Predators Should Be Cautious, But Not Afraid of Big Name Additions

The city of Nashville is abuzz with the latest mega-trade that just transpired. However, it was the Tennessee Titans who pulled it off. The Nashville Predators’ football brothers, so to speak, just acquired star wide receiver, Julio Jones, from the Atlanta Falcons. Everyone is talking about the trade. The national media is consumed with debates regarding how this deal instantly improves the Titans as a team and boosts their Super Bowl odds to contender status.

You see, the Titans’ general manager, Jon Robinson, saw an opportunity to make a splash and give his team the best chance to win. Of course, there are debates whether this was a blockbuster deal or just a steal, as it cost the Titans a second and fourth-round pick to complete the trade. But that aside, Robinson jumped at the chance to acquire a game-changer and he went out and got Jones.

Well, there’s another GM in Nashville who is no stranger to making bold moves and it’s David Poile. However, lately, he seems to have accrued a bad track record with big-named player acquisitions. Whether they have come via trade like Ryan Johansen, who has consistently left fans wanting more, or Kyle Turris, who flat out left fans disgruntled. Even free-agent signings like Matt Duchene, who just hasn’t lived up to expectations, may have turned supporters into skeptics.

All these bad memories and questionable decisions – using hindsight, of course – have led to second-guessing when it comes to possible opportunities to make a splash.

The problem is the passive style rarely leads to success. It’s why there are several sayings like, “fortune favors the bold,” “no guts, no glory,” or “no risk it, no biscuit,” if you happen to be a fan of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach, Bruce Arians.

To add to this, the Predators aren’t exactly in a position to sit back and see what happens. They have to go on the offensive, so to speak. They need to try and forget how much they’ve been burnt by big acquisitions in the past and get what they want and need. It’s the only way they’ll reclaim contender status.

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They have complimentary pieces already. They even have elite, arguably game-changing talent, albeit it’s very scarce on the Predators’ roster. If they have a “once bitten, twice shy” mentality, they will simply waste the prime years of Roman Josi’s, Ryan Ellis’, Filip Forsberg’s and possibly, Juuse Saros’ careers.

However, here’s the challenge. Having the best intentions to add valuable pieces is one thing, but it’s another thing capitalizing on it. Obviously, you need willing trade partners or inclined free agents. But luckily, there have been rumors and speculation regarding some elite talent possibly being available for the right price.  

Evgeny Kuznetsov

Last month, during season-ending interviews, Washington Capitals’ GM, Brian MacLellan, made it obvious that Evgeny Kuznetsov is available for those who are interested.

“We’re always open to trade people if it makes sense for what’s going on,” MacLellan said. “If it’s going to make our team better, I think we’re open to it. I don’t think anybody’s off the table.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals 2016 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He did make it clear that when he says he doesn’t think anybody is off the table, he means Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are off the table. But other than that, the Capitals are open for business. This comes on the heels of speculation that Kuznetsov could be moved.

The 29-year-old center is big and can score. Since fully breaking into the league in 2014-15, he has recorded two 70-plus point seasons and one 83-point season. His other campaigns haven’t exactly been sluggish either. Excluding his first full season – again 2014-15 – the Russian forward has never recorded a season averaging less than 0.70 points per game.

In four of his past seven seasons, he has recorded 40 or more assists. In six of those seven previous seasons, he’s finished with a shooting percentage of over 10%. So, as you can see, he’s a playmaker that can create plays and finish them as well. He has displayed all the skills and characteristics that the Predators were looking for when they acquired Johansen.

Of course, talent like this comes at a price and MacLellan is only interested in receiving assets that can make the Capitals better. Poile would have to decide who he could give up without sacrificing the existing bright spots of the roster. He didn’t buy into the rebuild when the team was looking down and out midway through last season, so that may give an inkling to what pieces he is willing to move.

If Poile is committed to making this roster work, it would almost certainly take parting with prospects and draft picks. Dante Fabbro could be part of a package, as he still holds a lot of value and the playoffs proved that they have a possible budding star in Alexandre Carrier. Not to mention the potential Jeremy Davies has shown and David Farrance is expected to have.

However, it should be noted that during the end-of-season presser, head coach John Hynes seemingly committed to Fabbro.

“Dante is a real important part of the organization moving forward,” the coach said. Later explaining, “We need Dante to come back and be a big-time player for us in the fall.”

But if this is what it takes, will Poile go all in?

Jake Guentzel

If you can’t beat them, get them to play for you, right? Or something like that. It’s been a while and the wounds may have healed. But who better to improve the Predators than the player who completely destroyed them in the Stanley Cup Final in 2017?

Jake Guentzel is a pure goal scorer! The Predators desperately lack a player who seemingly scores at will and they are definitely without someone who can be the go-to guy when they need a big goal. Well, Guentzel could be that player.

In six games against the Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Omaha, NE native scored four goals and added another assist. Throughout the playoffs that year, he registered 21 points in 25 games (13g, 8a).

Jake Guentzel Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At only 26 years old, Guentzel already has a 40-goal season to his resume, and he hasn’t recorded less than 20 goals the past four straight seasons. If that doesn’t seem overly impressive, consider this, 2020-21 was a shortened, 56-game schedule and he only played in 39 games during 2019-20. He’s been a point-per-game player the previous two seasons and notched 76 points in 82 games the year before that.

The Pittsburgh Penguins star still has three years left on his current deal, which has an annual average value (AAV) of just $6 million. For that type of talent and production, that’s a good deal!

The Penguins are no strangers to trading scorers to the Predators in exchange for pieces that they feel they’re lacking. In 2014, Jim Rutherford – the Penguins’ GM at the time – swapped James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Well over in the Steel City, the idea of another roster shakeup was floated out there. Trading Guentzel may not sit well with his linemate, Sidney Crosby. But despite the “lucrative” contract, the Penguins are tight on cap space. This may force GM Ron Hextall to make some unpopular decisions.

Jaden Schwartz

If trading doesn’t take the Predators fancy, they could always try their hand with free agency again. Jaden Schwartz is set to become a free agent this summer and unless the St. Louis Blues lock him up with an extension before July 28, the Predators could explore the option of adding the 28-year-old.

The former first-round pick of the Blues isn’t as statistically productive as the other two mentioned here, but he can play both ends of the ice extremely well, which may fit in nicely with Hynes’ defensive style.

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Schwartz has recorded five, 50-plus point campaigns over the past eight seasons and he often shows up during the playoffs, something Predators’ players have received criticism for lacking in the past. Excluding this previous postseason where the Blues were swept in four games and Schwartz didn’t record a single point, the winger has been a fairly reliable playoff goal scorer recently. He notched four goals in nine games in the 2020 bubble, and 12 goals, 8 assists in 26 games when they hoisted the cup in 2019.

Jaden Schwartz St. Louis Blues
Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, the issue that cannot be ignored here is Schwartz’s salary. He will be coming off a deal with an AAV of $5.35 million. He’s performed well over the past few years and that’s generally not the recipe for a pay decrease. With the cap remaining flat for the foreseeable future, the Predators will need to list their priorities, with Forsberg’s extension and re-signing Saros being at the top.

Poile may already be in the hot seat and one more failed experiment with a highly paid player may send him over the edge. But nothing is handed to you in this league and rarely does anything just fall in your lap; you must take it.

If Poile goes for it and it doesn’t work out again, resulting in him being fired, at least he can say he went for it. And he’ll be able to go out quoting Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way!”  

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