I Gotta Feeling: Grading the Predators’ 2009 Offseason
Imma let you finish, but David Poile had one of the best drafts of all time!
Wake up in the morning’ feelin’ like Shea Webby
Grab my stick, I’m out the box, I’m gonna score this slappy.
Before we leave, knock our teeth out with an errant puck
Cause when we hit Lower Broad I don’t give and yeahhhhh I’m gonna go ahead and stop right there.
Welcome to the Summer of 2009, folks! Jason Aldean introduced the world to his Big Green Tractor, Avatar blue away box office records (get it...because...they’re blue...), and Facebook users were enjoying life on their fake Farmville farms.
As for our Nashville Predators, well, things were a little less simple. With new ownership in tow, the team was in full rebuild mode, moving further away from the “O.G. Preds” era and handing the reins to the next generation. As a result, the Predators had a bit of a down season.
The Previous Season
Record: 40-34-8 (88 points). 5th in Central, 10th in West, 20th Overall.
Nashville found themselves out of the postseason for the first time since 2003, with the nail in the coffin coming thanks to a particularly ugly 8-4 loss at Minnesota in the last game of the season.
However, there were plenty of high notes for the Preds to build around. Captain Jason Arnott notched 33 goals, which stood as the team’s all-time single season record until Viktor Arvidsson topped it in 2019. A lot of people also considered this to be Shea Weber’s breakout year; the then-23-year-old scored 23 goals and notched 30 assists in a season that saw him finish fourth in the Norris voting. In addition, we also saw the return of beloved Pred Steve Sullivan in February, nearly two full calendar years after he was sidelined with a severe back injury.
The biggest mid-season development, however, was in goal. After a red-hot start to the season, Pekka Rinne had officially supplanted Dan Ellis as the team’s starter, a position he would hold for 11 years. Combined with the rest of the young core, the Predators not only had the makings of a team on the rise, they had the foundation that would guide them to their most successful seasons.
The Offseason Moves
Key Additions: F Ben Guite (free agent from Colorado), F Marcel Goc (free agent from San Jose), D Francis Bouillon (free agent from Montreal), F Dave Scatchard (signed as a free agent after missing 2008-2009 season due to concussions).
Key Losses: D Greg Zanon (free agent to Minnesota), F Vernon Fiddler (free agent to Arizona), D Ville Koistinen (free agent to Florida), F Scott Nichol (free agent to San Jose), F Radek Bonk (signed with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of KHL).
Draft Results: D Ryan Ellis (1st round, 11th overall), F Zach Budish (2nd round, 41st overall), D Charles-Olivier Roussel (2nd round, 42nd overall), F Taylor Beck (3rd round, 70th overall), F Michael Latta (3rd round, 72nd overall), F Craig Smith (4th round, 98th overall), D Mattias Ekholm (4th round, 102nd overall), F Nick Oliver (4th round, 110th overall), F Gabriel Bourque (5th round, 132nd overall), G Cameron Reid (7th round, 192nd overall).
Best Move: Pretty Much The Entire 2009 Draft
The consensus for many years is that the 2003 draft—which netted Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Kevin Klein—was the best in team history. But folks, I think it’s time to put 2009 up on that pedestal. Seriously, from top to bottom, these results are packed with people who played significant roles on some of the best teams in Preds history.
It started with Nashville picking Ryan Ellis in the first round, which believe it or not, wasn’t exactly heralded at the time. Most other teams had Ellis ranked lower than some other defenders on the board. Plus, with the loss of Alex Radulov the summer before, many believed the Preds should re-stock the forward supply. Funny how that worked out.
And Ellis was just the beginning. The Predators picked Craig Smith AND Mattias Ekholm in the fourth round (also Nick Oliver, who is a person). They followed that up with Gabriel Bourque in the fifth round. Even third-round picks Taylor Beck and Michael Latta had some, albeit small, levels of success in the league, and in terms of pure value, Latta was part of the package sent to Washington in the Filip Forsberg deal, so he certainly served a purpose.
Really, the only misses in the draft were the two second-rounders, Zach Budish and Charles-Olivier Roussel, and in Budish’s case, his development was stalled by a series of injuries instead of “a pick just not working out.”
We know the contributions Ellis, Smith, and Ekholm have gifted Nashville over the years. Those three were part of the foundation for the Predators’ most successful years. Ellis and Ekholm are still part of one of the best top-four defensive corps in the NHL.
The Preds hit three home runs in this draft and followed that up with a number of smaller hits. This is about all you can ask for during a draft.
Worst Move: Not Re-Signing Vern Fiddler
Boy, this was not an easy “worst move” to fill. There weren’t really any additions that the Preds got a less-than-expected result from (no disrespect, Dave Scatchard), and I’m not going to harp on a failed second-round pick from a draft that netted the Predators three important franchise players.
If there is one move you look at in retrospect and say “hmm, the Preds could have done that differently,” it’s the loss of Vernon Fiddler. After seven years in the Predators organization, the defensive-minded forward signed a free agent deal with the Coyotes. It’s not exactly clear if this was due to Fiddler testing the open market and cashing in, or if the Preds just didn’t see him as a priority during their rebuild.
Either way, Fiddler went on to have a long, fruitful career around the NHL. He was considered one of the league’s best face-off specialists and an absolute asset on the penalty kill. And while not known for his scoring, Fiddler could be counted for around 20 points a season, the type of output that’s more than acceptable for a fourth-line center.
What’s notable here is that the Preds spent the next handful of seasons trying to find that exact type of player. They spent millions of dollars (and a first round draft pick) on deals for the likes of Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom, and Matt Hendricks, but none provided the type of package Fiddler had. One would have to wonder if the Preds would have been better served simply keeping their homegrown hero on the roster instead.
It is poetic that Fiddler had one final run in Nashville, joining the Preds for the second half of the 2017 season. He appeared in 9 games during the run to the finals, the most memorable of which saw him score the game-winning in Game One against the Blues in Round Two. A perfect book-end to an underappreciated career in Nashville.
Besides the draft, the Preds found a couple of good free agency finds in forward Marcel Goc and defender Francis Bouillon. Goc added some offensive punch from the bottom six (54 points in his two seasons in Nashville), while Bouillon’s second tenure with the Preds lasted much longer than his first—a four-game stint back in 2002. Bouillon stabilized the Preds’ bottom pair for three seasons, proving to be a serviceable “stay-at-home” defender and penalty killer. Neither Guite nor Scatchard stuck around on the main roster, but each had a decent finish to the year in Milwaukee (Scatchard had 20 goals in just 36 games with the Admirals).
We covered Fiddler a little bit, but truthfully, there wasn’t really a departure that left the Preds scrambling. Greg Zanon, Scott Nichol, and Radek Bonk all had decent stints in Nashville, but others on the roster easily filled their spots. Ville Koistinen, a once-promising blueline prospect, could never quite get his defensive skills in order, and was back in Europe after the following season.
The Final Grade
When you land arguably your best draft class in team history, and add a couple of valuable depth pieces in the process, it’s hard to consider this year anything less than a success.
Your turn. What grade would you give the 2009 offseason?
What grade would you give the Preds 2009 offseason?