Friday Face-Offs, 3/18/2011

Strap yourself in folks, this is going to be a long one…

Are David Poile and Barry Trotz Doing A Good Job?

This is a dumb question right?  I mean, countless experts across the NHL keep saying that they do a phenomenal job.

Like to see a sample?  How about Pierre Lebrun on 3/15:

The work of David Poile and Barry Trotz continues to be out of this world. They deserve a ton of credit.

It’s easy to see why people can form that opinion.  David Poile and Barry Trotz have guided the Predators to a playoff berth in five of the past six years and hope to make it six of seven this year.  Poile and his staff have done a fantastic job of drafting defensemen and goalies.  They have guided the team through massive ownership turmoil that included a forced sell-off of some all-star caliber talent and an attempt to destabilize the market by one potential owner in order to lower revenues further.

Through all that, “the Predator way” has kept the ship afloat and has allowed the team to remain competitive and ice a team for which Predator fans can be proud?  It’s a system that relies on consistent hard work and great defense from the goalies all the way to the forwards.  It’s designed to allow the team to succeed if even they have to win most of their games 2-1 or 1-0.  To this point, one truly does have to commend Poile and Trotz for those successes.

“The Predator way” is what it is perceived to be due to two things.  First and foremost is that Barry Trotz and his staff appear to favor a very disciplined and defensive style of play.  This dovetails very nicely with David Poile’s and the scout’s ability to bring in excellent talent at defense and in goal.  The second perceived influence is that Nashville’s internal budget leaves no money left for David Poile to go out and find real scoring help at forward.  For me, I think there is much more truth to the former than the latter.

Nashville certainly is not a cap-spending team.  However, when spreading the responsibility around for an inept offense, I believe that David Poile and Barry Trotz should shoulder as much, if not more, than the lower budget.

For as much success the Predators have had in drafting defensemen and goalies, they’ve been abysmal in drafting and developing game-breaking forwards.  Draft position has something to do with it, but game-breaking forwards are frequently found in later rounds.  While a lower budget doesn’t preclude the possibility of paying elite players at multiple positions (see Carolina), it does greatly help comes from the younger (read: cheaper) players.  Nashville has gotten that from everywhere except their forwards.

There has also been several instances where Poile’s allotment of payroll among the forwards doesn’t appear to match where Barry Trotz wants to play them on the ice.  David Legwand is certainly the largest example.  After the 2006-2007 season, David Legwand was rewarded with a 6-year contract that averaged $4.5 million.  For Nashville, that was top-line money.  Legwand was expected to lead the top offensive line and continue to put up 65+ points for years to come.  What happened has been much different.  For the vast majority of the time, Legwand has been leading Nashville’s top defensive line.  Even this season started with Legwand leading Nashville’s defensive line while every other center played on the scoring lines- none of whom had ever come close to scoring at Legwand’s pace.  It wasn’t until the end of December when injuries mounted at center combined with Legwand returning from injury, forced Legwand to play on one of the top two lines.  Since then, he’s played 35 games and scored 26 points.  That’s a rate of 0.74 pts/game.  Goc and O’Reilly were both on pace for about 0.47 pts/game.  Play Legwand where his salary and output would indicate he play (at least in comparison to Nashville’s other options) and you minimize the effect of having to work with a lower budget.  In this case, the responsibility falls more on Trotz as Legwand is putting up very respectable numbers for a #2 center on any team would work as Nashville’s top center- even though me might still be slightly overpaid for producing at the 0.74 pts/game.  Paying a player $4.5 million to play in the bottom six is not a wise usage of resources, particularly when they appear to be producing better than your other options when in comparable roles.  However, if Barry Trotz felt that David Legwand should not be in the top six, then Poile should have made every effort to trade Legwand (in spite of the NTC) in order to not be spending $4.5 million on player playing a bottom six role.

Speaking of which, the acquisition of Mike Fisher seemed a poor move to me then from a long-term perspective and I’ve not changed my mind since.  Mike Fisher is a very good center for a grind line that would have some offensive punch.  But for Nashville to pay any more than $2 million in real or cap dollars for a player in the bottom six is another unwise allotment of resources.  As the current line of Smithson, Spaling and Tootoo show, Nashville can ice a very effective energy/defensive line at salaries very friendly to their budget.  Mike Fisher is not a top six forward, even on Nashville, but is going to be paid like one for the next two years.  This move in particular is one I believe may come back to bite the Predators the most.

Those resource and/or personnel errors (among others) have made a challenging financial situation much worse than it should be.  It has limited the amount of offensive talent with which the coaching staff must work.  It’s almost forced the team into having too many overpaid forwards in relation to their skill set in an effort to spread them across all four lines hoping they can score enough goals combined to survive.  We Predator fans call this ability to run four lines “depth”.  It’s not “depth”, nor is it an “ability” to run four lines.  It’s a necessity.

To succeed in the regular season, Nashville depends upon their $3 – $4 million third and fourth line players to consistently beat out opposing teams’ $1 – $2 million third and fourth line players, while hoping Nashville’s top lines produce enough to hold serve by outworking the opposition.  It’s worked out pretty well in that regard.

Where it falls apart is in the playoffs- or in situations near playoff-like when every team is working hard to make the playoffs and benches start to shorten.  Nashville can’t compete consistently with other playoff-caliber teams when the benches begin to shorten because those $3 – $4 million third and fourth liners of Nashville see less ice time against the oppositions third and fourth line and more time against the $4 – $6+ million second and first liners of other teams.

It also falls apart in regards to asset management.  With the constant stream of all those high-priced third line players, David Poile keeps all of his young player assets in an effort to maximize the potential for cheap production.  This is can be bad for the young asset’s development, or just create a logjam that results in Nashville losing the player for practically nothing.

For Nashville to have true depth and succeed in the playoffs, they need to keep their bottom six players very affordable and bring in an elite player to compliment solid veterans in the top six.  Doing that would allow Nashville to have difference-making players upfront while playing solid role players in the bottom six who can fill in temporarily in the top six when needed.  Specifically, I’m referring to players like Marcel Goc and Joel Ward.  Those are ideal players from a cost and fit standpoint that can fill in on the top six in a short term capacity.  Young players like Geoffrion and Halischuk provide the depth to step into those roles vacated in those situations.

David Poile is the one providing the players and he should be the most accountable.  The acquisition of Mike Fisher signaled to me that there is not going to be any change to that formula.  Nashville’s going to continue to ice 3rd – 2nd line talent for the foreseeable future.  That’s unfortunate because the only way that will succeed come playoff time is to maximize offensive opportunities like power plays.

Here is where Barry Trotz must take some accountability- especially this season.  Nashville’s plug-and-play philosophy in players over the years since the sell-off, has resulted in roughly the same levels of talent year-after-year.  Even with the injuries, this year is no exception.  The power play has done nothing but get worse year-after-year.  That’s pretty amazing considering Nashville has three very effective blueliners on the power play in Weber, Suter and Franson.  They appear to have another gem in Blum (who is much like Suter in regards to his power play role, but with a better shot and the willingness to employ it).  This year was supposed to have seen different results due to a renewed emphasis and priority from Coach Trotz himself.  The results have not matched the emphasis in which the coaches have placed upon it.

David Poile and Barry Trotz have done some great things in Nashville together.  They have the ability to take Nashville where the owners’ claim to want to go- to the Stanley Cup.

They’ve also shown, however, that in six years “the Predator way” can’t produce a deep run in the playoffs.  Year seven isn’t looking much better.  You can’t make a team’s defense much better than it has been this season.  Their record in 1-0 and 2-1 games is horrible.

If there’s any accountability down at 501 Broadway, “the Predator way” must evolve.

The Week Ahead for Nashville (All Times CST)

  • Saturday, 3/19 vs Detroit @ 7pm (FSN)
  • Sunday, 3/20 at Buffalo @ 4pm (FSN)
  • Tuesday, 3/22 vs Edmonton @ 7pm (FSN)
  • Thursday, 3/24 vs Anaheim @ 7pm (FSN)

 

You are invited to follow me on Twitter (@SingletonPreds).  For game recaps of all Predators games, check out my HockeyIndependent colleague, Mark Willoughby (@TheViewFrom111).

 

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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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