Depending on which team you follow, the gap between large market and small market teams has an impact on your view of team salaries in the NHL. In Toronto, for example, the expectations are so high, that anything is considered acceptable as long as it puts a winning team on the ice. Spending to the cap, dumping high priced veterans in the minors, buying out contracts, and signing elite players to 10 – 15 year contracts are not only considered acceptable, but are expected. Such is the life of teams that have unlimited funds to play with. In the long term, currency and salary cap fluctuations, injuries, and the economy as a whole may negatively impact these teams.
But what about the smaller markets? Teams like Columbus, Nashville and Florida do not have the same luxuries that other team have. Nashville would love to add 12 million to their roster and spend to the cap. They would love to be able to buy out contracts that didn't reach their potential. They would love to dump a veterans into the minors to negate a salary cap issue. And they would love to be able to spend 70 – 100 million and lock up a player for 10 – 15 years. Unfortunately, those options are not available to a team that worries more about spending to the cap FLOOR.
So how is it that a team that flirts with the salary cap floor has made the playoffs 4 of the last 5 years and is on pace to make the playoffs again this year? The simple answer is drafting well and developing the talent you have. Barry Trotz has often commented that it makes no sense to dwell on who you don't have on your roster, but instead to focus on who you do have. A coaches job is to coach, and no other coach in the NHL has done as much with so little as Barry Trotz. With a few exceptions, most NHL fans would not be able to name more then 3 or 4 players on the Predators. They aren't a team filled with superstars or big name free agent acquisitions. Sure they have guys like Arnott, Dumont, and Sullivan that were brought into to provide leadership and experience. But 15 of the 21 roster spots were either drafted by Nashville, or picked up from another team that had no intentions of using them in the future. What Trotz he has been able to do with overlooked players like Dan Ellis, Joel Ward, Patrick Hornqvist, and Marcel Goc are testament to his ability to bring out the best in a player.
But let us not forget, someone had to sign these players. Dave Poile has received credit for his job as the General Manager. But does he deserve more credit? The biggest knock against Nashville is that they haven't moved past the 1st round of the playoffs. And count me in as one who believes Poile needs to be graded on achieving that goal moving forward. But if every other GM only had 44 million to spend each year, how many of them would get their team to the playoffs 4 out of 5 years? I would put Dave Poile up against any other GM under those circumstances. It was Dave Poile who drafted Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, Patrick Hornqvist, and Cody Franson. In fact, Dave Poile is the only GM the organization has ever had and thus has been responsible for every drafted player.
So why have I mentioned everything above? Because to understand the future, you have understand a bit of the culture and history of the current team. Nashville is a team that is built on drafting quality players, developing them in the AHL, and then letting Coach Trotz suck every ounce of potential out of them. It is a team that is built with home grown talent and supplemented with Free Agents. Not the other way around. When you don't have the financial resources to compete with the large market teams, your ability to draft wisely is even more important.
So lets talk about the future of the Nashville Predators. Overall, the future looks bright.
Currently the Predators have Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne on their NHL roster. Both are UFA at the end of this year so it remains to be seen what Dave Poile will do at the trade deadline. Neither one has been overly impressive this year, but have shown glimpses of greatness. If one is to be traded, it will be Dan Ellis. The question is whether we could get enough for him in return to warrant losing him down the playoff stretch. And if we were to trade him, who would replace him? Well, unless we get a veteran goalie in return, the replacement goalie would be either Chet Pickard or Mark Dekanich of Nashville's AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals.
Goalie GP W L SOL SO GA GAA SV%
Mark Dekanich 29 15 10 3 1 74 2.67 0.900
Chet Pickard 24 12 8 2 1 63 2.77 0.892
As you can see, both have very similar numbers. Dekanich was the starter last year and his numbers have actually gone done from a stellar performance in the 2008/2009 season. On paper, Dekanich looks better of the 2. But neither is showing he is ready for the NHL at this time. Pickard is the future for the Nashville Predators and is only 20 years old. My take is if Dekanich wants to make the NHL roster next year, he will have to establish himself as a #1 goalie down the stretch this year. If not, Nashville will pick up a veteran goalie to back up Rinne. Pickard will be on the NHL roster probably for the 2011/2012 season. Personally, I'd like to see Nashville trade Dan Ellis if we can get either a 2nd round draft pick, a scoring Winger, or a package deal that nets us a strong blueliner to replace Dan Hamhuis. If we can't get a decent return, stick with Ellis for the rest of the season, and then trade his rights to someone before the free agent period begins.
