Off-season Losses & Gains (Part 2 of 4)

Hello Pred Nation and welcome to the dreadful offseason. Still over six weeks away until the start of training camp, and as Kovi’s contract debate heats up and RFAs league-wide slowly start signing with their respective teams, Nathan and I will be posting a 4-part series over the next couple of days recapping, and analyzing, our offseason moves thus far.

Today, the focus will be on trading team captain Jason Arnott and the signing of the highly sought-after free agent, Matthew Lombardi, formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes, to a three-year deal. The next edition of free agency additions will highlight the contracts of Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan Parent, Jonas Andersson, Linus Klasen, Jamie Lundmark, and Brett Palin.

Gains Part 1

The Predators front office aren’t known for flashy participation in the free agency frenzy that comes upon us every July 1st. But even before the clock struck noon, eastern time, the Predators had added three players to its roster in Matt Halischuk, Ryan Parent and Sergei Kostitsyn. To get Halischuk, the Preds traded away their Captain, Jason Arnott.

Trading Jason Arnott

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 26: Jason Arnott #19 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 26, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
(photo source: Yardbarker)

At the end of year wrap up session for the media, Coach Barry Trotz said that Jason Arnott had developed into a good captain, even though the duties required of a captain did not come naturally to the center. Trotz also reminded the media that the leadership group of the Predators is something considered on a yearly basis, leaving some to speculate that Arnott would be asked to give the C to someone else, namely Shea Weber.

But not many in Preds nation saw what would happen next. On June 19th, the Nashville Predators announced that Arnott was traded back to the New Jersey Devils where he had played from 1997 until 2002. In exchange for Arnott, the Predators received RW, Matt Halischuk, and a second round draft pick in 2011.

Halischuk may be known to Canadians as the kid who scored the gold medal game winning goal for Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championships, but most have not yet heard of the fourth round draft pick. Hockeysfuture.com describes the 5’11 forward as “a good skater and as evidenced by his 33 goals last season, has good hands and is more than adept at putting the puck in the net. He’s also a stalwart on the penalty kill.” Hockeysfuture also predicted, before being traded to the Predators, that Halischuk would need little AHL seasoning and was likely on the fast track to playing in New Jersey.

The depth chart is incredibly deep in Nashville right now, so it will be tough for the young prospect to earn that coveted roster position, with right-wingers Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, JP Dumont, Joel Ward, and Sergei Kostitsyn (who can also play left wing) all ahead of him. However, Halischuk certainly looks like someone who will be spending some time in Nashville throughout the season on an emergency need basis.

The Arnott trade turned out to be a popular one for Nashville fans. For two weeks after the trade, fans were left wondering who would take the spot as our number one center. Poile’s response when talking about what the next step for the Predators would be after the trade was to give some chances to the young kids in the system. According to The Tennessean, this was also the reason why, along with financial considerations, the team wouldn’t give Arnott a contract extension, as he asked for at the year-end meeting.

Was Cal O’Reilly, who has a one-way contract for the upcoming season, really a good replacement to step into a top-six forward role on a team that can’t score goals? Sheer panic could have been the first reaction for Predators fans, considering the loss of Arnott meant the loss of 2 top-six forwards in the last two years with no plans to replace either.

Signing Matt Lombardi

TORONTO - DECEMBER 16: Matt Lombardi #15 of the Phoenix Coyotes pursues the puck as Lee Stempniak #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during their NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on October 16, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
(photo source: Yardbarker)

But that all changed on July 2, 2010, the second day into free agency. The Predators did something they rarely, if ever, do. Nashville signed a highly coveted free agent. Matthew Lombardi signed a 3-year deal with the Predators, worth $10.5 million. The signing answered who would take over as the number one center.

The question has since become: Lombardi vs. Arnott, who would you take?

On the one hand, while Jason Arnott is no slouch, he does get accused of taking shifts off sometimes. He comes off as lazy, slowly getting back into play when he gets hit off the puck. No one can forget when the Flyers were in town and Arnott was skating up center ice with the puck, gets tripped and got no call. Did Arnott skate back into the play and get that puck back? No. He slowly got up and fought with the ref, while the Flyers went down the other end of the ice and scored a goal on us, in a game that we blew a 3-1 lead only to win in a shootout.

On the other hand, in his four years in Nashville, Arnott has scored more goals than Erat, David Legwand, Dumont and Steve Sullivan, our other veterans. Arnott had scored at least 20 goals in 10 consecutive seasons. Last year, he scored 19 goals in 69 games. It was his worse season in years, but for an offensively challenged Preds squad, it was still pretty decent.

Arnott’s replacement, Lombardi, recorded 53 points for Phoenix last season, including 19 goals. In 444 goals, Lombardi has 236 points, including 89 goals. The 28 year old is a strong two-way forward and is 7 years younger than Arnott. He is also an exceptionally fast skater. And did I mention Lombardi costs $1 million a year less than Arnott? With the signing, Poile officially addressed the question on everyone’s mind when the Arnott trade was announced: who, other than Hornqvist, will be expected to score goals now?

An Erat-Lombardi-Sullivan line would be one of the fastest in the entire league. But before this season, Lombardi averaged having only 36 points a season. Could he be another Legwand or Erat, a Predators contract given out after a player comes off a career year just to fizzle away in the upcoming season?

Fans will soon find out if Lombardi is the upgrade Pred Nation believes him to be. Kevin Allen of USA Today tweeted it best when he said “Combine two Poile moves: he traded Jason Arnott for a prospect, 2nd rounder and Matthew Lombardi. Plus, he saved $1 million off his budget.” Well said Mr. Allen, well said.

Verdict: Arnott had no problem waiving his no-trade clause to go back to Jersey, despite asking for a contract extension with the Predators first. He’ll do just fine, and the Preds pick up a younger version of our former Captain, and one who plays hard every shift. It’s a win-win.

To be continued…

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Topics: Jason Arnott, Matt Halischuk, Matt Lombardi, Nashville, NHL, Predators

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