You are cordially invited to a Pity Party on 501 Broadway in Nashville, TN. This is a recurring party held the day after every loss by the Nashville Predators.
Thanks to Dirk Hoag, The Forechecker, I read a piece by Minnesota Star Tribune columnist Michael Russo today- Sunday Insider: A Nashville State of Mind. Russo’s article focuses on how Nashville builds a competitive team each year despite the fact that Nashville operates on an internal budget somewhere around (or south of) the midpoint of the salary cap. It’s a good article that I recommend everyone read with only a couple of things in which I might quibble over. That said, there were a few quotes in that article that really got to me.
“The business side and hockey side, there’s a different reality,” Trotz said. “If we could ever keep our team together, I’d say we could be an upper-echelon team if we were just able to spend the cap. But we can’t.”
Since the lockout, the Predators have had to either trade or let walk Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason and Marek Zidlicky. Trotz quickly throws the underrated Zanon right onto that list.
First, I have a minor quibble with Russo’s article as I examine this section. As the focus of the article appears to be how Nashville is building a competitive team despite losing some players due to an internal budget, I feel that it should be known and understood that the departures of Kariya, Timonen, Hartnell, and Vokoun had nothing to do with any internal budgets established by the current ownership group. They were all salary dumps forced by an owner looking to sell in Craig Leipold. Secondly, I don’t know that I’d consider Mason, Zidlicky or Zanon as strict salary dumps either. Mason had lost his starting position to Dan Ellis and Nashville had a young goalie in the pipeline that they needed to bring up and play prior to him becoming an RFA in Pekka Rinne. Zidlicky was a very good offensive defenseman, and Zanon a very good defensive defenseman, but Nashville has a very strong blueline and I wouldn’t replace anyone on that group for either Zidlicky or Zanon. Minor quibbles that I felt must be said, but not the focus of my missive.
I’m more perturbed by Coach Trotz’s statements. Trotz continues regarding the Zanon situation:
”We knew exactly what you guys were getting,” Trotz said of Zanon, arguably the Wild’s best defenseman this season. “We wanted to have Zanon back, too, but we’re in a different place than you guys. We had to make some decisions, and what we had for his number, it couldn’t work. That’s just what we are. You’re a cap team. We’re not.”
If he truly feels that he can’t ice an upper-echelon team with the talent he’s provided, then perhaps he either needs to move on or do a better job with the talent that’s been provided.
To be fair, Trotz has always done an admirable job with the Nashville Predators. He’s had to deal with a lot of off-ice distractions and a one-season roster purge after finishing 3pts from the President’s Cup. He’s certainly established a culture of hard work, grit, and skating. From everything I’ve seen in print and in person, he’s a great person as well.
He’s also established a track record of icing teams that go on long winning streaks and long losing streaks. He’s established a track record of icing a team that goes whole season without a power play above a 20% conversion rate regardless of available talent. He’s established a track record of teams that have several games in a row where the effort or mental fatigue is so bad that often only really good goaltending keeps the opponent’s score at single digits (see almost every game against Minnesota and the last game with Calgary this season). He’s established a track record of playing talented rookie forwards in every situation except one that corresponds with their skills. Nashville is not like a Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Atlanta (who are nearly $8 million under the cap) that has an elite/superstar forward (or more) that is a difference maker. They must fully utilize all of their assets. This appears to be understood by players like J.P. Dumont.
The Predators’ overall team game is their identity. They always skate well. They always work hard. “The [salary-cap] stuff, we know we cannot control anything other than the way we play. So we take pride in all playing together and being a tough team to beat,” said winger J.P. Dumont, part of the core the Predators have been able to retain long-term. “We know we don’t have that guy as a difference maker, so we do it with excellent goaltending, a team game and a young core of defensemen that’s better than anybody else in the league.”
Apparently the “team game” rarely includes skilled rookie forwards like a Rich Peverly, Mike Santorelli, Cal O’Reilly, or Patric Hornqvist in any offensive role unless absolutely necessary. Hornqvist is fourth overall in PP TOI for Nashville forwards and fifth in PP TOI per game. That’s the exception. O’Reilly and Santorelli are 9th and 10th in PP TOI per game. There are a couple of exceptions here and there- again to be fair. Santorelli switched from center to wing and started on the second line with Legwand and Erat. Of course, the for the first few games Coach Trotz explicitly stated that the Legwand line was given the shutdown role against the top lines. Not only were they not really there for offense, Legwand and Erat got off to horribly slow starts but Santorelli took the fall by being reassigned without attempting to move him around.
Recently, Trotz has decided to hide the rookies on a fourth line together in which he rarely ices. [sarcasm]That certainly develops those guys.[/sarcasm] It also wears out the veterans that are being double-shifted night in and night out. I do agree with Trotz in that David Poile mostly provides quality players and prospects for Trotz and his staff.
Trotz gives credit to General Manager David Poile and his staff. The Predators perennially scout well, draft well and have one of the deepest catalogs of prospects.
“We find people to fill holes, we’ve got to develop people, and we have to make good hockey decisions as best we can, and then find a style of play that will let us be successful,” Trotz said. “But you also have to have the right mindset.
“If you don’t have the right mindset and just feel sorry for yourself, well, then you just feel sorry for yourself.”
The right mindset is to utilize all assets at your disposal to win games. Poile has provided four rookie forwards that have offensive skills that could be utilized in Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, Cal O’Reilly and Mike Santorelli. Barry Trotz should quit worrying about who he doesn’t have and put the players on his team in the best position to succeed in order to win the game while at the same time developing the younger players so that they can contribute.
He should follow his own advice and quit feeling sorry for himself. It comes back to that old Predators mantra: “No Excuses”.
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.