Predators’ Trade for Franson, Santorelli Is the Right Move

The two teams that brought up the most trade speculation as of late were the Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs. After Nashville hosted Toronto in a 5-4 win on Tuesday, February 3, Leafs general manager Dave Nonis stayed in the Music City through Thursday to continue talks with Predators GM David Poile. The two finally reached a deal Sunday morning, 15 days prior to the trade deadline.

Nashville sent center Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a 2015 first round pick to Toronto for center Mike Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson. Essentially, the deal is Franson for the first rounder and Jokinen and Leipsic for Santorelli. Franson and Santorelli will be unrestricted free agents this summer.

Santorelli and Franson’s familiarity with the Predators’ organization made the deal even easier for Poile to do.

“Both Cody and Mike were drafted, developed and began their NHL careers here,” Poile said in a press release. They know our organization and still have former teammates and friends on the roster. We are fully confident that they will seamlessly fit into our team.”

Franson, selected 78th overall (third round) in 2005, played 141 games for Nashville, scoring 50 points (14 g, 36 a). Santorelli, selected 178th overall (sixth round) in 2004, tallied 3 points (2 g, 1 a) in 32 games for the Predators.

The known is better than the unknown. Re-acquiring players who Poile already has prior knowledge of is a lot better than acquiring a player like Evander Kane or Phil Kessel who may or may not fit with the team.

Nashville is currently sitting atop the NHL standings with a 38-12-6 record. The Predators are seeing great success this year, so why should they acquire a big name forward who could potentially disrupt the team’s chemistry? The risks outweigh the rewards in this case.

Adding a bottom-six forward like Santorelli allows head coach Peter Laviolette the flexibility to find the ideal lineup before entering the playoffs in April. After all, depth is the most important asset in the postseason.

Solidifying the D, Improving the PP

In possibly one of Poile’s worst moves of his GM career, the Predators lost the services of Franson in a 2011 off-season trade with the Leafs. Nashville dealt Franson and Matthew Lombardi to Toronto for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. Since playing in hockey’s mecca as arguably the Leafs’ best defenseman, Franson had 115 points (20 g, 95 a) in 236 games.

Franson, 27, helps Nashville’s blue line in a few aspects. Most importantly, the native of Sicamous, British Columbia adds a veteran presence to a young, inexperienced defense core, which includes Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley. With Ellis out since January 8 due to a lower-body injury, Franson fills his void in the lineup. When Ellis returns, Nashville’s defense could be the best in the NHL. Oh, and not to mention, with Pekka Rinne between the pipes.

The defense pairs should look something like this until Ellis returns: Roman Josi – Shea Weber, Ekholm – Franson, Anton Volchenkov – Jones and Bartley as an extra.

Nashville’s power play is starting to come alive, and Franson will only make it better. Prior to Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, Predators TV commentator Stu Grimson wrote:

Since Dec. 27, 2014, the Predators are 20-for-72, or 27.8 percent, with the man advantage. That ranks third in the NHL during that stretch. Compared to the first 33 games of the season where Nashville’s power play was an ineffective at 11.3 percent and 29th League wide, that’s a seismic turnaround.

With four power play goals this season, Franson is tied for seventh among defensemen with Weber, Kevin Shattenkirk, Mark Streit and Justin Faulk — among others.

Santorelli’s Background

After playing two seasons in Nashville, Santorelli signed a one-year deal as a restricted free agent with the Florida Panthers in the 2010 off-season. It wasn’t until the Vancouver native was acquired by his hometown team during the 2013-14 season that he started to blossom. In 106 games the past two seasons with the Canucks and Leafs, he has 21 goals, 36 assists — highly productive for a depth forward.

Although Santorelli, 29, is a natural center, he has played most of the season on the wing.  Last season with the Canucks, he won 51.3 percent of face-offs on 419 draws. This year with the Leafs, he won just 46.4 percent on 166 draws.

Tough Break for Jokinen

Last summer was a difficult one for the Predators. It seemed like no one wanted to play in Nashville, having missed the playoffs for second consecutive year, after prized unrestricted free agent Jason Spezza blocked a trade there. However, Jokinen was one of few who wanted to play for the Predators. 

The 36-year-old appeared in just one of the past nine contest after being squeeze out of the lineup. In 48 games, the Finn scored 6 points (3 g, 3 a). As a business move, trading Jokinen was easy.

Toronto will be Jokinen’s eighth team, and according to reports, he is likely to be dealt to his ninth team of his career shortly.

Subscribe to our Predators stories to get email updates every time a new story is published. Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW.