When the Predators signed Viktor Stalberg last summer, he was coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Chicago Blackhawks. However, he was also coming off of a season that saw Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville make him a healthy scratch more than once (and in the playoffs no less), and rumor was Stalberg’s attitude of entitlement, particularly with regards to his power play time, had something to do with that.
I’m not going to assume one way or the other if this was true, or try to guess if that rumored sense of entitlement has followed him to Nashville. What I will focus on is that Stalberg was also a healthy scratch for the Predators in a couple of games at the beginning of the season and has spent some significant time injured this season. Stalberg having 18 points (8G, 10A) and being a -16 with seven games left in the season probably isn’t the scenario David Poile was hoping for when he snagged the Swede from free agency. Sure, the current point total isn’t actually far off from his career average, excepting his 22 goal season for the Blackhawks in 2011-2012, but Stalberg came to the Predators knowing that they were a team desperately in need of offense, and he hasn’t delivered.
Unfortunately, that seems to be symptomatic of the Predators’ offense as a whole this season.
State of the (Offensive) Union
Let’s face it – it isn’t controversial to suggest that the Predators need to upgrade their offense. Nashville’s forward core has shown flashes of promise lately, but overall the current makeup just isn’t cutting it. Last year in the lockout-shortened season, they scored 111 goals total, the worst in the league. This year they’re on pace to finish third-worst, and worst in the West.
So what’s to be done?
Free agency is an obvious place to begin, albeit with the caveat that if you want a good player from free agency, you’re going to have to overpay. It’s just how things work in the salary cap world. The question is – is Poile willing to spend, and potentially even overspend, when his attempts at doing so last summer haven’t quite panned out?
If he is, there’s a decent crop this year. Just how decent depends entirely on whether guys like Callahan, Hemsky, Vanek, etc. are planning to sign with the teams they were traded to at the deadline or if they’re set on exploring free agency. Paul Stastny would be a good player to look at if Colorado doesn’t decide to retain him. He’s never going to be your standout star player, but he’s had a good year (52 points in 63 games and a CorsiFor Rel of +4.1%), and it isn’t a stretch to suggest that he could provide veteran stability for the Predators at center.
Up and Comers
Another place to find offense? Within the organization. The Predators have a few guys who are technically still prospects (despite seeing some NHL time this year) that look promising.
Calle Jarnkrok, arguably the best part of the David Legwand trade, is a point-per-game player since coming into the NHL. It’s a small sample size (five games), but he’s got a CorsiFor Rel of +7.4%, which is encouraging. One of Jarnkrok’s strengths is his puck control and possession and the Predators would obviously like for that to continue, since possession drives scoring and scoring is so desperately needed.
And Jarnkrok isn’t alone. Colton Sissons has looking promising in his latest callup, netting his first NHL goal and being called the Predators’ best center in a recent 5-1 loss to Edmonton. Filip Forsberg is developing well in Milwaukee, and had an excellent five-game run with Jarnkrok right after the trade deadline, before Jarnkrok was recalled (though again, perils of a small sample size).
All this to say – things will get better in Nashville. But changes have to be made. Heavily underachieving players need to be moved, both for the club’s sake and their own, but for decent returns. With the cap going up, the purse strings need to loosen just a bit when looking at free agency. The guys who are still here need to step up their level of play.
Change is good. Change stimulates growth, and growth on offense is something the Predators desperately need.