As the Nashville Predators continue to soar, it's interesting to look back on how quickly they’ve reshaped a roster that looked short on talent just two years ago when the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season ended.
There have been various personnel moves that have helped revive the franchise, but two trade deadline deals in particular appear to be home runs.
Martin Erat and David Legwand were two homegrown Predator draft picks that played a huge role in the first 15 years of the organization. While not franchise players, they were part of a nucleus of players that helped grow the franchise out of the expansion era and into a competitive playoff team.
After former owner Craig Leipold sold the team and stripped it down to the core, Erat and Legwand's collective responsibilities rose even more. With the current ownership group taking over, it was important to establish some stability in the roster. As a result, both players were signed to long-term extensions for the 2008-09 season. Erat got seven years for $31.5 million, while Legwand was inked for six seasons at $27 million.
The value the team got for those two deals is debatable and depends on your expectations. Because of their longevity, Legwand and Erat appear at the top of virtually every meaningful stat category in franchise history. However, their contributions going forward are still reaping rewards for the Predators (and may for quite some time) because of the return Nashville General Manager David Poile received for the pair of players in the two key deadline deals over the last two seasons. Lets look at both of them:
1. Martin Erat and Michael Latta for Filip Forsberg (April 2013)
The Predators entered the stretch run of a compressed 48-game schedule in 2013 not far from the top eight in the Western Conference. However, injuries were taking their toll, and the team just didn't seem to have the chemistry or the necessary talent to make the late season charge. Defenseman Roman Josi hadn’t yet grown into his new role as Shea Weber's defensive partner, and Pekka Rinne was limited (unbeknownst to the public at the time) by his injured hip.
Still, Poile was willing to stand pat and hope for the best. However, Erat had become disenchanted with the team and asked for a trade. Poile showed patience, hoping that the demand would pass and they could re-evaluate in the offseason (Erat still had two years left on his contract). But Erat persisted, and Poile found the perfect team to deal with as the deadline approached. The Washington Capitals were looking to "go for it", and their GM George McPhee was under pressure to have playoff success. Erat also had the Caps on his list of teams he would wave his no-trade clause for as well. At the last minute, McPhee pulled the trigger.
Approximately 20 months later, it looks like a steal for the Predators, as Forsberg has blossomed into the team’s leading scorer this season. Erat, on the other hand, spent just 62 games with the Caps before again being dealt away (and McPhee lost his job in Washington after last season).
For some tremendous insight on how the deal went down at the time from both sides, check out this article from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun from April 4, 2013.
Another important series of events after the Erat-Forsberg swap: The Predators won just one game the remainder of the season and plummeted toward the bottom of the standings. That led them to the fourth overall pick in the draft - Seth Jones.
2. David Legwand for Calle Jarnkrok, Patrick Eaves and a conditional draft pick (March 2014)
Last March, the Predators were in a similar dilemma as the year before: not out of the playoff picture completely, but facing an uphill climb.
The team had tried to weather a stretch of over 50 games without Rinne, who was just returning in time for the stretch run. A strong last 20 games could perhaps sneak the team back into the playoffs, but they would have to play at a level they had not reached all year. With Rinne's return, this was plausible, but seemed like a very difficult task.
With Legwand becoming a free agent at the end of the year, Poile had decided he was prepared to deal him at the deadline if the right trade presented itself. For a second-straight year, the stars aligned.
The Detroit Red Wings, riddled with injuries yet determined to make the playoffs for the 23rd-straight year, showed interest in Legwand. A Detroit native, Legwand was willing to waive his no-trade clause to go back home. The Wings also had a deep group of prospects, and while Jarnkrok had performed well, he was deemed expendable because of this surplus.
The deal was again made at the last moment, with the Predators taking Patrick Eaves to make the salary cap work for Detroit, plus Nashville picked up a third round pick - which became a 2nd round pick when the Wings barely made the postseason.
While the Predators missed the postseason that year as well, they surged down the stretch with the addition of Jarnkrok, going 9-1-2 in their last dozen contests. The young Swede's smart play has been an excellent fit.
Poile’s gutsiness to give up two long-time members of the team for two prospects with a combined zero games of NHL experience has paid off in big, big way. The Predators took two long-time assets with no-trade clauses in their early 30s and parlayed both of them into players who have made huge contributions to the team's hot start in 2014-15.