If You Ain’t First: Grading the Predators’ 2006 Offseason

Fergie’s London Bridge went down, but the Preds’ stock went up

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.

Dear eight pound, six ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus... don’t even know a word yet... we’d just like to thank you for all the wins during the Paul Kariya era, and the two 100-point seasons — LOVE THAT RECORD — that we’ve accrued during the tenure.  Also due to a binding endorsement contract with the Bridgestone Arena funnel cake stand outside Section 102, I just wanna say that funnel cake is delicious, and the hot oily goodness heats me up on a cold night at the ice rink.  We look forward to the release of the new flavor, Pumpkin Spice Funnel.  Dear Baby God, Amen.

Welcome to the 2006 offseason everyone!  Justin Timberlake accomplished his life’s mission of bringing sexy back (despite the fact the other boys did NOT know how to act,) two New Yorkers’ Lazy Sunday helped fuel the boom of a website called YouTube, and the world was introduced to Heritage Elementary’s most famous alumnus.

And the Predators?  They were feeling alright headed into summer vacation.  They had just come off the best season in team history and new star Paul Kariya broke most of the team’s offensive records.  The playoffs ended with a whimper, but the Preds had announced their arrival.  They also had loads of cap space while many of their Western rivals, like Detroit and St. Louis, were still shuffling their core, trying to adapt to the new salary cap era.

The Previous Season

Record: 49-25-8 (106 points); 2nd in the Central, 4th in the West, 6th overall
Playoffs: Lost to San Jose in the Western Conference Quarterfinals (1-4)

So obviously, good news and bad news here...

We’ve touched on the good.  The Predators were one of the NHL’s best teams for the bulk of the season.  Many of the major moves David Poile had made over the past handful of seasons turned into “home runs” this year.  We saw team records in goals (Kariya and Sullivan with 31), assists (Kariya, 54), points (Kariya, 85), and wins (Vokoun, 36).  Besides Kariya, other additions like Yanic Perreault (57 points) wound up becoming hits.  And Smashville got a glimpse of the future with Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Kevin Klein all making their NHL debuts.

We also got to witness one of the best trade deadline pick-ups in Mike Sillinger, who had 22 points in 31 games after coming over from St. Louis.  We also witnessed of the worst deadline pick-ups in Brendan Witt, the first guy the Predators ever traded a first-round pick for.  He’s most notable for getting suspended in his debut for the team (and, later, getting hit by a car the day before a game and still playing).

In retrospect, all of that should have led to more for this season.

The first domino fell just days before the playoffs, when Tomas Vokoun (who went on to finish fourth in Vezina Trophy voting) was diagnosed with blood clots and subsequently shut down for the season.  The Preds then had the misfortune of matching up with San Jose, who had been the NHL’s best team since acquiring eventual MVP Joe Thornton midseason from Boston.  Despite all the success of the year, the Sharks were one of the few teams Nashville did not match up well against, and it showed in a 5-game drubbing in the first round.  Unlike 2004, where fans were happy just to be in the postseason, this ending left a bitter taste in mouths across the Music City.

Despite all that, there was still plenty of optimism.  The core of the team was locked in, and the Preds had lots of cap/roster flexibility to play with entering the next season.

What would they do with that?

The Offseason Moves

Key Additions: D Ville Koistinen (free agent from SM-Liiga), C Jason Arnott (free agent from Dallas), F Josef Vasicek (trade with Carolina), F Patrick Leahy (free agent from Boston), RW J.P. Dumont (free agent from Buffalo).

Draft Results: F Blake Geoffrion (2nd round, 56th overall), F Niko Snellman (4th round, 105th overall), G Mark Dekanich (5th round, 146th overall), F Ryan Flynn (6th round, 176th overall), D Viktor Sjodin (7th round, 206th overall).

Key Losses: F Mike Sillinger (free agent to Islanders), D Mark Eaton (free agent to Pittsburgh), D Brendan Witt (free agent to Islanders), F Scott Walker (traded to Carolina), F Adam Hall (traded to Rangers), D Danny Markov (free agent to Detroit), F Greg Johnson (signed with Detroit, but retired prior to the season), F Yanic Perreault (free agent to Phoenix).

Best Move(s): Signing F’s Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont

I went back and forth between which of these two were the better signing for the Preds.  Eventually, I realized that leaving either off the “best signings” list would be a disservice to them.

A big part of that?  When you go back and list some of the great players in the team’s past, Arnott and Dumont are often overlooked.  And that’s a shame, because these two helped guide Nashville through perhaps the most tumultuous period in Predators history.

The fanfare around these two signings were vastly different.  Arnott was already considered one of the NHL’s best players, and was one of the biggest jewels available in free agency.  He was a 12-year veteran who had won a Cup with the Devils (quite literally, WON a Cup), and was just coming off the best statistical season of his career in Dallas.

Dumont, on the other hand, was somewhat of a wildcard.  He was a former third-overall pick who—at the time—had mostly failed to live up to expectations.  He was traded by the Islanders (who drafted him) and the Blackhawks before finding a regular NHL job with the Sabres.  But despite coming off a few solid seasons, the Dumont signing didn’t make the same waves as Arnott’s.

