Hey ya!: Grading the Predators’ 2003 offseason

The best way to spread Christmas cheer... is having a really good draft

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. For this series, we’re only looking at moves made between the end of the season and the start of the regular season.

We’ve made it to 2003, everyone!  Nokia phones were all the rage, Elf and Finding Nemo became a regular part of our viewing pleasure, Andre 3000 wanted us to shake it like a Polaroid picture, and 50 Cent didn’t exactly care that it was your birthday.

And you know what else? This would be the last time for six years the Preds entered summer break WITHOUT making the playoffs! Exciting, right?!

But before we look forward and lapse into our sweet visions of Steve Sullivan gliding through our heads, we have to look back at the wild year that helped Smashville get to that point.

The Previous Season

Record: 27-35-13-7 (74 points); 4th in Central Division, 13th in Western Conference, 24th overall

This season was like riding a roller coaster with a bad safety record. One of our beloved OTFers, Cisar, pointed out some of the chaos in last season’s post. The Preds had only won four games by December 1st, two of which came in the last week of November. They followed that up with a wild mid-season run that saw them kinda-ish in playoff contention in March—enough to trade for their first ever “rental player,” Oleg Petrov.  But the season came crashing down in the last month, highlighted by a 15-game winless drought to end the season (scoring just one goal in the last four games).

Those early Preds teams were fun, man...

In the grand scheme of things though, all of that pales to what happened in December.  Mike Dunham, the team’s #1 goalie since year one, was sent to the Rangers as the heir apparent to Mike Richter, New York’s (at the time) all-time wins leader. In return, the Preds got veteran forward Rem Murray, young defenseman Tomas Kloucek, and most notably, a Czech prospect playing in Finland by the name of Marek Zidlicky.  Zidlicky would be a HUGE part of next season’s first playoff team, scoring 53 points as a rookie.

A smaller, but still noteworthy addition, would be Jason York, a veteran blue-liner who would actually be Timonen’s partner for parts of the ‘03 and ‘04 seasons.

So... let’s see who’d join them over the summer.

The Offseason Moves

Key Additions: F Jim McKenzie (free agent from New Jersey), F Mathieu Darche (free agent from Columbus), D Jamie Allison (free agent from Columbus), G Chris Mason (waivers from Florida).

Key Losses: D Andy Delmore (traded to Buffalo), D Karlis Skrastins (traded to Colorado), F Brent Gilchrist (retired), D Bill Houlder (retired), D Cale Hulse (signed with Phoenix), F Reid Simpson (signed with Pittsburgh), D Jere Karalahti (sat out the 2004 season before returning to Europe), F Oleg Petrov (signed with NLA team), D Todd Warriner (signed with SM-Liiga), F Clarke Wilm (signed with Toronto), F Vitali Yachmenev (signed with Russian team). phew

Draft Results: D Ryan Suter (1st round, 7th overall), LW Konstantin Glazachev (2nd round, 35th overall), D Kevin Klein (2nd round, 37th overall), D Shea Weber (2nd round, 49th overall), D Richard Stehlik (3rd round, 76th overall), RW Paul Brown (3rd round, 89th overall), D Alexander Sulzer (3rd round, 92nd overall), C Grigory Shafigulin (3rd round, 98th overall), G Teemu Lassila (4th round, 117th overall), G Rustam Sidikov (4th round, 133rd overall), D Andrei Mukhachyov (7th round, 210th overall), G Miroslav Hanuljak (7th round, 213th overall), F Lauris Darzins (9th round, 268th overall).

Best Move: Dat Draft Doe

This was the year Nashville hosted the NHL draft, and boy, did we get to watch a treat.  Not just for the fact it’s widely considered one of the best in league history, but for the Preds drafting two of the best players in franchise history.

They got the ball rolling with the 7th pick, taking U.S. Development Team star Ryan Suter.  They followed that with 3 picks in the second round. At 35, they picked Konstantin Glazachev, who...*checks notes*...existed, I guess.  At 37, they took defender Kevin Klein from Toronto-St. Michaels. And at 49, some dude by the name of Shea Weber.

The funniest thing, in retrospect, is that Weber was somewhat of an afterthought at the time. Suter was considered by many to be the draft’s top defender, and HockeysFuture considered Glazachev and Klein “steals” based on their potential to be first rounders.

Both Weber and Suter would make their debuts after the lockout (Suter would start the season with the team, Weber would join midseason). By 2008, they were put together as a pairing, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And look, I know we all grit our teeth at the mention of Suter nowadays. But let’s just appreciate how magical these two were together. They were polar opposites in terms of style, but they complemented each other so well. Weber, the big man with the big shot, was the headliner. He was the prototypical “physical” presence, making plays by throwing his body into the play and muscling guys out of position. He possessed one of the most dangerous point shots in the league during this generation, and could routinely be counted on to add 15-20 goals a year.

