NASHVILLE, TN -- In recent summers, Nashville has done a lot more subtracting than adding. Since 2007, the team has lost the likes of Tomas Vokoun, Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Marek Zidlicky, and Alexander Radulov through free agency, trades, or defection.
So when GM David Poile dealt Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott in June – on the same day, nonetheless – the perception was that it was another summer ‘firesale’ in the Music City. Those critics couldn’t have been more wrong.
Hamhuis wasn’t going to stay in Nashville – not at $4.5 million a year. That kind of money simply isn’t in the budget for the Predators especially with hefty extensions looming for co-defensive anchors Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
Instead of watching ‘Hammer’ walk away for nothing, Poile traded his negotiating rights (along with a conditional draft pick in 2011) to Philadelphia in exchange for Ryan Parent. Since Hamhuis did not sign with the Flyers, they also lost the conditional pick as a result.
If you remember, Parent was an original first-round draft choice of the Predators in 2006 (18th overall), and was included as a part of the package for Peter Forsberg at the 2007 trade deadline. The 23-year-old defenseman is expected to play some key minutes this season.
“I think he’ll be a really good fit,” Predators coach Barry Trotz conveyed. “He’s more of a defensive player. He’ll really help on the penalty kill, and he’s a young guy that can improve. One thing that we’ve been able to do is improve our players, so hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Hours after essentially stealing Parent from Philadelphia, Poile traded away the captain of three years – Jason Arnott – to his old stomping grounds in New Jersey.
Even though he was a key contributor for a usually offensive-challenged Predators club, Arnott grew less and less dependable in the last couple of seasons. He tallied just two points in the Predators’ playoff series against Chicago, in what turned out to be their best chance at getting over the hump – known in Nashville as the ‘first round’.
In the last two years, he missed stretches of time with lingering concussion issues. While that’s a legitimate reason to sit out, his status shifted from day-to-day to week-to-week to no timetable at all and that didn’t please management. To add to the dissatisfaction, Jason was accused of not giving maximum effort for much of last season.
In return for Arnott, the Predators received mid-level prospect Matt Halischuk and a second-rounder in 2011 from the Devils.
With the subtraction of Arnott’s remaining contract of one-year, $4.5 million, Poile decided to spend that money wisely. The crafty GM dipped into the free agent pool to ink center Matthew Lombardi for $10.5 million over three years.
Lombardi, Phoenix’s top-line center for the 2009-10 campaign, will be a perfect fit under Trotz. His world-class speed and relentless two-way play will be a welcome addition in Arnott’s place, even if he doesn’t put up similar offensive numbers. Lombardi recorded a career-high 53 points last year.
Lombardi will be able to succeed in Nashville as either the No. 1 or No. 2 pivot (depending on the speed of Colin Wilson’s maturation at the NHL level). He will also contribute in all situations, and could make a difference on a penalty kill unit that ranked 28th a year ago.
Before the team signed Lombardi, Poile made another wise move where he maximized his assets. Similarly to Hamhuis, goalie Dan Ellis wasn’t going to wear a Predators jersey this season nor was Dustin Boyd, a decent role player.
Poile dealt both of their negotiating rights to Montreal on June 29 in exchange for the rights to enigmatic Sergei Kostitsyn, a restricted free agent. The move was questioned by some who follow the Predators but when the Belarus native was re-signed for just $550,000 last month, those opinions changed.
At virtually no risk at all, Kostitsyn can potentially be a diamond-in-the-rough pickup for the Predators. He’s making less than Wade Belak (yes, that Wade Belak), but could pot 20-25 goals if he takes advantage of what could be his last chance to prove himself in the NHL.
The only other task for Poile and company is to find a backup goaltender for Pekka Rinne. Even with some viable free agent options still available, the Predators could stick with what they have in the system with Anders Lindback, Chet Pickard and Mark Dekanich as possibilities.
If Poile isn’t satisfied with that trio, he could seek a veteran that is willing to take a pay-cut perhaps Jose Theodore and restricted free agents Patric Hornqvist and Cody Franson remained unsigned.
Something newsworthy that didn’t involve free agency or trades was the naming of a new captain. With Arnott out of the equation, the team decided to go the route everyone expected them to take.
Shea Weber will become the fifth captain in Predators history, preceded by Tom Fitzgerald, Greg Johnson, Timonen, and Arnott. Weber is highly respected in the locker room, and will raise his game up a notch with the ‘C’ on his chest which could be a scary proposition for the rest of the conference.
Weber’s contract runs through the upcoming season but with being named captain, I don’t see how he would be in any other uniform in the unforeseen future. Franchise defensemen like him don’t grow on trees and Poile will surely do everything he can do to lock him up.
When you look back at the Predators’ off-season it shouldn’t be remembered for what they lost early on; I’ll even use the old phrase of ‘addition by subtraction’ when it comes to the departures of Hamhuis and Arnott.
Poile and his staff did an admirable job bringing in new blood and fresh faces to keep up with the rest of the division/conference. These new additions will bring more youth, depth, and work ethic to a team that thrives off playing hard every night.
This Predators club is on the cusp of taking the next step. If the pieces fall in place, Nashville could very well make some noise this season.