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Preds Have Dramatically Reshaped Roster Since 2014

GM David Poile's Decision to "Sell" in 2014 Started Speedy Roster Revamp

by Willy Daunic @WillyD1025 / NashvillePredators.com

If you look around town, you'll notice it. Read the clippings locally and around the NHL, you'll sense it. Flip on the radio, and you'll hear it. There's a buzz in Smashville. Expectations are high after last season's exciting, late-season surge.

Two excellent campaigns under Head Coach Peter Laviolette have built a strong foundation for success. The roster is young, deep and talented. It isn't unusual to see preseason predictions nationally that have the Predators among the contenders for a Stanley Cup.

It wasn't long ago when such was not the case.

The date was Feb. 27, 2014. The embattled Nashville Predators had just come from behind to beat an upstart Tampa Bay Lightning squad at Bridgestone Arena by a score of 3-2. The win in the first game following the NHL's break for the Sochi Winter Olympics brought the Preds to within just four points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff race, only a few days before the trade deadline.

Nashville was optimistic about getting back to the postseason after missing it for just the second time in the previous nine seasons the year before. The team had clawed and scratched without goalie Pekka Rinne, who had missed the previous 51 games due to a hip infection.

But with Rinne on the verge of a return, there appeared to be a ray of hope. General Manager David Poile had to make the always tough decision for a team on the playoff bubble: Were the Predators buyers or sellers?

The Predators lost the next two games at home. First it was Winnipeg, then Pittsburgh (in Rinne's long-awaited return). Had they won those two games, perhaps the direction of the franchise could have been different. Instead, Poile decided his team was short on talent and needed to build future assets.

Here is the Nashville roster at the time:

Preds 2013-14 Roster
     
Forwards    
David Legwand Mike Fisher Patric Hornqvist
Matt Cullen Paul Gaustad Eric Nystrom
Colin Wilson Craig Smith Rich Clune
Gabriel Bourque Viktor Stalberg Nick Spaling (injured)
Defense    
Shea Weber Roman Josi Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm Seth Jones Michael Del Zotto
Goalies    
Pekka Rinne Marek Mazanec  

Not a bad team at all. The squad was much improved from the disappointing 2012-13 season, and had fought admirably without their franchise goalie. But it was not a roster that appeared on the verge of big things.

Nineteen-year-old Filip Forsberg, acquired at the 2013 deadline for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, had been given a look but was not ready to blossom. Young defensemen Josi, Ekholm and Ellis were just starting to scratch the surface of what they would soon become. The forwards lacked a collective scoring punch.

It would have been a lot to ask of Rinne to save the team after four months away, even if the team added a veteran or two. Poile absorbed all of this and made his decision.  

At the trade deadline on March 4, 2014, the Predators traded their first-ever draft pick David Legwand - holder of a basket full of franchise records - to the Detroit Red Wings for a young prospect named Calle Jarnkrok and a second-round draft pick (Jack Dougherty).

At the time, the move was puzzling to some critics, who termed it a waving of the white flag for the season. But to most experts, Poile had made a sound decision to continue the process of revamping his roster.

Fast forward to today.

Here is what the Opening Night lineup looks like:

Preds 2016-17 Opening Night Roster
     
Forwards    
Filip Forsberg Mike Fisher Colin Wilson
Craig Smith Ryan Johansen James Neal
Kevin Fiala Viktor Arvidsson Mike Ribeiro
Cody Bass Colton Sissons Calle Jarnkrok
Miikka Salomaki    
Defense    
Roman Josi Ryan Ellis P.K. Subban
Mattias Ekholm Anthony Bitetto Matt Carle
Yannick Weber    
Goalies    
Pekka Rinne Marek Mazanec  

That is quite a reshaping in a relatively short period of time. Only seven regulars (including the injured Rinne) remain from the squad who beat the Lightning on that late February night in 2014. Doesn't seem that long ago, does it?

It remains to be seen what the fate of this team will be, but most would agree this year's team has a significant edge in talent. How did it happen? A combination of draft picks coming of age, solid trades and a sprinkling of free agents.

Here is how the 22-man squad breaks down:

  • Homegrown talent (12): Rinne, Wilson, Smith, Fiala, Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, Sissons, Salomaki, Arvidsson, Mazanec, Bitetto.
  • Trade (6): Subban, Johansen, Fisher, Neal, Jarnkrok, Forsberg.
  • Free Agent (4): Ribeiro, Bass, Weber, Carle.

A dissection of this roster construction yields a few themes worth noting:

  1. In the salary cap era, the drafting and development of players is more than ever a team's lifeblood. You cannot win without a solid core of them. In March of 2014, the outlook for some of the key cogs on this year's team looked uncertain. But several of the players on the "homegrown" list have leaped forward since then.
  2. The six trades break down in three categories.
    1. Bold "hockey trades" (Neal, Johansen and Subban)
    2. Deadline "seller" deals (Jarnkrok and Forsberg)
    3. Deadline "buyer" deal (Fisher)
  3. There is not a reliance on free agents. In the age of the salary cap, this is important. It's becoming increasingly rare that true star players hit the market. When they do, they are extremely expensive. Instead, the Predators have looked to the second level of bargains who fit roles.

With the Predators now poised to embark on another season-long journey, it's fun to look back to those days in 2014 and reflect on how they got here. They have evolved significantly.  

At the outset of Laviolette's first training camp two years ago, finding a preseason prediction that included the Predators in the playoffs required some serious digging. Last year, it was much more common. Now, the goal is to hit a new level. This team won't sneak up on anyone. Time to play.

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