The two together, though?  Magic.

Dumont, Arnott, and Steve Sullivan wound up being paired together on one of the team’s top two lines (they had a 1A and 1B back then, similar to today.)  The results were immediate.  Dumont hit career highs in assists (45) and points (66—second most on the team behind Kariya.)  Arnott, despite battling some injury issues, still had a solid year with team highs in goals (27) and power play goals (12.)

Year two is why I think these two are overlooked.

The Preds had just gone through the emotional summer of ‘07.  Although they survived the relocation scare, the core of the team was ripped apart by the ownership drama.  Kariya, Vokoun, Scott Hartnell, captain Kimmo Timonen, and star deadline target Peter Forsberg were just a few of the big names shuttled out of town while the team looked to trim costs for an impending sale.  Sullivan, maybe the most popular Pred at the time, was recovering from a debilitating back injury that wound up costing him the entirety of next season.  The Predators, who just months earlier were considered one of the NHL’s up and coming teams, suddenly were a longshot to even reach the playoffs.

How did Arnott and Dumont respond?  The two had some of the best seasons of their career.  They each had 72 points, still tied for the third-best scoring seasons in team history.  Leadership-wise, they were two of the loudest voices in a locker room filled with a hodge-podge of role players and young players (like Suter, Weber, Hamhuis, and Alexander Radulov) still years away from their prime.  It shouldn’t have worked.  And yet, those two were good enough to help Nashville sneak into the playoffs for the fourth straight season, eventually losing to eventual champion Detroit in a series that—let’s be honest—was a lot closer than it probably should have been.

Arnott played one more season in Nashville before the Predators moved him to New Jersey.  Dumont had two more good seasons before being bought out after a miserable 2011 campaign.

So why don’t these two get more love in the Preds community?  Timing, maybe.  They came in when Kariya and Vokoun were the faces of the franchise, and by the time they left, guys like Weber and Suter were emerging as NHL superstars.  Maybe their endings with the team (Arnott was traded after missing the playoffs and Dumont was let go after a 19-point season) turned fans off at the end.  Maybe we too were a part of Radulov’s celebration and he literally knocked that entire stretch out of our memories.

Whatever the reason, let’s give these guys some more kudos.

Worst Move: Trading Scott Walker for Josef Vasicek

You know it’s a bad move when the team waves the white flag on an acquisition not even halfway through the season.  Deeeeaaaaad giveaway.

Preds fans weren’t exactly enthralled by the trade from the start.  Walker was one of the most popular Predators of the era... one of the few left from the inaugural team and a guy with the reputation as one of the toughest guys to play against in the league.  (Barrett Jackman once called him a “bulldog.”)  He was also just one season removed from being the team’s leading scorer.

But after a bad stretch of injuries, and with the Preds stocking up on more explosive forwards, Poile decided to sell.  He shipped Walker to defending champs Carolina (that’s still a weird sentence to write).  In return, the team got Josef Vasicek: a young forward coming off a major injury of his own, but who showed promise as a depth forward.  The Predators hoped Vasicek could anchor the third line.

It just didn’t work out.

Vasicek immediately struggled with his new team, and eventually he started finding himself in the healthy scratch column.  In February, Poile ended the experiment and shipped Vasicek back to Carolina in exchange for Eric Belanger (who was traded to Atlanta the next day).  His tenure with the team ended after just 38 games and 4 goals.

To compound the issue, Walker regained his form in Carolina, playing 81 games (his career high) and scoring 51 points.  And while he didn’t have a season as good as that in his remaining time in Raleigh, he did have some good moments, including the series-winning overtime goal against Boston in 2009.

Sadly, Vasicek’s life was cut short in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash in 2011.  He was just 30 years old.

While his full time in Nashville didn’t work out, out of respect, we’ll leave you with this beauty from his time with the Preds.

The Analysis

While not exactly 2005 level, this wasn’t a horrible offseason all things considered.  Arnott and Dumont were the only home runs, but when they give you that kind of payoff... that’ll do pig.

And it’s probably good thing those guys contributed as much as they did, because the rest of the moves were just meh.  It was the first draft in which the Predators didn’t have a first-round pick.  Brentwood’s Blake Geoffrion was the team’s first choice in Round 2.  And while seeing a Tennessee kid (especially for me, a Williamson County kid) skate for the hometown team was an awesome sight, Geoffrion didn’t have the long-term impact the Preds had hoped for.  Mark Dekanich was the only other draft pick who played a game for the NHL team.

Other than that... yeah... everything you see above is pretty much what you got.  Adam Hall wound up having a decent career as a 4th liner.  Witt and Sillinger had good runs with the Isles.  Greg Johnson’s departure was bittersweet: with him and Walker both leaving in the offseason, the Preds officially lost the last two players from their inaugural game roster (Vokoun and Timonen didn’t get called up until later in the season).

The Final Grade: B

Two fantastic signings and a whole lot of meh.

Your turn to weigh in, Smashville.

What grade would you give the Preds’ 2006 offseason