Today starts a new, regular column from me called Friday Face-Offs. As I can’t watch/attend every game, I don’t do many post game wraps or game previews (and Mark does such a wonderful job with those anyway for HockeyIndependent). Besides, it’s much more fun to open myself up for all sorts of ridicule from my readers by offering analysis and opinions on the Nashville Predators and the NHL. The real fun, though, will be the “Facing Off” section where I’ll comment (respectively) on some of the opinions of my fellow bloggers across the league.
With that in mind, I’m going to start collecting all of those thoughts and publishing them every Friday morning by 7:30 am (CST). So sharpen your knives, ready your pens, and crack your knuckles (for keyboard use of course) in preparation of lots of opportunities to rip away. :-)
What does the future contain for Cal O’Reilly and Marcel Goc in Nashville?
Matthew Lombardi is signed for two more seasons. Jerred Smithson just re-signed for two additional years. David Legwand is signed through 2013-2014. After starting the season on the same line, injuries at the center position have forced Smithson and Legwand to be moved to separate lines with both playing center. If you are Barry Trotz, you have to love what you’ve seen from both Smithson and Legwand in their new roles.
Smithson has combined with Nick Spaling and Joel Ward to create great shutdown line that forechecks incredibly hard. David Legwand has been moved from a shutdown role back into the two-way role he really last had when Paul Kariya and Martin Erat were his wings. The production from David Legwand and his line mates (Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson, Marek Svatos, and Erat briefly) have all improved in that time span with little to no downturn in the team’s ability to play quality defense (which has always prevented Trotz from moving Legwand from that security-blanket shutdown role).
If Trotz would like to continue with the three scoring/two-way lines and the energy/shutdown line with Smithson and Spaling, it would seem that there is only room for one of Cal O’Reilly or Marcel Goc after this season.
In my opinion, bringing both back means shifting Legwand down to the Smithson/Spaling line and moving Jordin Tootoo back into the top nine- which is not something I’d really like to see. My feelings would be to move Tootoo into Joel Ward’s spot on the Smithson/Spaling line after this season as I don’t expect Joel Ward to be re-signed.
So, if only one of O’Reilly or Goc is re-signed who would it be? That’s a really tough call. O’Reilly will have more upside offensively and will be cheaper. Goc will be more expensive but plays more of a two-way game. If the Predators were to somehow acquire an elite scorer prior to the decision, then I might lean towards O’Reilly and his playmaking skills.
Revisiting the Pursuit of Jarome Iginla
For the most part, everyone agreed that Iginla would fit the culture and style of the Nashville Predators amazingly well.
Most of the criticism revolved around the risks of Iginla’s production declining due to his age, his large salary, and/or what I was proposing to give up in order to obtain Iginla. Those are certainly concerns to consider. However, my personal opinion has not changed in that each of those concerns are really very small risks compared to the potential reward.
I want to be clear here too- I consider this a move to at least reach the Conference Finals and contend for the Stanley Cup. I believe that the additional leadership, experience, and high-level goal scoring that Iginla would bring to Nashville would enable the Predators to contend for a Stanley Cup as soon as this year.
Let’s examine those concerns again, starting with his age. Iginla is currently 33 and will be 35 when his contract expires. I believe that the style of game that Iginla plays (physical and instinctive) is less conducive to taking huge hits in production in that time frame than someone that relies on speed and elusiveness. He’s also shown no real decline in numbers over the years beyond what one might expect from playing on a team as dysfunctional and poorly skilled as Calgary.
His $7 million salary certainly makes one catch their breath. It admittedly makes it tougher to fit Iginla in this season. The other two seasons are really not an issue however. With the combination of the salary cap increase(s), Steve Sullivan’s salary coming off the books next season (likely) and J.P. Dumont’s salary coming off the season thereafter (again, likely), Iginla’s salary should not pose any issue to staying under the midpoint of the cap for either of the upcoming seasons even with signing Weber and Suter to hefty raises. I was able to work the math in the original article as did a few others over at HFBoards (thanks to CapGeek’s wonderful site).
The final major concern was that I was parting ways with too much of Nashville’s future (two prospects and two good picks). This just comes down to one’s personal opinion of weighing the risk vs. the reward. To me, I believe that Nashville becomes a legitimate Cup contender without losing too much- especially considering that Nashville is such a young team. The team is already starting to lose prospects for practically nothing (Rich Peverly and Mike Santorelli, potentially Cal O’Reilly) due to not having enough spots for them in Nashville. Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, (I could go on) as well as having the top set of prospects organizationally makes this an easy decision for me.
Will David Poile make that move? Before he can do that, Jim Feaster and Jarome Iginla have to agree that it’s even possible. Beyond that, it would require Poile to come to a similar decision that inspired the move to acquire Peter Forsberg without the edict the he likely had in Leipold’s last year to make hay. What if Poile feels that the team would become a Cup contender, and Iginla becomes available, and it doesn’t break the existing budget- would he then do it? I don’t know, but I think it would definitely be discussed. If O’Reilly does not return prior to season’s end, Poile may have to address the center issue though.
The Week That Was
Starting with the home-and-home with Chicago, Nashville made it through the week at 3-1. Outside of a horrible third period collapse in the game at Chicago that allowed Chicago to come back from 3-2 to win 6-3, Nashville has really looked pretty good.
- J.P. Dumont scored two goals in the game at Chicago and followed it up with a hat trick on the road to Phoenix. His scoring production rose like the mythical bird itself – from the ashes. Chris Mueller and Matt Halischuk have really matched up well with Dumont.
- Pekka Rinne continues to do it. After a shaky second period at home against Chicago, he clamped down for the rest of the game and then continued that run into Phoenix and Colorado. Right now, if Nashville scores three goals it’s almost a guaranteed win.
- The line of Colin Wilson, David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist have looked very solid offensively and defensively as have the line of Kostitsyn, Goc and Erat.
- The Smithson, Spaling and Ward line is really making life hard on Nashville’s opponents. Not only are they very effectively forechecking, they are taking those turnovers and putting them in the net. You can’t ask for better play from them.
- All was not good this week. Francis Bouillon went down with an upper body injury (shoulder). Svatos still has not returned from a nagging lower body injury either. I’ve never seen a Nashville season with so many man-games lost due to injury. On the other hand, I’ve also never seen them respond so well to those injuries as well.
- Since the Dallas game on 12/28 when Trotz installed Hornqvist, Wilson, Kostitsyn, Suter, and Weber as the first unit, and iced a stable second unit as well, Nashville’s power play has converted in 36% of the games played in that span and at a rate of 17.6% of their opportunities (several of which were “reward” shifts for non-regular power play units, particularly in the Colorado game). If that can be maintained throughout the rest of the season, good things will happen for this team.
- After the Colorado game, Nashville is ever so slightly getting a better hold on the fourth seed in the Western Conference and have Detroit within their sights being only six points back.
I’ve got to disagree with Robby over at Hockey Night in Smashville. Legwand is much better defensively than “occasionally make a play or two on defensive side”. Robby points to Legwand’s negative +/- statistic in downplaying Legwand’s defensive ability. You can’t look at such a dubious statistic without understanding the context of the value. Not only was Legwand facing the top offensively skilled opponents during that time frame, he did so on a line that was not expected to score very much (and didn’t) in order to offset the few times a goal was allowed. In fact, Legwand’s -12 is truly amazing when one considers those two facts.
Legwand is also showing that once again, if given offensively-skilled wingers, he’ll produce offensively (not a PPG rate mind you, but as well has any other current Predator). While it’s a small set of games to examine, it’s the only set of games in the recent past in which he’s been put into that position.
I have one problem with Greg’s article and that is its premise without any explanation.
Now you may be wondering why I would start asking this question now when Suter isn’t gone for another year, well there is a simple answer to that and it is that I don’t believe the Predators can afford to keep both of them together unless one or both take a pay cut to stay on the team
It’s fine to have that opinion, but it would have been nice to understand why Greg believes Nashville could not afford both. If you want to see why I believe that Nashville could easily afford them both, re-examine my original blog recommending the pursuit of Iginla in which I show how the team could re-sign both and absorb Iginla’s $7 million salary.
Around the NHL – Headshots Continue to Dominate
Finally, we are starting to hear the call to ban all shots to an opponent’s head from some major members of the media. Pierre Lebrun has started to advocate banning head shots over at ESPN. Puck Daddy has started to discuss the idea. Stu Hackel over at SI wrote a great column on the subject. Elliote Friedman published a great article Thursday on the subject. More importantly though, the push is coming from player agents who have a large degree of sway in the NHLPA.
It’s unfortunate that it took an injury to one of the best players in the game to hopefully get some momentum behind the idea, but not unexpected. With the primary push being from the player agents, I hope that the NHLPA works very hard during the next CBA discussions to make it happen. If I were the NHLPA, that would be non-negotiable.
There still exists the naysayers out there saying it will taking hitting out the game. Of course there was also the horseshit spewed forth by Mike Milbury too. The truth is that hitting has not been removed from the OHL or from the Olympics even though hits to the head are banned (also addressed very well by Puck Daddy). As for Milbury, it’s easy to say that it’s the “continued toning down of the league” when he’s not the one having to skate against and absorb the hits from the players and equipment of today’s age. Now, if he wants to suit back up and take a few in the head, I’d have more respect for his opinion on the matter- provided he could remember who he was afterwards.
The real bright side is that Milbury said it’s going to get to the point where he’ll have to retire. Sounds like a bonus to me.
The Week Ahead for Nashville
There are three games left on the schedule prior to the All-Star Break beginning on 1/27- the western Canadian road trip. All are on FSN.
- Sunday, 1/23 – At Edmonton (FSN)
- Monday, 1/24 – At Calgary (FSN)
- Wednesday, 1/26- At Vancouver (FSN)
- Thursday 1/27 – Tuesday, 2/1 – All-Star Break (No Games)
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.