worth at least a first-round pick to 15 goals to 10 goals and worth a second-round selection and third-round choice in 2022. Although the situation is slightly different because of shooting percentage issues and injuries, some people said Arvidsson should have been traded after that ridiculous season.
How Can This Be Fixed?
The problems arise when some players deserve a roster spot, and others don’t deserve to have one. Still, the talent evaluation gets so cloudy that the wrong player ends up getting the opportunity.
One of the biggest front-office problems in the NHL—especially in the Predators’ case—is evaluating talent and understanding when a player’s time in an organization has run out. So, there are a multitude of questions that come with this dilemma. Who is to blame? Is it the coach’s fault? Is it the scouts? Does this sit with the general manager that has overseen all of these promising futures come and go?
I think it’s a mix of everything. None of us are in the room when these decisions are being made, so we can critique them all we want but we won’t have first-hand knowledge of what went down. However, I think it does say something that this has been a theme of the Predators organization, and while all this has been occurring every single position I can think of has had a new face except for the general manager’s seat.
It’s a significant conclusion to jump to, but it’s not one that I or many others jump to lightly. It’s a trend that looks to be continuing, and John Hynes isn’t the one that makes the final decision to put Pitlick on waivers.
David Poile has been in hockey for an extremely long time. He knows more than most of us could ever dream. However, it becomes a problem when the same issues persist, and everything has changed except for the general manager. His time in the hockey world is slowly coming to an end due to age. In all fairness, he and the scouts have done an excellent job at resurrecting the prospect pool from the dead. However, it doesn’t matter if the majority of those prospects don’t pan out.
In the end, I think that there are many things that the Predators’ brass can do better in terms of understanding talent and when to take advantage of the veteran market. Some guys should be in the NHL, but they are rotting away spending time in the AHL because of needless veteran signings or management not understanding when a player’s time in an organization is at an end.
Pitlick was the final straw for me and many other fans, considering he seemed to have earned his spot in the lineup. Something needs to change if the team hopes to be a Stanley Cup contender within the next few seasons.