After his trade to the Washington Capitals, Martin Erat talked about why he asked Nashville Predators general manager David Poile to make the move. Erat said, “They’re going to go with a younger team and see how it goes from there. But for me, I’m getting older, and it’s not going to be like … I don’t have seven to eight years to wait for another chance.”
It was a damning statement from a player who had spent his entire career with the Nashville Predators and previously signed a long-term contract, committing his future to the franchise. The idea that there’s no future in playing alongside Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber goes against everything the team’s management has always sold to the public in Nashville.
But is the team really seven or eight years away from seriously competing for a Stanley Cup?
NASHVILLE PREDATORS IN THE NEAR FUTURE
The future on defense looks pretty bright for the Predators, and the bulk of it is already on the ice at Bridgestone Arena. Shea Weber is locked in for the long term, and Kevin Klein is signed – on the cheap, no less – through 2017-18. After this summer Roman Josi will be locked in for at least three or four seasons. With both Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm in Milwaukee, that’s plenty of homegrown talent on the blue line that has a legitimate chance of sticking in Nashville very soon. Throw in a free-agent acquisition or two and you have a pretty solid defense for the next several seasons, especially when you consider that they’ll be playing in front of Pekka Rinne through the 2018-19 season.
Colin Wilson has been with the team for several seasons now and this one was his payoff: 19 points in 25 games thanks to some slick playmaking. If not for an injury he would probably be close to 10 points ahead of the rest of the team instead of having seen them catch up and finally surpass them. Gabriel Bourque is like a shark, never stopping and always looking for the kill. His 11 goals this season lead the team.
Then come the big guys like 6’2” Taylor Beck, who has six points in his first eight NHL games. He’s shown determination, power, and skill in his short time with the Predators, which gives me plenty of reason to think he’s got a bright future ahead of him with the Preds. Those are three of the four core attributes of what has always been the prototype for Nashville players. The other is speed, and he has enough of that to more than hold his own at the NHL level. Austin Watson (6’3”) is enjoying a solid first season as a professional in Milwaukee with 20 goals and 14 assists. He should end up playing with Nashville within the next two years. Zach Budish (6’3”) is fresh to Milwaukee from his college career with the University of Minnesota and will add more size and scoring ability to the team’s roster.
And now we can add to the mix new prospect Filip Forsberg. The Swedish forward was ranked second only to Edmonton’s #1 overall choice, Nail Yakupov, in a 2012 draft that was top-heavy with defensemen. He finished second in scoring this season in Sweden’s second-tier Allsvenskan, behind only fellow Preds prospect Pontus Åberg. Throw in this year’s WHL leading scorer, the undersized but highly skilled Brendan Leipsic, and there’s some chance of adding even more firepower from the farm a little further down the road.
Put all of those pieces together and I don’t think the Nashville Predators franchise is realistically “seven or eight years” away from icing a winning team. I can understand why somebody else might, though, which is where trades and free agency come in.
Nashville has historically had trouble convincing big-name free agents to sign here, but it hasn’t been impossible. Both Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott once made the decision to call Nashville home, as did J.P. Dumont before things went south for him. Role-players have been more likely to sign and stay over time, like Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad chose to do last off-season after they turned from rentals into UFAs. The team has enough talent in the system that they shouldn’t have to depend on free agency for filling too many roster spots, so any chance that players will pass up coming to Nashville shouldn’t be a huge factor.
Trades are more likely to bring a bounty for the Preds. David Poile has landed quite a few significant players for the franchise via trade over the years. Some of them have come and gone (Peter Forsberg, Andrei Kostitsyn), and others have signed on for longer deals (Steve Sullivan, Mike Fisher), but there’s no denying that David Poile is capable of making deals that improve the franchise’s situation. Often they’re deals that nobody expects – like landing Filip Forsberg in exchange for a disgruntled player with a sizable contract plus an AHL prospect.
SO…ARE THEY OR AREN’T THEY?
There’s no doubt that the 2013 season has been a frustrating one for the Nashville Predators, their coaches and management, and their fans. But when I put all these factors together, I don’t think the Nashville Predators are realistically “seven to eight years” away from being a winner again and challenging. I think those were the words of a player who came to a point in his career where he needed to move on. At the very least Nashville has the talent to resume its past trend of regularly making the playoffs, where everyone starts from scratch with a chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Whether there’s something else going on behind the scenes that could keep the Preds from icing a winner is something that’s essentially impossible to know, so all I can go on is the talent they have available to them and the people making the decisions. Using that as a measuring stick, Nashville doesn’t look much like Calgary or Colorado or Florida at all.