Now What?

Firstly, congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks for a well played series.  I’d like to wish them good luck and good health on their series with the Vancouver Canucks.

With the offseason ahead of them, David Poile and Barry Trotz must now turn their focus toward improving this team for next season.  They’ve got their work cut out for them too.  According to capgeek.com, Nashville already has roughly $42 million committed to next season’s roster.  That roster is missing two defensemen (if you include Alexander Sulzer), one backup goalie, and Patric Hornqvist from the 13 signed forwards.  Assuming Nashville keeps to their estimated $45 million internal budget, that only leaves $3 million to sign a significant number of players.  Even if that miracle does occur (and I don’t think it possible), would that improve the team?

Improvement Needed

It’s only fair to identify areas needing improvement before we talk solutions.  On April 30th, Bryan Mullen of the Tennessean published an article in which Trotz and Poile discuss the horrible special teams play by the Predators.  Now, they were talking specifically about the power play units during the Chicago series, but could have been talking about the power play efforts practically since the team’s inception.  Poile stated that the special teams play would be “the highest priority”.  Trotz stated that he’s not afraid to make any change to improve the power play.  From Bryan’s article, Trotz stated that “were going to look at personnel, we’re going to look at staff, we’re going to look at our philosophy.”  Given the lack of change from any of those aspects over the years, forgive me if I won’t hold my breath waiting for any of those to change this offseason either.

Also on April 30th, both John Glennon of the Tennessean and Chris Burton of On the Forecheck discussed the potential for Jason Arnott to lose the captaincy.  Both of those articles are well worth the read.  John has several interesting quotes from Barry Trotz on how Arnott has performed as Captain over the years.  Chris adds in the perspective from his colleagues in San Jose, Dallas, and Carolina- all teams that have changed their Captain without shipping them off.

Today (5/3), John Glennon published another article where Trotz and Poile discussed David Legwand’s offensive output this season (or lack thereof).  You know, I have mixed feelings on this article.  It’s definitely true that Legwand’s offensive output was much lower than was expected going into the season.  Of course, after the attempt to create a line of Legwand, Erat and Santorelli failed, Trotz altered Legwand’s role on the team to almost a pure shutdown role- a fact that Trotz has acknowledged on occasion.  That fact was not really addressed in the article or its quotes other than passing praise of his defensive efforts.  Let’s face it, there’s not going to be significant offensive output from a line that consistently ices Jerred Smithson (not a knock on Smithson, either).  It will be a line, however, that does a great job of shutting down the opposition’s top line- which it did.  On the other hand, the assessment of his lack of offensive output was uncharacteristically harsh- especially considering he was the absolute leader among the forwards in the Chicago series.  To me, I thought the timing and level of harshness from Trotz and Poile was pretty distasteful.

Personnel Options

As of now, David Poile has 18 players signed for next season at $42.7 million.  That includes Alexander Sulzer’s one-way contract as well as Wilson and Spaling’s two-way contracts.

Let’s consider the options before David Poile utilizing CapGeek’s Cap Calculator:

#1- No Trades, Sign Hornqvist and Go With Youth

Hornqvist is re-signed for $2.25 million, Cody Franson is re-signed for $1 million, and Blum ($941,666) and Sulzer ($650,000) are brought up to complete the blueline.  A backup goaltender is signed for $900,000 or less.  This brings the cap hit to $47.7 million- exceeding the self-imposed $45 million budget.  This is why I don’t think it is possible to field a team next season for $45 million and it be better.  More on that later.

#2- Increase the Budget to the Mid-Point

Not really much of a difference here given the numbers above.  Hornqvist is re-signed for $2.25 million, Francis Bouillon is re-signed for $1.5 million, Cody Franson is re-signed for $1 million, and Blum ($941,666) is brought up to complete the blueline.  A backup goaltender is signed for $900,000 or less.  Alexander Sulzer and Cal O’Reilly are both traded to free up the money to bring back Bouillon.  This brings the cap hit to $48 million.

#3- Trade of a Highly Paid Veteran (Or Retirement)

This is the trickiest of solutions as the only realistic options in my mind all have some type of no-movement clauses.  There is also the loyalty question.  All that aside, I see the potential for one of two men being moved: Jason Arnott or J.P. Dumont.  Some might throw in David Legwand, but I believe that he is too crucial to Trotz’s system to be moved.  The discussion regarding Arnott and the captaincy not only puts him as the most likely option, but might foster the desire on this part to move on (to be clear- this is complete speculation on my part).  Dumont’s reduced ice time throws him into the discussion as does the recent Legwand article.  For our purposes, let’s assume that Arnott is not on the team next season and see what options open up.

To me, this is Poile’s best case/dream scenario.  Let’s start with Hornqvist being re-signed for $2.25 million, Bouillon being re-signed for $1.5 million and either Franson or Blum plays for about $1 million.  Sulzer is traded.  If Blum is promoted, then Franson is traded.  Either or both could be included in the Arnott trade.  At this point, our payroll is at $43 million for a roster size of 20- short one defenseman.  Even if Franson or Sulzer is kept to fill that last spot, that keeps Nashville below their $45 million budget by about a million.  If they choose to exceed their internal budget, they could also re-sign one of Hamhuis or Grebeshkov and likely stay under the mid-point of the cap.  For the above scenarios, I chose to only consider draft picks brought back in trade, but any roster player would obviously have to be accounted for as well.

The point of this exercise is that there really aren’t a lot of options for Trotz and Poile from a personnel perspective unless one of the highly paid veterans are traded (or retires).  They really can’t even re-sign Hornqvist and stay under their self-imposed budget of $45 million.  Outside of the Leipold-induced purge, I expect this to be David Poile’s toughest offseason to date.

Coaching

From Bryan Mullen’s article, coaching changes are supposedly on the table.  In my opinion, this is not only the most cost effective way to introduce change, it’s one that’s needed.

The only way new personnel can truly be added to the power play scenario is to move a veteran like Arnott so that either Grebeshkov or a significant forward can be brought into the fold.  Given how unlikely that is, combined with lack of productivity over the years from the power play unit and the incredible failure in the playoffs, a coaching change is as justified as it is cost effective.

Removing Trotz should not be an option unless he is resistant to this type of change (apparently not the case).  Bringing in a power play coach, even at the expense of one of the current assistants, is just about the only practical solution open to the team if they are serious about finally improving the power play.

Final Thoughts

Both Trotz and Poile have pointed to the power play as being the “highest priority” and that no change is off the table in order to achieve that change.  Of course, they also saved their harshest words for their best forward in the playoffs (in an expanded role) who was charged with a primarily defensive role in the regular season while not having any harshness to that degree for the forwards that were supposed to provide significantly more offense than they did (Arnott, Dumont, and Steve Sullivan).

This offseason will be very telling.  Can the owner’s increase the budget safely?  Will they do so even if it’s a risk?  Can Poile or Trotz make the bold decision they seem to allude to in Mullen’s article?

They’ve come out forcibly expressing the need for change.  Gentlemen, you have the power to make the decisions for change and I look forward to watching how you both address the team’s “highest priority”.

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About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT gmail.com.

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