Predators Quiet Deadline Raises Front Office Question

The hour of reckoning has come and gone. The trade deadline is officially over. A day of complete chaos, constant Twitter notifications, and blazing hot takes from fans full of emotions has left the NHL in a different place than it started. Boston is enjoying their new Taylor Hall, a still-elite passer who thrives off strong forechecking and creating for his teammates. Steve Yzerman is basking in the return he got for stud forward Anthony Mantha, who I remember vividly being linked to the Predators last season, albeit for a very brief time.

The Predators were out of any rumors or mentions from NHL insiders. No talks about Mikael Granlund to the Toronto Maple Leafs. No discussions about selling Erik Haula or Nick Cousins to teams looking for depth security. All was quiet on the home front until 2:06 PM Central time when Elliotte Friedman broke the news. The Nashville Predators traded for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Gudbranson for a 2023 seventh-round pick and Brendan Fortunato.

The Trade

The deadline had just passed, so everyone in the hockey world knew there would be a slew of trades coming in. When the Predators trade popped up, I was shocked, then after realizing what I had just read, I let out a massive groan with a “you’ve got to be kidding me.” Immediately I checked Twitter and noticed that Preds fans shared sentiment between most of Predators fans. Not only did David Poile stand pat for most of the deadline, but when he did make a move, he traded for one of the worst defensemen in the entire National Hockey League. Gudbranson had been notorious in Ottawa for just being big with not much else to offer. My colleague Wray Perkin, a Senators fan and Preds writer, had this to say about Gudbranson:

“Gudbranson’s -13 rating this season is not an illusion and is only as high as it is because players don’t receive minus ratings on the penalty kill. He has been plagued with bad turnovers in bad spots throughout the season, and he has not made up for a lack of offence with solid defensive play. Senators fans have been calling for the young defencemen to play instead of Gudbranson, and now they have finally gotten their wish after 36 games of asking. That being said, Gudbranson seems like a very solid teammate who accepted being a healthy scratch without complaining despite his being an alternate captain with the Sens this season. Leadership and a physical presence might be the only thing Gudbranson can contribute based on what I saw in Ottawa.”

Erik Gudbranson Anaheim Ducks
Erik Gudbranson, former Anaheim Duck (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Wray is pretty spot on with his analysis and probably can provide better insight than I can into how Gudbranson played from an eye test point of view. When I watched the Senators, I never made an effort to watch him shift-by-shift. Nonetheless, the analytics support Wray’s findings. This season in 36 games, Gudbranson has posted a minus-2.7 goals above replacement and minus-3.5 expected goals above replacement per Evolving-Hockey.

His on-ice stats are abhorrent as well, as he sits well below 50% in both Corsi for percentage and expected goals for percentage at even strength. He’s a black hole offensively and doesn’t do well enough–in a reserved role, mind you–defensively to make up for it. Over the last three seasons, it’s more of the same. A 47.42 Corsi for percentage and 45.46 expected goals for percentage at even-strength screams problems for any team willing to give him a roster spot.

The value going back the other way is not the problem that I and most other fans have with the move. Brandon Fortunato will most likely be a career AHLer with minimal NHL experience. The seventh-round pick will likely be the same unless magic happens and it turns into another Henrik Lundqvist. The problem most have is with the mindset.

The Problem With the Mindset

David Poile has been a general manager since the beginning of time. He’s made countless great deals in his tenure, and his persistence brought a middling Predators team to Cup contention for some time, albeit brief. However, the game seems to have passed him by. The concern started to creep in when he decided to keep the 2017-18 roster intact for the following year. As I pointed out in my mailbag, that didn’t work and arguably cost the Predators further years of contention.

Then, it continued with the not-so-good season last year from the team along with the botched trade deadline, where he refused to sell off assets that were not likely to return like Craig Smith. Luckily for him, Mikael Granlund came back, so it’s less of a harsh look. Once again, he decided not to sell off assets for draft capital on deadline day in the hopes that this team could make a run. He even said that “his mind was already made up” and “he’s happy they were buyers instead of sellers.”

All Preds fans want to be buyers at the deadline. It’s fun going to the games and seeing your newest asset on the ice for the first time. I can also understand the mindset from Poile; the team is winning, so why change it? The problem lies in how they’re winning and how it can distort reality. Yes, they beat up on the worse teams in the division. However, they’re still 4-11-1 against the top three teams in the Central. Their only two wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning have been against Curtis McElhinney, not Andrei Vasilevskiy. His faith in the team is great and something I applaud. The problem lies in intertwining your faith with what you should do to better the franchise down the road. It’s something that Poile has seemed to struggle with over the last few seasons.

David Poile Nashville Predators
David Poile, Nashville Predators, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Selling off Mattias Ekholm did not look like it was going to happen on deadline day. Predators fans knew that was the most likely outcome after the recent hot streak. It’s also not urgent, considering he still has one year left on his current contract. However, it is baffling that a player like Erik Haula isn’t off this roster and headed to another city in exchange for draft capital or a lower-tier prospect. I would’ve even sold off Mikael Granlund as well. Nick Foligno got a first-round pick from Toronto, essentially sending the message that Granlund could’ve retrieved multiple high-end picks.

All in all, it’s disappointing but not surprising that Poile did nothing this deadline. It was expected. Poile has never been one to enjoy selling and rarely has he approached the deadline with that idea in the forefront of his mind. He’s a buyer at heart, and that’s perfectly reasonable until he refuses to sell when that is the best option for the team down the road. Erik Gudbranson, while not a good player in the slightest, is the least of the Predators’ problems.