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It’s LeviOOOsa: Grading the Predators’ 2001 offseason

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.

Ahh we’ve made it to 2001… Shrek and Donkey went on an adventure to save Fiona, Apple unveiled some new thing called the “iPod,” and Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears wore THAT denim ensemble to the VMAs.

And our Predators? They just wrapped up year three in the NHL.  “Smashville” had just become a marketing thing for the first time, and, at the time, it looked like they were ready for a big breakthrough!

The Previous Season

Record: 34-26-9-3 (80 pts); 3rd in Central Division, 10th in Western Conference, 19th overall.

Three years in and still no playoffs, but at least the 2000-2001 campaign was a big step in the right direction.  The Preds hit franchise highs in wins and points, and for the first time in team history, there was some playoff chatter in the back half of the season.

The team was led by all the usual players.  Cliff Ronning (61 points), Scott Walker (25 goals), Patrick Kjellberg, and David Legwand paced the offensive attack, while a career season from Mike Dunham (2.28 GAA, .923 save%) helped keep the Preds in the mix for most of the season.

As younger stars—like Legwand, Scott Hartnell, Marian Cisar, and Kimmo Timonen—stepped into bigger roles, David Poile started to shuffle out a few “O.G.” Predators.  Sebastien Bordeleau, one of the team’s top scorers in year one, was put on waivers, and the team flipped top defender Drake Berehowsky to Vancouver at the deadline for a second round pick.

So after a big step forward, and with the youth starting to take over the team, could David Poile find some pieces to help take the Predators into the postseason?

The Offseason Moves

Key Additions: RW Vladimir Orszagh (free agent from the Swedish Elite League), F Stu Grimson (free agent from Los Angeles), D Andy Delmore (trade with Philadelphia).

Key Re-signings: F Marian Cisar, G Mike Dunham, D Cale Hulse, RW Scott Walker.

Key Losses: F Ville Peltonen (signed with SM Liiga), C Randy Robitaille (signed with Los Angeles), RW Rob Valicevic (signed with Anaheim).

Draft Results: D Dan Hamhuis (1st round, 12th overall), LW Timofei Shishkanov (2nd round, 33rd overall), D Tomas Slovak (2nd round, 42nd overall), F Denis Platonov (3rd round, 75th overall), C Oliver Setzinger (3rd round, 76th overall), RW Jordin Tootoo (4th round, 98th overall), C Anton Lavrentiev (6th round, 178th overall), LW Gustav Grasberg (8th round, 240th overall), D Mikko Lehtonen (9th round, 271st overall).

Best Move: Acquiring D Andy Delmore from Philadelphia for 2002 3rd round pick

All things considered, this was an overall solid offseason for the Preds, and you could make a solid argument for a few different guys being the “best addition” of this offseason. We’ll give the edge to Delmore, who, for two seasons, was the most exciting player on the Predators’ blue line.

As an offensive-minded defender, Delmore was somewhat of a mythical figure around the league before coming to the Music City.  He became a media darling in the 2000 playoffs, becoming the first rookie D-man to score a postseason hat trick, and setting the Flyers record for postseason goals by a defender.

After cooling down the next season, the Preds wanted to see if a change of scenery could help Delmore regain some of his 2000 folklore.  It wound up being a good call.

In his first season, Delmore shattered the team record for scoring by a defenseman (16 goals, 22 assists for 38 points).  He followed that up with 18 goals in his second season with the team, tied with Sergei Gonchar and Nick Lidstrom for most by a defenseman that season.  18 also remained a team record for D-men until Shea Weber hit 23 in 2009.

Perhaps the biggest impact came on the power play.  As a righty with a thunderous one-timer, Delmore gave the Preds a dangerous finisher from the point.  His 11 and 14 power play goals in his two seasons here still rank among the all-time best for any skater in team history (in fact, his 14 in 2002-2003 is tied for the most in team history with Paul Kariya and Weber).

He also did this video with Montgomery Gentry, which alone should be enough to make this signing worth it.

Honorable mentions: Signing Vladimir Orszagh (105 pts in 3 seasons with team), drafting D Dan Hamhuis (only missed 10 games in 6 seasons during first stint with team), drafting F Jordin Tootoo (punched a lot of people).

Worst Move: Signing F Stu Grimson to 2-year deal

So let me clear this up right off the bat.  This wasn’t a bad move as in “ohhh what in the world was David Poile thinking???”  In fact, on paper, it was a great move.  Grimson, 36, was a durable enforcer who, despite making a living being punched/punching people, had only missed 26 career games due to injury.  He also had several years’ worth of playoff experience, and had played in two Stanley Cup Finals.

Unfortunately, Grimson never really got a chance to let his experience rub off on the rest of the locker room.  Three months into the season, he took a couple of brutal shots from Georges Laraque in a fight against Edmonton.  That would wind up being Grimson’s last bit of NHL action.  He sat out the rest of the season with a concussion and announced his retirement the following summer, with a year still on his deal.  He later admitted to battling post-concussion symptoms for years, and once “blacked out” on the ice during a fight.

Luckily, Grimson found new life after hockey.  He finished a law degree and spent five years practicing in the Nashville area.  He’d eventually make a return to hockey, first as a hockey instructor at Centennial Sportsplex, then as a color commentator for Fox Sports.

Again, this wasn’t one of those classic bad signings in terms of giving a guy a bad contract, or betting too high on an unproven player.  It was just a miss.  It happens.

The Analysis

After two rough offseasons… b-b-b-boom COMBO BREAKER!

There really isn’t much to complain about here.  We talked about Delmore in depth already, and as I said, you could make an argument for several others to take the “best addition” mantle.

The Vladimir Orszagh signing didn’t make a lot of noise at the time, but it was a fantastic bargain signing for the Preds.  He added a good mix of speed and physicality to the middle six as a winger for the fan-favorite “vowel line,” and was a good source of depth scoring (103 points in three seasons with the club).

First-rounder Dan Hamhuis, while having somewhat of a mixed reputation in Smashville nowadays, developed into a reliable shutdown defender during his first stint here.  He averaged at least 21 minutes of ice team in each season (including an impressive 22:08 in his rookie year in 2003-2004), and only missed 10 games over his first six years with the Predators.  Jordin Tootoo, while never quite developing into the two-way player the Preds envisioned, still became a fan favorite as the team’s “energy guy,” and, somewhat surprisingly, had a couple of memorable playoff performances (including 2 goals during the team’s 2008 series against eventual champs Detroit, and 6 points during the team’s 2011 postseason run).

None of the losses stung too much in the grand scheme of things.  Randy Robitaille had a decent run as a bottom six guy for multiple teams (hitting 40 points with the Wild in 2006, then again with Pittsburgh and the Islanders in 2007). Ville Peltonen returned to Europe for the next five years, before returning to the NHL for a brief, mildly successful run with the Panthers in the late 2000’s.  Rob Valicevic, best known as the first Predator to score a hat trick, spent most of his subsequent career in the minors.

If there was a sore spot, it was the team once again striking out in the 2nd round of the draft.  Timofei Shishkanov only played 2 games with the Preds (and only 24 total in his entire NHL career), while Tomas Slovak never made it past the AHL.  Fun fact, in the team’s first five drafts, the Preds had 8 picks in the 2nd round.  Only one, Adam Hall, played more than 18 games for the team.  Oof.

At the end of the day though, you can’t be mad at the team’s haul this offseason.

The Final Grade: A-

Your turn to weigh in, Preds fans.

Talking Points