By Jim Diamond
During his Tuesday afternoon press conference to announce the signings of centers Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile mentioned the fact that going into the season, they probably have more numbers at forward than the maximum 23-man roster will allow.
Heading into this offseason, Poile made no secret that becoming a more potent offensive team was a priority. His trading for James Neal and signing Ribeiro, Roy, and Olli Jokinen are the major steps he took to address the on-ice portion of becoming more offensive. These moves came after he named Peter Laviolette as the second head coach in franchise history.
“We now in my mind have 16 NHL forwards,” he said. “Realistically, we are only going to keep 13 or 14. The depth, the competition at training camp should be higher than we have ever had before, especially at this position.”
Those 16 NHL forwards are presumably and in no particular order: Ribeiro, Neal, Roy, Jokinen, Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen, Craig Smith, Paul Gaustad, Viktor Stalberg, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Rich Clune, Gabriel Bourque, Eric Nystron, Colin Wilson, and Colton Sissons.
Poile did what he had to do to try and improve his team in the short term. After finishing two straight seasons out of the playoffs, the short term may be all he has with this team can he not right the ship in the extremely tough Western Conference.
But the thing that stands out as the most alarming among those 16 forwards Poile considers being NHLers is that fact that just four of them – Smith, Bourque, Wilson, and Sissons – were drafted and developed in the Nashville system. Four!
With trades hard to make and solid free agent finds very difficult, the Predators have to do better at drafting and developing talent up front or else they are in long-term trouble.
In baseball terms, batting .250 is not great and unless you hit a lot of home runs, that kind of average will not keep you in the majors for very long.
Edit: A wise sage pointed out the fact that Neal was acquired for draftees Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling and Forsberg for Martin Erat, so the average could be tracked somewhat higher and it is a fair point. But the fact still stands that they have had too many misses with their forward draftees.
Of those four players, two of them could very well be on the outside of the NHL roster looking in when the Predators break camp this fall.
Sissons saw limited time with the big club last season, and while he did not look out of place, he didn’t give them a reason to keep him in Nashville. Bourque struggled last season and by no means should feel comfortable that he has a spot locked up given all the new faces that will appear in the locker room in September.
Wilson is a unique case study all his own. He has at times shown flashes of brilliance while at other times finding himself in the doghouse of former head coach Barry Trotz. Beginning anew under Laviolette may be the cure for what has ailed Wilson. One thing that is clear though is that Wilson will very likely not get a sniff at the center ice position, at least this season anyway given all the additions at center.
Beyond 2014-15 is where things get interesting. Of those 16, the only forwards signed beyond next season are Gaustad, Stalberg, Neal, Nystrom, Forsberg, Sissons, and Clune.
Cullen, Fisher, Jokinen, Ribeiro, and Roy can all become unrestricted free agents at seasons end while the other forwards will all be restricted free agents.
With few guys in the minors looking like they can take spots on the team, the next 12 months will be interesting, but relying on teams like Washington (Forsberg) and Detroit (Jarnkrok) to make dumb trades in your favor to bolster your forward ranks is probably not the safest bet.