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Preds hope big push helps them keep star d-men

Monday, 02.27.2012 / 6:41 PM / 2012 Trade Deadline

By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

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Preds hope big push helps them keep star d-men
The Preds made some deals at the trade deadline hoping to make a deep playoff run and show Ryan Suter and Shea Weber they're serious about winning.
NASHVILLE -- David Poile recounted a brief history of the Nashville Predators on Monday, as he is the only general manager to have run that franchise since it entered the NHL in 1998.

They built up the franchise and then when it started to reach a peak, the Preds were forced to part with some of their top players -- Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun -- as they could not afford to keep them.

Fifth in the NHL in points entering Tuesday, the Predators are facing that crossroads once again. All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent as of July 1.

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Suter has indicated that his decision on re-signing with Nashville could hinge on whether the team is able to compete at the highest levels. Fellow All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season, will be a restricted free agent on July 1. The Predators only control his rights for one more season.

Perhaps that is why Nashville was the most active team in the 10 days leading up to Monday's deadline.

"I think with these trades, we've certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year when we get in the playoffs," Poile said.

On Feb. 17, they acquired defenseman Hal Gill from Montreal. On Monday morning, they completed another deal with the Habs for left wing Andrei Kostitsyn and at the 11th hour -- Poile's words -- they got big center Paul Gaustad, one of the NHL's best on faceoffs, from Buffalo. In all, they gave up a first-round pick in 2012, second-round picks in 2012 and 2013, a fifth-round pick in 2013 and minor leaguers Blake Geoffrion and Rob Slaney. (They also got back a fourth-round pick in 2013.)

"Obviously, we hope the moves today show Ryan and all of the players on our team that the ownership is committed," Poile said. "We've had plenty of talks with Ryan and it's been unfortunate that our -- I think we've done a good job here in Nashville of building our team and the franchise and you can see the building's getting more full on a regular basis, but unfortunately, from a budgetary situation we've had to let some of our better players go from time to time.

"Hopefully, we can stop that. Obviously, signing Ryan Suter would be a huge sign for our whole franchise and our fans ... that those days are over and, hopefully, a good playoff run will get Ryan signed up."

As Poile mentioned, the Predators have sold out 17 of 33 games this season, already more than last season. In terms of Suter, the trade for Gill already seems to have paid dividends in reducing what coach Barry Trotz refers to as the "hard minutes," such as penalty-killing time. Suter and Weber rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in average time on ice per game. Suter averages 26:37 and Weber 26:21.

But in the four games since Gill arrived -- during which Nashville is 3-0-1 -- that has changed. With the exception of a shootout game against St. Louis in which he played 29:12, Suter played 25:30, 23:23 and 24:11. Weber's time also ballooned in that key Central Division game against the Blues to 29:20, but in the others he played 24:03, 23:54 and 24:29. Trotz's desire was for Weber and Suter to be able to contribute more on the offensive end -- minutes that are not as hard.

Suter has said he does not plan on re-signing until the season is over. He maintained that position on Monday.

"Right now, you just focus on being the best team you can be," he said. "You focus on the playoffs, focus on the task at hand. This summer is when you sit back and start to think about that kind of stuff."

All three players whom Nashville acquired are in the final year of their contracts and set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. As a result, Nashville cannot bank on their presence beyond the end of this season if it wants to convince Suter that the trio is part of what will help the Predators compete for the conference finals and Stanley Cups in years ahead.

The first part of Poile's objective is to win big this season as a measure to convince his stars to re-sign. Poile said it was premature to begin negotiations with the newly-acquired players despite the considerable assets Nashville gave up to get them.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Left Wing - NSH
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 24
SOG: 93 | +/-: -8
"I can't answer that yet," Poile said of contract negotiations with Gill, Kostitsyn and Gaustad. "We have to give it time to see how they fit in with us. How we like them, how they like us, what have you. I think the most important thing for them and for us is what we do in the next 20 games and what we do in the playoffs. By winning, I think everything will get taken care of.

"If we don't win, it won't be as big a factor. So just give it some time."

Weber's situation is less urgent. Suter has not made money an issue. In re-signing Weber to a long-term deal, money could be more of an issue. Weber's one-year deal from arbitrator for $7.5 million this season gives him the highest salary cap number of any defenseman in the League. He could win the Norris this year and is considered a franchise-caliber player.

"We're just happy as a team," Weber said. "We're adding pieces. Obviously, we're a good team in here. Any way you can get better and add crucial little pieces at playoff time and down the stretch, it's big and it's exciting for us in the locker room."

Poile was asked if he had done enough to mollify Suter. Earlier this season, the team already re-signed goalie Pekka Rinne to a seven-year deal worth $7 million per season. Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, leads the League in wins with 34.

Poile went through all that Nashville had added in recent days: big, physical, hard players to play against on both defense and at center. Skill. Strength on faceoffs. Experience.

"Time is going to tell," he said. "Each one of these players is going to have a role and can add to what already is a good team. I think we've done a lot. I think we've done as much, if not more, than any of the other 29 teams."

As he said, only time will tell.

Quote of the Day

My job was to get that puck and put it on net, and his job was not letting me do it. I got the best of that, but that game's over and to be honest I already forgot about it.

— Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk on his late game-tying goal in Montreal's 2-1 OT win
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