Every other offseason for the Nashville Predators, there’s been a clear-cut process for drafting and signing players.
But this summer, recent coaching changes have introduced a few questions into the equation.
The last 15 seasons in Nashville, the same two men have made all the important calls at the NHL Entry Draft, in free agency and with trades. But with former Predators head coach Barry Trotz let go and Peter Laviolette now in his place, the traditional duo of Trotz and Nashville General Manager David Poile has been split up. With Laviolette, assistant coach Kevin McCarthy and goaltending coach Ben Vanderklok still very new to the franchise, the usual understanding between coaching staff and GM is still underdeveloped.
The three newest members of the Predators coaching staff have all explained that they’ll use video and other research to grow accustomed to the dynamics of the Predators roster leading up to training camp, but that a real evaluation won’t come until they see the players firsthand on the ice in the fall. If Nashville wasn’t considering additions to their lineup–that plan is all well and good–but with the draft in under a week and clubs beginning talks with free agents on June 25, there’s no time for the Predators GM to wait on his “rookie” coaches.
“I think the window for the type of player we’re looking for is in the first few days in July. Every now and then a guy slips through until closer to the fall, but I don’t think that would happen for who we want,” Poile said. “For the most part, the first two or three days are all there is for the type of names you would say we’re going after, period.”
The “names” that Poile is indirectly referencing are likely forwards Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche), Matt Moulson (Minnesota Wild), Mike Cammalleri (Calgary Flames) and Radim Vrbata (Phoenix Coyotes). Each thought to be a top-tier impending unrestricted free agent (UFA), any of the quartet of forwards could slip into a top-six role on Nashville’s roster and at a reasonable price. Like the Predators, however, many other teams will be looking for scoring themselves and that only drives up the cost.
“It’s really hard. It’s not a needle in a haystack, but it’s still really hard. That’s our need though. Every team has a need and that’s ours,” Poile said. “I think our team is in good shape for the next two to three years on age, players improving, all those sorts of things. But the sooner we get that [forward] we’re immediately closer to making the playoffs, Stanley Cup, all of that.”
The Predators GM admits that introducing major coaching changes have complicated his offseason. To a point, Poile must balance delivering the roster he thinks will be best suited for Laviolette’s new system while also relying on past experience, in regards to what has been successful.
“At this point, I’m probably talking to Peter in ways I didn’t with Barry. We’re both trying to communicate what we think about what we have right now,” said Poile. “But I also have to give him the ability to have some time with these players–like a Stalberg–whom I’ve mentioned. We’re going to be really looking for him to give us some offense, and last year he was nowhere near a top-six guy. [...] I’d like to see if he’s a better player under Peter, that’s a way we can improve through the coaching change.”
In Poile’s mind, adding a talented goal scorer to the lineup only helps Laviolette, so if that’s an option, he’ll pull the trigger. Otherwise, it’s wait and re-evaluate in September during training camp. Perhaps not the scenario that’s been present in past offseasons, but one that the GM thinks will be effective.
“There’s not a hundred guys out there in free agency; there’s like four or five that I’m sure a lot of teams will be coveting. So, you tell them your approach to the game and about their fit here and go forward that way,” Poile said. “If that doesn’t happen, then I think I have to let things play out. Having the new coaching staff here, things are going to be different. [...] I’m not looking to make a lot of moves here in the offseason, because I think we did that last year. For the most part, I think we’re happy with our guys. I just don’t think a few guys played to their potential offensively.”
It seems the Predators are faced with the interesting choice of bringing more change now or waiting to see what will come from additions already made. If Nashville’s push for Stastny or Moulson falls short on July 1, then Poile looks to Laviolette to draw offense out of underperforming Predators forwards like Stalberg or Colin Wilson.
Whichever path he ends up choosing, the Predators GM has to be happy he finally has multiple options that could bring more offense to his club.