Road to Y2K: Grading the Predators’ 1999 offseason
While we were rocking out to music from Napster, these guys were repping Music City on the ice.
Because nostalgia is the “it” thing right now, this summer, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the off-seasons from the Predators’ past. If you missed our 1998 breakdown, you can catch up on the inaugural season here.
[Lou Bega voice]
A little bit of Timonen in my life.
A little bit of Yachmenev by my side.
A little bit of Ronning’s all I need.
A little bit of Krivo’s what I see.
Good ol’ 1999. Y2K was about to destroy us all, TLC took a group vote and decided against Scrubs, and our Queen, Brandi Chastain, started the American soccer boom with maybe the most memorable celebration in U.S. sports history.
Meanwhile in Nashville, our baby Predators had just wrapped up their first season in NHL history.
The Previous Season
Record: 28-47-7 (63 points); 4th place in the Central Division, 12th in the Western Conference, 24th overall.
It was about what you’d expect from the average expansion team. The more important thing for GM David Poile was finding pieces for the team’s future. An early season trade brought leading scorer Cliff Ronning into the fold, while expansion-draft-related pieces Greg Johnson, Sebastien Bordeleau, Scott Walker, and Sergei Krivokrasov (an all-star during year one) emerged as key contributors. Second-overall pick David Legwand made his much-anticipated season debut in the finale, and seemed poised for a big role.
Goaltenders Mike Dunham and Tomas Vokoun had so-so seasons, but also showed flashes of brilliance at times, and the team hoped they’d be able to take that next step. Defense was still the biggest glaring need throughout the season. Kimmo Timonen joined the main roster halfway through the season and played well, and veteran Bob Boughner provided some good leadership to the young D corps, but beyond them, there was little to no depth on the blueline.
Poile’s mission for the summer of 1999 was essentially the same as it was in 1998 (albeit on a much smaller scale): continue finding young franchise cornerstones, while finding veterans who could contribute.
The Offseason Moves
Key Additions: D Bubba Berenzweig (trade with Islanders), D Craig Millar (trade with Edmonton), F Randy Robitaille (trade with Atlanta), G Corey Hirsch (free agent from Vancouver).
Key Re-Signings: F Sergei Krivokrasov, D Bob Boughner, D Joel Bouchard, F Patrick Cote, D Drake Berehowsky, G Mike Dunham.
Key Losses: F Andrew Brunette (trade with Atlanta), F Denny Lambert (trade with Atlanta), D Jamie Heward (free agent to Islanders).
G Brian Finley (1st round, 6th overall), RW Jonas Andersson (2nd round, 33rd overall), RW Adam Hall (2nd round, 52nd overall), D Andrew Hutchinson (2nd round, 54th overall), D Ed Hill (2nd round, 61st overall), G Jan Lasak (2nd round, 65th overall), D Brett Angel (3rd round, 72nd overall), RW Evgeny Pavlov (4th round, 121st overall), F Alexander Krevsun (4th round, 124th overall), LW Konstantin Panov (5th round, 131st overall), D Timo Helbing (6th round, 162nd overall), F Martin Erat (7th round, 191st overall), G Kyle Kettles (7th round, 205th overall), D Miroslav Durak (8th round, 220th overall), F Darren Haydar (9th round, 248th overall).
Best Move: Drafting Martin Erat in the 7th Round of the NHL Draft
Look...I don’t have a whole lot to work with this off-season.
But in context of the team, Martin Erat was this offseason’s best addition by default. And hey, it’s not an awful addition in the least bit! Anytime you turn a seventh-round pick into someone who plays a big role for your team for more than a decade, you deserve a little credit.
It would be another couple of years before Erat joined the team, but once he did, he had an immediate impact. He skipped the usual stint in Milwaukee and immediately joined the main roster once he signed, playing 80 games his rookie season, and netting then-franchise records for assists (24) and points (33).
Erat would have a bad sophomore slump, but would rebound with 49 points in 2004, starting a run of eight straight seasons with at least that many points, including a 2012 campaign that saw him collect a team leading 58.
Now for sure, Erat had his flaws, especially when it came to the defensive side of things. But he was a good pick for what he was...a solid top-six player you could always count on to contribute around 50 points a season. That’s not bad for a seventh-round pick.
And if nothing else, the Predators got Filip Forsberg out of him. So.... yay?
Worst Move: Pretty much the rest of the NHL Draft
If you’re going to go all-in on the whole “build through the draft” angle, you best not royally screw up the draft.
The Predators royally screwed up this draft.
The team had 15 picks (!!!) in 1999. Out of all of them, only two, Erat and Adam Hall, played more than 20 games for the team, and seven of them never played a single game for the team.
The first rounder, goaltender Brian Finley, is in the conversation for worst draft bust in Predators history, and to be fair, that’s not his entirely his fault. Finley suffered a major groin injury his final year in juniors that eventually cost him his entire first pro season. In a 2017 interview with The Star, he revealed a battle with anxiety also hampered his development.
(Former Predators goaltending coach Mitch) Korn says Finley was never the same after the surgery. Finley figures he eventually regained his pre-surgery capabilities, perhaps minus a smidgeon of flexibility. Mentally, though, he only seemed to get worse. Not that he didn’t try to get better.
“There were times I did work with (a sports psychologist) and I felt good. But it’s continuing to do that and say, ‘Even though I’m playing well and feeling good, I need this non-stop,’ ” Finley said. “You don’t want to be that guy.”
He was far from the only bad pick. The second pick, Jonas Andersson, never adapted to the North American pro game, and returned to Sweden after just five NHL games. Ed Hill, who was ironically Finley’s junior teammate, played more games in the ECHL than the AHL. Andrew Hutchinson actually became one of Milwaukee’s top defenders, and had an impressive debut with the team in 2004, getting 4 goals and 4 assists in 18 games. But the ‘05 lockout cost him a chance to make the team, and he moved on to Carolina the next year.
Hall actually did become a good depth player for the team, and put up decent enough numbers for a bottom six forward. But when you have 15 picks in a draft...six of those in the first two rounds...you can’t miss on 13 out of 15.
Honorable Mention: Trading Andrew Brunette (a future 80-point scorer) away for a draft pick.
Hoo boy...this was a rough one.
It’s not that Poile and company were out of their depth here. In fact, every move they made, in theory, seemed to be right for the team’s “build from within” strategy. It’s just that almost nothing they did wound up paying off.
There wasn’t much to say about any of the new additions. Randy Robitaille, acquired in a trade for enforcer Denny Lambert, was expected to compete for a top six role after scoring 102 points in the AHL the year prior. However, he never found the same explosiveness in the NHL, and was gone from the team after two years. Craig Millar was actually a nice addition to the Preds’ bottom-pair defense, but he too was also gone by the end of the next season, and to add insult to injury, the pick the Preds sent away to get him wound up being used on Mike Comrie. Corey Hirsch, a former starter with Vancouver, was brought in to push Vokoun and Dunham, but he couldn’t even win the starting job in Milwaukee.
To make matters worse, the team’s biggest loss, Andrew Brunette, blossomed as soon as he left town, scoring 109 points his first two seasons in Atlanta, then leading Minnesota to the Western Conference Final in just their third year of existence. He played 80+ games in 10 of his next 12 seasons, before finally retiring in 2012 with 733 career points.
Oh, and if you scrolled past the draft stuff, here’s a quick summary of how bad it was. The Predators drafted THREE different goaltenders before Henrik Zetterberg came off the board.
The Grade: F
What say you, Preds fans? Too harsh or nah?