Sitting atop the NHL standings, the Nashville Predators made a major trade on Sunday to solidify their lineup and make a strong push for the Stanley Cup.
The 2015 NHL Trade Deadline isn’t until March 2, but that doesn’t mean the Predators are remaining silent in the meantime.
Nashville General Manager David Poile acquired two former members of the Predators organization, defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli of the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a 2015 first-round draft choice.
In a moment, the GM was able to make a championship-contending team even more dynamic and he did it without giving any major pieces on a Preds team that is primed for a deep playoff run.
Across a grueling playoff run, there’s little that’s more important than depth at defense and forward. Even with the highest scoring defensive corps in the League, the Predators were in the market for a solid, puck-moving blueliner to round out the team’s top two pairings. Cody Franson
’s size (6-foot-5, 213 pounds) and lethal snapshot will be a perfect complement to either Seth Jones
or Ryan Ellis
(once he returns from injury). On the other front, Mike Santorelli
fits the bill as a top nine forward that will give the Predators added offensive punch, plus strong defensive prowess - whether on the penalty kill or by skating against an opponent’s top line.
Another major plus for Nashville is that they were able to acquire solid additions without messing with the chemistry in a lineup that has gone League-leading 38-12-6 and 24-3-1 at home. The Preds gave up a first-round draft pick in 2015, minor leaguer Brendan Leipsic (third-round draft pick in 2012) and veteran Olli Jokinen. Plus, there’s the rare benefit of both Franson and Santorelli's being familiar with the Nashville organization. Both players were drafted by the franchise and have already skated in a combined 189 games with the team. Finally, by making this deal early, Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette still has 26 games remaining in the regular season to find the right spot for each of the new players. In turn, Franson and Santorelli will have more time than most deadline day acquisitions to learn their new coach's system.
Three Thoughts on Franson:
Top Pair Quality: Since leaving the Predators in 2011, Franson has rapidly developed his D-zone awareness and only enhanced his offensive game. The blueliner was skating in the Maple Leafs top defensive pairing before being traded, and now he’ll bolster the Preds second or third coupling on the blue line. That’s quite an upgrade.
Power-Play Benefits: Franson was already logging minutes on the PP as a young defenseman when he was in Nashville, and you can expect to see him right back in the same position. The 27-year-old’s quick-release wrister adds a whole new threat to Nashville’s man advantage. Franson has the skills to quarterback the team’s second PP unit at the point thanks to his deft passes and strong offensive zone vision. The D-man has 32 points this season, including 26 helpers.
Size and Consistency: Seth Jones has begun to contribute more offensively from the backend in the past 10 games, but the young D-man has needed a consistent partner. Both over 6-foot-3, agile and quick with the puck out of the defensive zone, Jones and Franson might just be a perfect match.
Three Thoughts on Santorelli:
Speed: Santorelli is the rare combination of a forward that has speed to burn but also isn’t afraid to go to the hard areas, no matter which zone the puck is in. To a point, Santorelli can be thought of an older Calle Jarnkrok who’s added some additional pop to his offensive game.
Faceoffs, Positioning: Remember when we said earlier that depth and a dynamic attack are key in the playoffs? Santorelli fits the bill on all fronts. The center can play all three forward positions and can hold his own in the face-off dot too. Adding another option to compliment a Mike Fisher or Paul Gaustad in the face-off circle certainly won’t hurt.
Creativity: The forward is usually labeled as a play-maker on the scouting report and can generate offensive chances either on the wall or off of the rush. Santorelli also knows how to find the soft areas in an opponent’s defense when the time comes for him to shoot. The Vancouver, B.C., native has 11 goals on the season.
Top Goal in 2014-15, Franson:
Top Goal in 2014-15, Santorelli:
The goal for the Preds in this instance was to add a veteran defenseman who could play in all situations and a proven forward who could move up and down the lineup. Nashville has done just that by adding two players who cannot only make an immediate impact in the Preds lineup, but are also familiar with the organization, a fact that is likely to make the transition that much easier.
The Predators never like to part with first-round picks or prospects, which has obviously happened in this case, but Preds management believes they’ve done a quality job of building organizational depth in the form of players such as Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones, plus a crop of promising prospects currently skating with the Milwaukee Admirals.
So while the final results of the deal and of the season as a whole still have at least two months (and hopefully more) to play out, there’s no denying that the Predators are closer to their ultimate goal than they were 24 hours ago. Springtime will be here soon enough.
- By Thomas Willis and Brooks Bratten