Missing the NHL playoffs in consecutive seasons provides plenty of incentive to retool and create a roster that will reverse the trend. That’s precisely what Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile did this offseason.
The following is part three of a review of a summer’s worth of changes, by position. This week we feature the forwards. Plenty to talk about here.
The changes up front amount to something just shy of a full-blown overhaul. No other area of the roster got more attention. Why? Because offense has been an area of concern for some time. And because a new coach with an offensive focus necessitates a roster with more firepower.
Starting on day one of the NHL Draft, Mr. Poile made one of the biggest splashes of the summer when James Neal was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins. An exciting move to be sure; the Predators have never had a 40-goal scorer in the stable.
But the question becomes: How do you put him in a position where he can produce in that way again? Remember, Neal scored his 40 with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin riding alongside.
Enter Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy. These are all interesting signings and each fits a common profile. Players in their early 30s (Jokinen is 35); who have scored at a point-a-game clip in the past; who signed for less money on one-year deals because they’re looking to parlay the coming year into another solid contract. (i.e. Each forward has something to prove.)
Given the way unrestricted free agency played out (Paul Statsny, Mike Cammalleri and Thomas Vanek were snapped up early), you have to credit the Predators with making the most of a depleted market. Unable to capture a “big name” the team adjusted and played the short game by signing three “second-tier” players who may be positioned to have strong years.
So at end of the day/summer, are the Predators any better? Yes … on paper. The club acquired four key pieces that make the club measurably more potent than last year’s version. But the rubber has yet to hit the road. I estimate that by the second half of November the answer to this question should become clear. In any event, keep an eye on the forwards this year; that’s the gateway back to the postseason.
Next week we’ll analyze coaching.