One player to watch over the next few years is 21 year old Anders Lindback. He is a 6'6 goalie in the Swedish Elite League that plays much like Pekka Rinne, just taller. It took a while to track this down on an all Swedish website, but here are his numbers so far this year.
GP GA SVS SVS% GAA
Anders Lindback 32 83 805 9.065 2.60
Overall, our future looks bright if Pekka Rinne can continue to develop and find some consistency in his game and if Chet Pickard turns into the player that is expected by drafting him in the 1st round in 2008.
The Predators have made a name for themselves by focusing on drafting quality defensive players. On the current roster, every blueliner except for Francis Bouillon was drafted by Nashville. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are the most established of the group and will continue to improve as they mature and gain experience. Next in line are Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klien. Klien just signed a new contract to keep him with the Predators for the next 2 years. Dan Hamhuis is an established blueliner whose contract is up at the end of this year. Chances are he will be traded away and I feel this is the best move for 'Hammer'. With players like Cody Franson, Alexander Sulzer, Jonathan Blum, and Robert Deitrich in the pipeline, the Predators need to make room for their wealth of young talent. Cody Franson has already established himself as an up and coming force on the Predators this year. At 6'4, he compares to Shea Weber but with the added benefit of a good wrist shot. He doesn't play with the edge that Weber does, but that could develop over time.
Jonathan Blum is the prospect that has the most potential down in Milwaukee. Chances are he will be on the NHL roster in the 2010/2011 season and will follow in the footsteps of Ryan Suter. He is a strong on the power play and is solid defensively, currently tied for 2nd on the team with a +/- of 12. I foresee Blum quarterbacking the power play with Cody Franson in the future much like Ryan Suter does for Shea Weber. If Blum doesn't make the roster out of camp next year, expect him to be the 1st player called up if any one on defense goes down with an injury. Blum's current stats:
# Player GP G A PTS +/- PIM
3 Jonathan Blum 50 5 18 23 12 16
But the player that I most look forward to seeing is Ryan Ellis. He was the Predators 1st round draft pick in the 2009 draft and is currently playing for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. He is small, standing at only 5'9, but he makes up for it in talent. If you don't believe me, listen to how NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Orr described him “he's not very big, but you'll see … he's a heck of a hockey player.” Ellis brings a successful track record of international play along with him having been the top defensive player on Canada's U-17 and U-20 teams the last few years. His current stats:
Name Pos GP G A PTS +/- PIM
Ryan Ellis D 34 7 30 37 +30 20
That’s 37 points in 34 games as a blueliner. As he is only 18 years old, I do not expect Ellis to make his way to Nashville until the 2011/2012 season, but will make the jump to the AHL next season, most likely to replace Jonathan Blum.
Two other prospects to keep an eye on are Charles Olivier Roussel and Roman Josi in the European Elite Leagues. Both are long shots to make it to Nashville, but may get a shot in Milwaukee over the next 2 years or so. With Weber, Suter, Franson already at the NHL level, and Ellis and Blum a year or so away, Roussel and Josi's greatest value might be a trade bait to boost our forward positions. By 2012, the Nashville Predator defensive core could have Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Cody Franson, Jonathan Blum, and Ryan Ellis. That is a lot of potential. Throw in a solid veteran who is hungry for post season success and this might be the best blueline in the NHL for years to come. The future looks bright.
With the quality of prospects Nashville has on defense and in between the pipes, there was bound to be one weakness. That weakness might be at the forward position where outside of Colin Wilson, there isn't a forward prospect getting much attention. The emergence of Patric Hornqvist this year for the Nashville Predators has improved the consensus of scoring prospects down the road. Yes, Hornqvist is a free agent at the end of the year, but is almost 100% guaranteed to be signed up for a 3 – 5 year deal. With Colin Wilson set to make the roster next year at the latest, possibly this year for the playoff stretch, you will have a good look at the future of the franchise. Wilson is big, strong, and willing to get in front of the net to get those dirty goals. He is solid on the boards and has a great sense of what is happening on the ice. His weakness has been his defense, but his time down in Milwaukee this year seems to have corrected that. After battling a groin injury for the first part of the year, Wilson has rebounded and now has 10 goals/15 assists in 33 games.
