The Nashville Predators were unsurprisingly quiet during the trade deadline. They didn’t make a big splash for a center or a forward who could give them more scoring depth. Nor did they part with a first-round pick like they’ve done several times in the past. No, they were neither aggressive nor completely silent; they played it safe.
General manager David Poile did pick up one piece, Erik Gudbranson, in exchange for a 2023 seventh-round draft pick, as well as defenseman Brandon Fortunato. This trade wasn’t made because they need a lockdown defender for a deep playoff run; it seems it was more out of necessity. The Predators have been decimated with injuries, and their blueline has taken a massive hit. Ryan Ellis returning from a lengthy absence is a big help, but just before his first game back, the team lost Dante Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier to injury, which could cost them significant time. It seems it’s one step forward, two steps back when it comes to the Predators trying to field a fully healthy team.
So, they decided to bring in the now-former Ottawa Senator. Gudbranson, 29, is a large 6-foot-5 defenseman who was a former third overall pick of the Florida Panthers back in 2010. He won’t wow you with his offensive abilities; he’s been able to record just one NHL season where he registered more than nine points.
Though Gudbranson has never been an offensive defenseman, Poile almost certainly didn’t bring him in to be anything other than a solid presence on the back end who has experience and can help the plethora of young rookies who are being thrust into the spotlight. Coaches can be confident in letting Gudbranson eat minutes, perhaps helping to reduce the time on ice (TOI) for some of the younger defensemen, and in turn, alleviating some of the pressure.
However, there will be a variety of thoughts on who Gudbranson is, what he does well, what he does poorly, how he fits in with the Predators and whether Poile made a mistake acquiring him. As a side note, the GM parted with a seventh-round pick and a defenseman who went undrafted. This isn’t to discredit any player, Fortunato or whoever materializes out of the draft pick – but on the surface of this trade, it doesn’t seem like the Predators had to part with much. It very much seems like a low-risk sort of deal so far.
What may speak louder and is more interesting than the single deal that Poile made at the deadline is what the Predators didn’t do.
Poile’s Lack of Activity May Be Worth a Thousand Words
Remember that report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman back in late February that suggested the Predators were completely open for business? Apparently, Poile wasn’t shying away from taking calls on every player except Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne. It sent fans and critics in to somewhat of a frenzy, some beside themselves that the Predators would actually be willing to move players like Filip Forsberg, and others agreeing that the only smart solution is to rebuild the team and dealing top guys is how effective restarts are done.
But obviously, that was all done before the Predators made this impressive run and asserted themselves back into the playoff hunt. It may have been an easier decision to make when the outcome of missing the postseason seemed inevitable. Why would you keep a team that isn’t working together? However, as the winning weeks went by and the tide started to turn, either the price for the once “available” players went up, or Poile wanted to see how far this team could go. Who knows, maybe this could be one of those teams’ that movies are inspired by?
However, just because the Predators have given themselves a reasonable shot of qualifying for the postseason, it didn’t mean a decision on the direction of the team didn’t need to be made. It may have become a lot more difficult, but it still needed to be made, nevertheless.
Mattias Ekholm was a hot commodity for weeks leading up to the deadline. He was almost certainly going to be shipped out of Nashville, and a healthy return was the expectation. He’s a defenseman that fits into the majority of teams’ top pairings. He could be the number one or two defenseman on many teams as well. Plus, he has a great annual average value (AAV) at $3.75 million, with another year remaining on his deal. With the number of teams looking to add a quality defenseman, the suitors would have been aplenty.
But all that is history. Ekholm and everyone else is still on the Predators’ roster, meaning that the team is all in on pushing for the playoffs and seeing what can happen if and when they get there. Are they operating with the mindset that anything can happen if you can make the postseason? It’s possible. After all, they made the playoffs in 2017 and proceeded to play their best hockey. Though they barely qualified, they made it as the last team in. They had no business of beating the Chicago Blackhawks, let alone sweeping them, and they certainly weren’t supposed to make the Stanley Cup Final, but they did. They did it once, so could they do it again?
Is Poile Too Attached to This Roster?
Either Poile has become an optimistic, “hope it and it will happen” type of general manager, or he sincerely believes in this team for this year and beyond. Right now, the latter seems more plausible, and why wouldn’t he? After all, he’s invested a lot to get this current roster. From trading Shea Weber to get P.K Subban, which, while didn’t directly connect to Matt Duchene, you can see the path to trading Seth Jones to get Ryan Johansen.
And while it didn’t cost a lot, Poile virtually won the lottery when he was able to pry Forsberg away from the Washington Capitals. It wouldn’t be totally shocking if the GM didn’t want to return the winning ticket or risk swapping the haul for future picks. It would be kind of like winning the lottery only to use the winnings to buy more tickets. Sure, you might win again, perhaps an even bigger prize, but there really is no guarantee.
The Predators haven’t been through a rebuild for years, and the process can be scary. We all know that this roster on paper – when healthy – has a lot of potential and should be more consistent than it has been. Is it possible that Poile held on to that sentiment and that the first sign of success – seen over the past few weeks – has reinforced that belief, making it hard to change course?
Yes, there could be deals made in the offseason after we know how this latest chapter ends, but will the offers be as good? Will there be as many teams lining up to pitch their best offer for players like Ekholm? More importantly, will Poile have the same leverage that he would have had at the deadline when dealing with teams who truly believe they’re one piece away?
We don’t really have the answers to those questions, but based on the thought process that some teams live for the now, believe their window to win is this season and are never more desperate than they are at the deadline, it’s reasonable to think that the offers will not get any better than they just were.
If Poile doesn’t genuinely believe in this roster, it was a mistake not to pull the team apart. The GM sat in front of the media once it was all said and done, explaining how he likes where the team is heading and how excited he is for the future. The trades that he didn’t make speak volumes to that belief in this squad, not only for this season but the immediate years ahead.
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27