Nashville's Unicorn

"This year, I travel this way... to Amerikah... and get paid like rookie. Again." (Photo © khl.ru)

The unicorn was the creature that was impossible to catch. Hence, when God flooded the world it ceased to exist due to the fact that Noah couldn’t lasso one. Every heroic figure has that one goal/item it has strived to obtain in their quest for success that has eluded his/her/their grasp. For Nashville, it’s a solid top 6/two way/30+ goal scoring forward.

THIS IS NOT A POST REGARDING ALEXANDER RADULOV AND HIS IMPENDING RETURN TO THE UNITED STATES. PLEASE PROCEED READING AND CONTINUE DRINKING HEAVILY.

Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, arguably the best pairing the the NHL, have their fates intertwined. Weber wants to play with Suter, and Suter wants a top 6 forward to be brought in. Suter is slated to be an unrestricted free agent while Weber is still an RFA after this year, so safe to say Ryan’s demands may take a little more weight. The issue then becomes cost. And while the Preds have caproom, picks, prospects… the question becomes “how much is too much to pay”. And even better, a simple solution that may shut everyone up.

 

If we can be serious here, and I like to think this is a grown up blog that doesn’t candy coat things too much, the Predators likely are not winning the cup this year. It’s not a knock on the team, coaching staff, or anything, it’s just a realization. This is a young team, and while I do expect them to get out of the first round again, seeing them hoist that big chunk of silver is a bit of a stretch with this roster. With that said, there’s a good core of young talent on this team. The scouts have delivered in spades over the years, with prime examples being Craig Smith and Roman Josi, who have outshined players picked much higher than them in the draft (Geoffrion and Blum come to mind). While shedding some prospects isn’t terrible, the team is churning out good players in the Trotz mold.

When the Lakers were successful under Pat Riley, it was under the idea that he wanted 4 guys who were interchangeable, and a big man in the paint. They had outstanding chemistry, and outworked teams. They were able to make successful plays out of nothing by knowing where the other player would be, since they all were similar. While Trotz is not Pat Riley, this isn’t basketball, and defensemen aren’t point guards… blah blah blah… the idea is similar. The ideal Trotz line is the Gabriel Bourque, Nick Spaling, Jordin Tootoo line on most nights.

There are expendable pieces. Jonathan Blum has been outplayed by Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. Blum, even playing his best games of the year with Weber out, was still outshined by the two younger players. While I like Blum and his skillset, Josi is more physical and makes fewer errors, and Ryan Ellis is special. Not curing cancer special, but he has team leader written all over him. Blum does not. Blum does have loads of upside, and can be a top 4 blueliner in the league… just not in Nashville.

Going against the grain with this, but I’m not in the camp of deeming Matt Halischuk as trading material just yet. Again, if the Ducks/Stars/Panthers/Someone want to sell us someone awesome on the cheap… sure thing! But Halischuk is just now getting his NHL legs. He has 9 goals playing with the 4th line. Really. I’m even excited to see what becomes of this possible Smithson/Yip/Halischuk combo. Dunno if we’ll see it, but it could happen.

Looking for an easy solution to this unicorn problem, you first look at yourself. Nashville has stockpiled and developed defensemen talent over the years, and the tree is just now bearing it’s fruit. Awesome analogy eh? Well, who is the opposite of this situation? As in, who has developed FORWARDS like Nashville has done with defensemen?

Winnipeg.

They do have a surplus of young forwards, beyond just Evander Kane. Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler come to mind, and even a bit more adventurous Aleksandr Burmistrov (scored one of the coolest goals ever last year). Are they ready for prime time? Maybe, maybe not. Judging by what they’ve shown so far, that’s a pesky team to play against. Is it the Bobby Ryan/Rick Nash (please)/Alex Semin home run? Nah. But it’s better than the bunt single of Tuomo Ruutu or worse. But this is David Poile we’re talking about. He still has nightmares that involve a very Russian looking Russian. He’s portfolio manager of all GMs who just buys certificates and bonds.

And going deeper, look at who won the last few cups. It’s the 2nd and 3rd lines along with defensive depth that made the difference. Depth wins. And it’s a lesson that the Blackhawks nearly learned last year, and the Ducks are finding out this year. Trading away depth for one or two puck carrying players in a league where it’s biggest star is out with a concussion, among others, it’s downright risky.

Getting one of these young guys is a building block of a different kind, not a rental. You trade assets for assets you don’t have. Same with prospects. I’m sure they want an improvement over Mark Flood on their blueline.

Besides, it’s easier to catch a unicorn when he’s still young… and not finished developing.

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