Before the Nashville Predators can figure out what they want in the final days before the NHL’s trade deadline, they have to figure out what they are.
Following Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Chicago, Nashville was in 11th place in the Western Conference, but just three points out of eighth. That made it difficult to determine whether the Predators need to strengthen the roster for a possible playoff run or to take the opportunity to save some money and deal with the future in mind.
The trade deadline is March 4.
“Last year we didn’t find out we were going to get in (to the playoffs) until the end of the year,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You want to be in that position that you go right down to the wire and then you’re in or you’re out.”
In the face of that uncertainty last March the Predators made only one move of any consequence. They acquired forward Jan Hlavac, who left following the season as a free agent.
That was in contrast to virtually every other season. Nashville typically made three or four moves with the deadline approaching, regardless of whether it considered itself in or out of the playoff hunt.
Given that few of those deals produced significant results, though, not knowing what to do might be best.
The most successful deal in franchise history also was the first one the Predators made as a so-called ‘buyer.”
On Feb. 16, 2004 they sent a pair of second-round picks to the Blackhawks for Steve Sullivan, who immediately energized the franchise and helped spur the charge to its first playoff appearance. In two ensuing seasons before he sustained a serious back injury, Sullivan emerged as one of the team’s most dynamic and reliable offensive performers.
Nashville made several other moves that year to strengthen the NHL roster when it acquired center Sergei Zholtok and defenseman Brad Bombardir from Minnesota, defenseman Shane Hnidy from Ottawa and defenseman Stan Neckar from Tampa Bay. None of those players made any sort of long-term impact, and their short-term gains were minimal at best.
Similarly, none of the deadline deals in the seasons that followed produced any profound effect. Veteran acquisitions such as Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt (2006), or even Peter Forsberg (2007) did not lead to victory in any playoff series.
The Forsberg trade cost the Predators a lot, including two former first-round picks (Scottie Upshall and Ryan Parent) but did net a 2007 first-rounder in return. That pick was turned into Jonathan Blum, currently a highly regarded defense prospect.
However, overlooked among the 2004 trading season was a seemingly innocuous move made nine days after Nashville acquired Sullivan.
Minor league defenseman Timo Helbling was traded to Tampa Bay for an eighth-round pick in that year’s draft. That pick was used on goalie Pekka Rinne, who currently is carrying the load as the team’s No. 1 netminder. Helbling has appeared in just 11 career NHL games and has played in Sweden since the start of last season.
The deal for Rinne is the type of move teams traditionally hope to make when they are out of the playoffs and looking to the future.
Such was Nashville’s approach each of its first five seasons. None of the moves made then, beginning with the trade of forward Blair Atcheynum to St. Louis on March 23, 1999, has been as successful. Atcheynum brought a sixth-round draft pick which was used on European forward Zbynek Irgl, who never played a game for Nashville.
Likewise, in 2001 defenseman Drake Berehowsky brought a second-round choice from Atlanta, which was used on forward Timofei Shishkanov. For a time, Shishkanov was regarded as a promising prospect but he was dealt at the 2006 deadline for Sillinger. In 2002 forward Cliff Ronning was sent to Los Angeles for a package which included a pick that never produced (defenseman Teemu Lassila).
When Nashville wasn’t acquiring picks, it often was going after defense in those days.
The Ronning deal also brought a player, veteran defenseman Jere Karalahti, whose personal struggles soon got the better of him. Two years earlier veteran defenseman Bob Boughner went to Pittsburgh for defense prospect Pavel Skrbek. That move paid no dividends.
Also near the 2000 deadline, though, Cale Hulse was acquired from Calgary for forward Sergei Krivokrasov. Hulse ultimately appeared in 225 games for the Predators before he left via free agency.
Defense no longer is a serious concern courtesy of the 2003 draft, which produced four blue liners currently on Nashville’s NHL roster.
Offense has been an issue much of the season but rarely is found through trades.
It’s difficult to know, therefore, what Nashville possibly could do – or what it should do in the next week.