Predators need to rebuild through trading for prospects, not draft picks
A look at what the Nashville Predators must do to set the franchise up once more for success.
When a team reaches its expiration date, wins and losses stop mattering all that much. The Nashville Predators, losers of 10 of their last 14 games, have reached that expiration date.
After failing to make the playoffs last season, the continued downward spiral must be recognized, even by the staunchest supporters of the Predators. With the front office, coaching staff, and players in place, this team—now with the fourth-oldest average age in the NHL—must be dismantled to avoid the purgatory of mediocrity.
Not only are the Nashville Predators bad, they play boring hockey. It’s a terrible combination that has caused many to draw comparisons between this Predators team and the Minnesota Wild teams of the last decade. Being bad is one thing, but to be bad while not giving young prospects like Eeli Tolvanen new opportunities to grow is unforgivable. If a team is bad, they should strive to be bad with a purpose, such as to develop young players. The Predators have no purpose other than for those in the organization to hold onto their jobs while the ship sinks below them.
The embarrassing play of the Predators has caused a large portion of the fanbase to call for a rebuild. This is under the theory that, if the Predators are bad now, the best way to become good is through the draft. Nobody in the organization, be it General Manager David Poile, Head Coach John Hynes, or any player (outside of perhaps Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg), is safe.
Trades are always a gamble, but it’s important to note that, with draft picks, the risks become even greater. That’s why David Poile, or whoever else may become General Manager if he’s not around much longer, should focus on retooling the roster by trading for prospects as opposed to draft picks.
There are a few key reasons for targeting prospects over draft picks, the first being, unless Filip Forsberg wants to leave Nashville when his contract is up in two years, the Predators still have two great pieces in him and Josi to build a team around.
However, Forsberg and Josi aren’t getting any younger, so, if they want to take advantage of the genuinely great talent they hold in those two players, the Predators can’t spend years waiting to hit the jackpot on a draft pick. They need to accelerate their ability to become competitive, and the way to do that is by investing not in a roll of the dice in the draft, but by investing in established prospects.
The Predators already have a bit of a blueprint on how to accomplish this, as it’s exactly what they did after Ryan Suter left Nashville for the Minnesota Wild. Instead of investing heavily in the draft, they shipped longtime fan favorite Martin Erat out to Washington for a young prospect called Filip Forsberg. The trade was a steal in hindsight, but general managers who are under pressure to win a Stanley Cup make these trades to try and save their jobs. The Predators need to prey on these general managers who may have some nice prospects and target them for trades instead of draft picks.
Second, it’s incredibly hard to rebuild a team through the draft. The most recent first overall pick who went on to win the Stanley Cup was Steven Stamkos, who was drafted in 2008. Yes, he only won a Stanley Cup twelve years after he was drafted. While Tampa Bay certainly had other great teams before winning the Stanley Cup—notably in 2015 when they outplayed but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks—the transformation was not overnight, and they represent the absolute best case scenario of a team rebuilding through the draft.
The more likely outcome? Well, the Edmonton Oilers are a worst-case scenario, having only won a single playoff series after earning four first-overall picks in the last decade, but the fates of the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres are more likely, albeit equally grim. Despite having high draft picks, neither team looks any closer to relevancy than they were a few seasons ago. And, while the Los Angeles Kings have a great prospect pool currently, they have been irrelevant since winning their last Stanley Cup in 2014, despite their solid drafts.
Moreover, when the Predators trade a player for a draft pick, odds are that draft pick is going to be late in whatever round the pick is for. This makes sense as, the better a team is, the lower in the draft they pick. The teams who would look to add from the Predators’ current roster would be contenders trying to add depth. A late first-round pick is not going to drastically change the future of the Nashville Predators. But, for whatever reason, once a player is drafted, their value compared to the draft pick used to acquire them seems to diminish. Therefore, trading a player for a solid prospect as opposed to a late first-round draft pick should provide greater value.
Third, it’s no guarantee that, even with great draft picks, that a team is going to automatically hit home runs in the draft. The NHL is significantly different than the NFL and NBA, where it’s exceptionally challenging to botch an early draft pick, in this regard.
Looking at the drafts prior to 2018 (since it’s too early to tell if drafts since then were successful), the only forwards that the Predators drafted in the top two rounds last decade were Grant Mishmash, Yakov Trenin, Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kaminev, Pontus Åberg, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomäki, and Austin Watson. Only one player out of that group, Kevin Fiala, became a bonafide top-six forward for the Nashville Predators.
Sure, one can say that perhaps a new general manager could be better at drafting forwards, but that’s adding another “what if” on top of a process already loaded with “what ifs.” It isn’t easy in any way to draft elite forward talent; just ask the Edmonton Oilers and former fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujärvi. Even when a team nabs a great player in the draft, it can take a years before they become ready to light the NHL on fire, and that’s the reality, with the exception of generational draft picks.
So, if the Predators should retool through prospects instead of rebuilding through the draft, what are some examples of teams and players that the Predators should be targeting? Two teams that jump immediately to mind are the Carolina Hurricanes and the Montreal Canadiens. Both teams are in win-now mode, yet still find themselves in the top-five of NHL farm systems.
In the case of Montreal, who are second in the North Division behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, General Manager Marc Bergevin is under incredible pressure for the Canadiens to make some noise in the playoffs. Could Wisconsin Badger Cole Caulfield be available for the right price? The Predators need to take advantage of teams and general managers under pressure.
There are only so many years remaining for the Predators to take advantage of Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg’s talent. If the Predators focus on trading their assets for draft picks, the likelihood that the rebuild would be able to take advantage of Josi and Forsberg’s talents is slim. Additionally, the Predators would likely be receiving picks later in each round of the draft as opposed to an early first-round impact pick. Finally, there’s so much uncertainty in a NHL draft that the Predators could be gambling with time they don’t have. Therefore, the Predators should instead concentrate on trying to pry established top-tier prospects away from teams to retool this roster around Josi and Forsberg, rather than spending years rebuilding it from scratch.