Nashville Predator fans find themselves in a position that was deemed to be unheard of just a few days ago. Riding the crest of a four game win streak and positioned only a single point out of the last playoff position, the Preds have been pronounced buyers by GM David Poile as we sit a little over 24 hours until the NHL trade deadline.
Unlike others who have crystal balls that can produce a prognostication accuracy of 3½%, I have no inside insight or knowledge as to specific players that the Predators may obtain at the deadline. I can discuss what the Preds need, what they have to offer, and the type of team that they best can deal with.
The need is obvious. For a team, that until recently, could rarely muster more than a goal or two a game, another offensive weapon is imperative if the Preds are to compete for the playoffs and possibly make it out of the first round for the first time in franchise history.
In spite of rumors that have big names like Marion Gaborik, Jason Spezza, or Nik Andropov being associated with the Predators, I do not see that type of acquisition. One of the worst deadline deals in franchise history involved the Predators dealing away far too much for Peter Forsberg in 2006. I doubt David Poile will do that type of trade again.
In contrast, one of the best deals was their pick up lesser known Jan Hlavac at the deadline last year. Hlavic had a career six weeks with the Preds, picking up 13 points in 18 games down the stretch and was just the extra needed punch the Preds needed to make it into the playoffs. This is exactly the type of deal that the Predators need once again.
So what will the Predators have to offer? In my opinion Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber may be the only 100% untouchable players on the current roster. I think several prospects including Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard also fall in that category but are too numerous to discuss in detail. Every other player on the roster this morning could be had if the right deal is on the table. Some are more likely than others to go.
At the top of the most likely to depart list is the obvious group of Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA). That group includes Ville Koistinen, Greg DeVris, Greg Zannon, Steve Sullivan, Radek Bonk, Vern Fiddler, Joel Ward and Scotty Nichol.
Of the UFA group Koistinen, Zanon and Bonk probably have the most appeal to become role players on a team already headed to the playoffs. I imagine that the Preds will try to resign Sully, if his health continues to improve and rising star Joel Ward in the off season. I would also think that the jury is out on Fiddler and Nichol for next year. I do not see a situation where DeVris will return next year if he is not traded at the deadline, since the Preds have several D-men ready to make the jump to the NHL.
The middle group of players that can be had if the price is right would include Dan Hamhuis, Marty Erat, Jerred Smithson, Wade Belak, Jordin Tootoo, and Dan Ellis. With few sellers, the Preds may have to put one of their longer term players on the line if they want to receive a quality player in return.
I doubt Belak would be traded unless the Preds received another enforcer type in the deal. Erat’s no trade clause kicks in this summer so it’s now or never if the organization is not truly committed to him until 2013. With the Predators committed to riding Rinne for the duration of the season, it is not unfeasible that Ellis could go to a team wanting a goalie with recent playoff experience.
The final group of players that are unlikely to be traded but are not 100% untouchable includes most of the players considered the heart and soul of the team. In this group you have Captain Jason Arnott, Ryan Suter, J P Dumont, and David Legwand. Youngsters Cal O’Reilly, Antti Pihlstrom, Kevin Klein, Ryan Jones, and Alexander Sulzer also are unlikely to be dealt.
A key piece of any trade will be draft picks. The Predators are well stocked with 12 picks in next summers Entry Draft. They have one first round pick , two seconds, two thirds, and three fourth rounders. It is doubtful they will part with their first round pick but the others will be fair game.
Of all the prospects, the one name that jumps out to me as tradable is Cody Franson. Once regarded as a key defenseman of the future, his stock with the organization appears to have fallen off somewhat. However he is having a solid season in Milwaukee, making the AHL all-star team, and is listed in THN’s top 50 prospects which may be attractive to another team. With a bevy of young defensemen, Franson could be good bait at this time.
Another key element that the Predators have that may become an integral part of a deal is plenty of cap space. According to the web site NHL Numbers.com, the Preds have over eleven million in cap space. Most teams that seem to want to deal have limited cap space and may be looking to add players but have little cap room to spare.
The list of teams needing cap room in order to deal include Philadelphia, Washington, Anaheim, Chicago, Montreal, San Jose, Minnesota, Dallas, New Jersey, Vancouver and the New York Rangers. These teams may be willing to part with a more expensive player and agree to pay part of his salary if the Predators will take the cap hit for the full amount. If I had to choose one team that the Preds will partner with, it would be the Flyers, who they face on Saturday night.
With twelve games on tap tonight in the NHL, it will be interesting to watch for healthy scratches to get a heads up on who may be in the middle of talks. The Predators will not be in that position as several folks are out with injuries so all the healthy player will probably be on the ice.
While I haven’t laid out any specifics or shared any inside knowledge, I have tried to provide some groupings and thoughts to consider while waiting for the Predators to make a deal or two before the deadline. By Wednesday night all the dust will have settled and rosters will be set for each team to make their final run at the playoffs or have their cupboard restocked for the future. Only time will tell.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass