By Jim Diamond
As the NHL’s free agency period kicked off at 11:00 CT Tuesday, the signings from across the league came fairly fast and furious with teams announcing signings just about as quickly as one could refresh their Internet browser.
Noticeably absent from the teams announcing signings was the Nashville Predators. And although it sent fans into panic mode all over Twitter today, it really is okay that general manager David Poile did not sign anyone new on free agency’s first day.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia has a recurring bit in which he describes an awkward situation he entered into and recites what he said at the time. He follows it up with, “What I should have said was nothing.”
The Predators doing nothing isn’t necessary a bad thing.
Entering Tuesday, Poile stated his desire to get a number one center. His big problem was that there was exactly one number one center on the market – Colorado’s Paul Stastny. Before the clock struck 11:00, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Stastny was going to sign with the St. Louis Blues and, unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what happened.
This came on the heels of the news that then-Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza refused to waive his no-trade clause to come to Nashville and join the Predators.
Given the fact that almost exactly one year ago, July 5 to be exact, Poile went on a drunken sailor-esque spending spree on free agency’s first day inking five free agents - four of which were on pretty hefty deals that one could make a pretty good argument that the Predators paid them more than market value to sign – some restraint was in order.
Nashville may regard itself as the “It City,” but it is not to the point where free agents or players with other options are falling over themselves to come here to play, hence the need to overpay to get them to come to Smashville. Two straight seasons of finishing outside of the playoffs isn’t sending the message that this is the place to be for players who want to win a Stanley Cup in the near future, either.
Just after the conclusion of the season, Poile fired Barry Trotz, to that point the only coach the franchise had ever known. Players and their agents are smart enough to know that if the coaching change isn’t enough to turn the team around, the general manager could be next.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to turn the Predators back into contenders, and while a top centerman will help, it is not the magic bullet many think it is.
Tuesday, the Senators traded Spezza to the Dallas Stars, one of the teams not on his no-trade list. Spezza is a year away from unrestricted free agency. Barring the signing of an extension with Dallas in the next 365 days, he will hit the free agent market a year from now. The Stars are a team on the upswing with a good deal of offensive talent already on the roster. A good season with the Stars and the likelihood of putting up strong offensive numbers are all resume builders for Spezza as he potentially heads into next year’s silly season looking to get paid.
Yes, the Predators should be better next year. As they like to point out, they were just three points out of eighth place last season and a healthy Pekka Rinne may have made up that difference between finishing tenth and in a playoff spot.
And yes, anything can happen once a team makes the playoffs, but were and are the Predators good enough to run the Western Conference gauntlet that includes teams like Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, et. al.? No, not right now they aren’t, and it will take more than a center to make that happen.
Free agency is less than 24 hours old, and there are still options on the market. Mikhail Grabovski is out there, but he was available last year when the Toronto Maple Leafs put him on waivers for the purpose of buying out his contract and the Predators elected not to claim him. He is reportedly asking for a five-year contract at around $5 million per. If he will take that to play with the Predators, offering it wouldn’t be a bad idea. That is assuming Poile and company are able to overlook the fact that he is Belarusian, and well, you all know what happened the last time they traveled down that road.
The Flyers would love to unload Vincent Lecavalier and his ridiculous contract on someone. He could be had in trade for a song, but is 34 and under contract for four more seasons, and ages 34-38 are rarely highly productive years for players.
In reality, the Predators need to look within. Poile is high on young players like Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok. Now may be the time to take the reins off of these kids and see what they can do with some ice time on the team’s top two lines. Yes, there will be some growing pains along the way, but in order for these players to gain some experience, they need to play.
Since hiring Peter Laviolette as the team’s new coach, the Predators have touted the fact that he plays an uptempo brand of hockey. Let the young players have a chance to grow in this system and get the team back into being perennial playoff contenders. It will be amazing to watch how attractive a city and team Nashville will become when that happens.