After Wilson, there is a huge drop of in 'recognized' talent. But digging a bit deeper, you will find a few players that could emerge and make their way onto the Predators lineup in the coming years. The biggest name appears to be Taylor Beck(RW) of the Guelph Storm in the OHL. He leads the team with 28g/44a and is 3rd in overall scoring in the OHL. Third in scoring isn't too bad when you consider the first two spots are Tyler Sequin and Taylor Hall, both projected to go 1st and 2nd in the 2010 NHL draft. At 6'1, 201 pounds, Beck has the talent to be a 1st or 2nd line scoring right winger. Whether or not he continues to develop and reach that potential remains to be seen. Beck also has a chance to make the NHL roster for the 2010/2011 season, but most likely will be in the AHL at Milwaukee.
A few other prospects to keep an eye on are Gabriel Bourque, Michael Latta, Cam Reid, Zack Budish, and Blake Geoffrion.
Geoffrion, drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 entry draft, is a senior Captain at the University of Wisconsin and plays Left Wing. He is also a former Brentwood Tennessee high school standout, and would become the first player from Tennessee to make it to the NHL level. He is the son of former NHL player Danny Geoffrion, the grand-son of Montreal Canadians legend Bernard “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion, and the great-grand-son of Montreal Canadians legend Howie Morenz. As he is graduating this year, expect to see Geoffrion in Milwaukee next year with an outside chance of being called up should injuries occur.
Budish, a Freshman at the University of Minnesota, was a 2nd round draft pick in 2009. Had it not been for an ACL injury his senior year while playing football, Budish would have gone much higher in the draft. At 6'3, 223, Budish has the height and size to be a power forward at the NHL level. As he is a Freshman, do not expect to see him break into the Nashville line up for at least 3 years. Definitely worth keeping an eye on though.
Latta, a 5'11, 207 lb center for the Guelph Storm in the OHL, was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. He likens his game to that of Mike Richards and has pinpoint accuracy with his shot selection. Only 18 years old, Latta will play at least one more year in the OHL before moving up to Milwaukee. While not tall, he does bring a certain edge with him as indicated by his 99 penalty minutes in 38 games. Latta might have a shot of making the Nashville roster in 2011/2012 if he continues to develop. Otherwise, he will continue his development in Milwaukee.
Gabriel Bourque, a Left Winger drafted in the 5th round of the 2009 entry draft has far exceeded his development expectations, earning him a spot on Team Canada for the 2009 U-20 World Championships. Expect Bourque to continue his development in the QMJHL next year before moving up to Milwaukee for the 2011/2012 season.
Cam Reid is the wild card in the draft mix for Nashville. Drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 Entry Draft, Reid is a 6'2/197 lb center who is currently playing in the British Columbia Hockey League. While not at the Major Junior level Reid has the size and skating vision to rapidly develop. While scoring statistics can be skewed in the BCHL, Reid currently ranks in the top 15 in scoring in the league and is 2nd on his team. Barring injury, Reid should find himeself on a Major Junior team in the next 2 years. If he continues to develop, he has a shot at the AHL for the 2012/2013 season. Reid is a long shot to make it to Nashville, but if he grows another inch or 2, puts on a few pounds, and continues to develop, anything is possible.
Player GP G A PTS PIM +/-
Blake Geoffrion 24 18 9 27 34 13
Michael Latta 38 20 23 43 99 12
Gabriel Bourque 37 14 28 42 71 0
Cam Reid 46 24 42 66 58 0
Zack Budish 27 6 8 14 31 7
Overall Prospect Summary
The Nashville Predators are stocked at both the Goalie and Defense positions for years to come. At both positions, there are high ranking blue chip prospects that are expected to contribute for the Predators within the next 2 years. Offensively, Nashville does not have a prospect that stands out as a bonafide star with the exception of Colin Wilson. But outside of your Sydney Crosby's of the world, very few prospects are able to be judged at 18 and 19 years old. So time will tell whether the existing forward prospects are able to develop to NHL caliber players. That said, Nashville will probably have to rely on a few solid Free Agent forwards until they are able to stock up a few more prospects.
But, given Dave Poile's reputation for evaluating talent, combined with Barry Trotz' coaching abilities, there is enough potential for the Nashville Predators to challenge for the Stanley Cup down the road. After all, the Stanley Cup doesn't always go to the most talented team. Injuries, chemistry, and luck always play a role. Pred Nation has years of exciting hockey ahead of us and watching some of these talented prospects develop will be a major part of that success.
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper