This summer, a single goal existed for the Nashville Predators long-time general manager, and it was a big one: transform the club’s offensive attack in a single offseason.
Altering the makeup and style played by the Preds forwards didn’t seem like an easy fix to Nashville General Manager David Poile and the GM said he decided to approach the change by using quantity to find quality.
Over the course of June and July, Poile added three forwards through free agency, one via a trade and promoted a trio of younger players to the roster. In sum, a shocking shakeup that swapped seven of 12 forwards and produced a first line constructed from three players in their first-full seasons as Preds.
“Our whole objective this summer was to change our forwards,” Poile said. “We thought the combination of younger players - Calle Jarnkrok, Filip Forsberg and Taylor Beck, for example - when added with some more veteran players like Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen and James Neal by trade, was the shift we needed. We were trying to get some quality with that quantity.”
Admittedly, adding that many players to a roster in one offseason comes with a certain level of risk, however.
For example, Ribeiro and Roy (both former 80-point scorers) fit the bill as the veteran, skilled forwards Poile wanted to add to his club this summer but there were question marks surrounding the pair when the GM inked both to one-year deals on July 15.
“In past years there have been some situations that helped bringing [Roy and Ribeiro] to us, and I think they have something to prove to themselves and to the hockey world in terms of what they have left,” Poile said. “Ribeiro and Roy have been just what we’ve needed so far though. Yes, it was a bit of gamble, but we’re hoping they’ll continue to bring what we need to our forward group.”
Twelve games into the 2014-15 season, the new-look version of the Predators are seeing results on the ice. The club’s second-best start to a campaign in franchise history has come in part to the depth the team now owns at forward - specifically ones that can play the new offensive style of attack implemented by first-year Head Coach Peter Laviolette.
“I think in making a coaching change we were looking to make a playing style adjustment too,” Poile said. “After not making the playoffs the last two years we wanted to shift the way we play the game and specifically that meant changes to our forwards.
“Laviolette just wants to play a more offensive style, and I think it was time for us to have that change with our mindset, our whole team. We pushed hard to make changes, to fit that new mentality and that included promoting some of the younger guys, signing those free agents and the pretty significant trade of Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling for a 40-goal scorer in James Neal. I’m trying to give the coach the tools to allow him to be successful and play the style that he would like to play.”
Over the small sample size so far this season, the GM’s aim for quality through quantity has worked well because the pieces he bought into this offseason have all exceeded expectations. The result of Ribeiro clicking with Neal or Roy and Jokinen helping linemates in Craig Smith and Colin Wilson is a sudden wealth at forward - a position that had a “work in progress” sign on the door only months earlier.
Still, the GM says his team’s best days likely remain ahead. Poile explained that he believes 20-year-old and team-leading scorer, Filip Forsberg, is only getting better with his added experience. And the Preds will soon be adding another top forward when injured center Mike Fisher makes his return.
“Forsberg is a young player that’s going to get better and better as he goes through more situations. In time, he’s going to be a really good offensive player which is just what we needed to add to our lineup,” Poile explained. “The other situation we’re waiting on is to get Mike Fisher back in the lineup, which should be around the end of November, and hopefully that will tell us a lot about our setup. [Around] that point I’ll know how we play the game and what we need to do to be even better for the rest of the season.”
Fisher’s return will bring just one more element to the Preds forward group: a collection of players that boasts skill, depth, variety, and most importantly, quality.
The sheer number of moves and reorganization Nashville’s GM was able to complete following a season that saw his team miss the playoffs by three points, is impressive enough, but without a playoff berth this spring little of that will matter according to Poile.
“Every team that Laviolette has been with - Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers - he’s been able to get them into the playoffs in that first year,” Poile said. “And with the new pieces we’ve added in addition to him, that’s our main goal for sure.”