On the other side, Suter’s game was more subtle. He was almost Lidström-esque in that he had the ability to skate himself into the perfect position each time in the defensive zone. Forwards would get their head up and realize #20 was taking up the exact spot they needed to be in order to make a play. He didn’t score as much as Weber (in fact, he’s never hit double digit goals in his career), but he never needed to. He could eat up 25 minutes a night without making a mistake.

And while this pair deserves most of the celebration, let’s not forget about Kevin Klein here. Sure, he never reached the level of Weber and Suter, but the dude played A LOT of good hockey for the Preds, especially during their playoff runs in the early 2010’s. His 2012 series against Detroit is still the stuff of legends. Not only did he find his scoring touch (2 goals, including the Game 4 winner), he turned the Franzen-Filppula line into a non-factor, helping the Preds lock up a 4-1 series win.

Klein was also your prototypical “defensive defenseman,” back when those were all the rage. He led the team in blocked shots 4 of the 6 full seasons he played in Nashville (he only appeared in 63 games in one of the seasons he didn’t, and the other, he only trailed Weber by one). He left for the Rangers halfway through the ill-fated 2013-2014 season in what may be one of David Poile’s worst trades as the team’s GM, and played a big role in New York’s run to the finals that same season.

I’ll even give a little shout out to 3rd rounder Alexander Sulzer, who had a couple of fantastic years in Milwaukee, before carving out a niche as a 7th/fill-in defensemen for a few different teams around the league.

Not bad, eh?

Honorable mention: Claiming G Chris Mason off waivers (would lead to his second, and most notable stint with the team... became Vokoun’s regular back-up, and filled in as starter during the ‘06 playoffs.)

Worst Move: Signing F Jim McKenzie

Look, I’m nit-picking at this point. Jim McKenzie was a veteran enforcer who was brought in to provide some #Toughness and #Grit. He had just come off two trips in the finals in three seasons, and, by all accounts, was (and probably still is) a really good guy.

You don’t have a whole lot of responsibility when you’re that type of player...just make the most of your minutes and try not to blow your team’s chances of winning.


Despite averaging just 6:14 in ice time per game, and despite only playing 61 games, McKenzie had the third worst plus-minus on the team at -13. The only players worse or comparable to that figure (Greg Johnson’s -21, Zidlicky’s -16, and Dan Hamhuis’s -12) all played at least 80 games and averaged more than 17 minutes in ice time, with Zidlicky and Hamhuis both averaging over 20.

Needless to say, Barry Trotz basically Thanos’d McKenzie down the stretch, apart from one game in the playoffs, in which he only had 4 shifts.  McKenzie would call it a career the next offseason.

The Analysis

To be fair, it would have been hard for any team NOT to have a great draft. Twenty-three players from the first two rounds wound up making an all-star game, and guys like Joe Pavelski, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Jaroslav Halak, and Brian Elliott went in the 7th round or beyond. In fact, discussion point here...could you deduct some points from Poile for striking out on 8 out of 9 picks after the 2nd round? Sound off below.

Overall, all of the moves represented a transition for the Predators...a shift from the O.G. era to the team’s first run of success. Getting Weber and Suter would move that along down the stretch. In the short-term, many of the off-season departures helped open the way for new blood. Andy Delmore and Karlis Skrastins were traded to clear the way for Dan Hamhuis and Marek Zidlicky to make the team. Each played 20+ minutes a night in their debut season, and both would develop into key pieces on the blueline down the stretch.

Many of the departures up front, with the exception of Yachmenev, were either one-season or in-season additions who had minimal impact. Instead, the Preds decided to add a little more fire to bottom six, adding guys like Jordin Tootoo, Jeremy Stevenson, and...yeah...the aforementioned Jim McKenzie. Those guys, combined with Scott Hartnell and Scott Walker, would give the Preds more of a “chip-on-their-shoulder” style. It’s the style that would define the team all the way up to their Finals appearance more than a decade later.

There was one downside. That shift in style DID lead to a need for some more speed and skill up front. The Preds would have no choice but to address that hole at the next deadline.

So they traded for Steve Sullivan.

Final Grade: A+

Other than 2005, it’s hard to find a 12-month span that dramatically shaped the franchise as much as this one.

Your turn, OTF.  What grade would you give the offseason?

How’d the Preds do in the 2003 offseason?