The Nashville Predators made a pair of significant deals Saturday afternoon, fewer than two weeks before the end of the National Hockey League’s contract year.
Jason Arnott, the team captain since 2007-08, was sent to the New Jersey Devils for a 22-year-old forward and a draft pick. In a separate move, defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for former Predators’ first-round pick Ryan Parent.
The Hamhuis deal is reminiscent of one made with the Flyers three years ago. Both Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen were traded to Philadelphia shortly before they became free agents, and the Flyers immediately signed them to long-term deals.
“We had many, many conversations with (Hamhuis’) agent at various times and you could just tell (re-signing him) wasn’t something that was meant to be,” general manager David Poile said. “We still have two terrific top defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and what I believe is one of the best group of young defensemen in the league.
“I really still like our defense a lot.”
The re-acquisition of Parent, the 18th overall pick in 2005, adds another to a group of young blue liners with a degree of NHL experience. That group includes Kevin Klein and Cody Franson, who were full-time players a year ago. The most veteran of that group is Francis Bouillon, who was re-signed to a two-year contract on Friday.
Parent played 102 NHL games over parts of the past four seasons after he was traded to Philadelphia in the Feb. 2007 deal, which brought Peter Forsberg to Nashville briefly. Along with Hamhuis, the Predators also gave up a conditional 2011 draft pick.
Similarly, Arnott is headed back to one of his former teams. In return, the Predators get 22-year-old forward Matt Halischuk and a second-round-pick in 2011.
He played for New Jersey from 1998 through 2002 and was part of one Stanley Cup winning team.
Poile said the decision to trade Arnott was made in concert with the player based on postseason exit interviews. The vetern center scored 107 goals in four seasons with Nashville after being signed as a free agent.
“It was a great day when we signed Jason Arnott, and he played tremendous for us,” Poile said. “He has been one of the better player ever to wear a Predators’ uniform.”
He added that a decision on the team’s next captain likely will be made prior to the start of training camp.
“It’s definitely a change in direction,” Poile said. “Certainly leadership is meaningful in any business, and on a hockey team, it’s huge.
“We have a young team and a lot of those young players represent the heart of our team right now. There are six or eight probably, who are in a position to assume more of a leadership role and I look forward to them doing that.”