NASHVILLE – Ever since defenseman Ryan Suter elected to depart via free agency for the Minnesota Wild in July 2012, the Nashville Predators have undergone a patient rebuild.
If that process were ever questioned, the trade of center David Legwand, who had been part of Nashville's organization from its first season until the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, puts an exclamation point on it.
Legwand played 956 games for the Predators, the most in their history. As general manager David Poile said in a statement, Legwand, in his 15 seasons, had been part of some of the Predators' greatest moments and also their trials.
With Legwand, a native of suburban Michigan, traded to the Detroit Red Wings, Poile said he wants to give an opportunity to younger players including Colin Wilson, and perhaps some to prospects who are with the Predators' top minor-league affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
"You've heard what I've said: I want to have a different look with our forwards and I'm certainly not picking on [Legwand], who is our leading scorer (40 points), and he played well, but I want to have a different look with our forwards," Poile said. "We've got to play a little bit differently or they've got to score; somehow they've got to score a little bit more."
Calle Jarnkrok, the prospect Nashville acquired in the Legwand trade along with wing Patrick Eaves and a conditional third-round pick, could be a solution. It could take the form of Predators' prospects Filip Forsberg, Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson (a first-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft).
Goalie Pekka Rinne and defenseman Shea Weber, the Predators captain, remain ensconced as building blocks of the franchise. However, in the past 18 months, the Predators have shed older players and replaced them with younger ones and, in some cases, prospects.
Last season at the deadline, the Predators moved then-31-year-old right wing Martin Erat, who had requested a trade, for a prospect, Forsberg. During the summer, Nashville bought out 38-year-old defenseman Hal Gill, the oldest player in franchise history. Earlier this season, they traded defenseman Kevin Klein, who will be 30 this year, for 23-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
Now Legwand, who will be 34 in August, is gone.
With the exception of Weber, the Predators' regular defensemen are 23 or younger. The forwards, the organization admits, need work, especially as it relates to scoring. Nashville ranks No. 23 in the NHL, but its defense has scored at a high rate. The hope is that youth will take its course and deliver the offensive potency they need to be more competitive.
Though Poile said Nashville is not giving up on making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Predators entered Wednesday six points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Making this move for Poile was not easy. He almost seemed to say he dreaded the two weeks leading up to the deadline. For a minute, he was nostalgic about the passage of time as viewed through Legwand.
"It's hard to believe I watched David Legwand play junior hockey as a 17-year-old and met his parents, saw this young guy that now leaves us … married, two kids," Poile said. "He's our player rep. Where he wasn't so worldly when he came in here, he's a much more rounded person and a player. Everything that's happened so far in this franchise, David has been a part of. Big wins, big goals."
Asked what moments might stand out the most for him, Poile came back a couple of times to when Legwand was the first player to earn a penalty shot in overtime in Madison Square Garden. It came on Dec. 23, 2000, and he delivered a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers by beating goalie Kirk McLean. Poile remembered Legwand doing a leg kick that was straight out of the film "The Mighty Ducks."
One of the difficult assessments of Legwand's career with Nashville is perhaps he did not live up to the potential of his draft position. He was taken second in 1998, one pick after Vincent Lecavalier. He was never captain and scored 20 goals twice in his 15 seasons.
In his draft year, Legwand came off a season when he scored 54 goals and had 51 assists (105 points) in 59 games for Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League. Poile took a bit of organizational responsibility for some of what could be perceived as Legwand's offensive shortcomings, because Nashville employs a responsible, defense-first system.
"That's really interesting because it seems 14 or 15 years later we're talking about our forwards and center-ice position; that's how important I felt about that," Polie said. "That of the players that would be there, that would be a nice foundation piece to start off with a center-iceman. I think David was spectacular the year we drafted him in junior.
"I think in some ways maybe it's a little bit of our systems, or what have you, maybe he didn't live up to his offensive expectations when he came out of junior. But in terms of his all-round game where our coach could use him in all situations, his consistency or being in all the games, not too many injures that he had, he was always there."