Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Money, meet mouth.

Last night, the Twitterverse was--erm, atwitter-- with a fair bit of buzz.  According to Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, the word among NHL executives is that the Ducks' recent tailspin(I'm done with puns now, I swear. At least for the rest of the paragraph) has caused them to weigh their options for pulling out of it, namely dangling Bobby Ryan as tradebait.  Like everyone else, this caused an immediate surge in my heartrate.  This season's incarnation of the Nashville Predators fits the characterization that we're all too familiar with-- our top defensive pairing and goaltender are stellar, and they have to be; on most nights, our forwards can only be counted on for 3, 2, or even one goal.  The onus is on the rearguard to make it hold up.  While this has been the modus operandi for the Preds, the secret to their quasi-success for the past 4 or so seasons, it leaves little margin for error.  As we've seen recently, a single soft goal from Pekka might be enough to sink us on any given night.  Given how much we ask and expect from him, and how consistent he is in delivering, that's not really fair.  Nor is it reasonable to have to play our top pairing for 28-30 minutes a night.  But again-- it all comes back to goal support.  We don't have it, and it's been our undoing--especially in the playoffs.

With all of that in mind, and on the heels of encouraging words from ownership and management revolving around increased payroll spending--including a quote from Tom Cigarran that promised that not only would our impressive defensive core, the so-called "Big Three" be retained, that the goal was to get the offensive side of the game up to that level as well--we seem to be at a place of intriguing opportunity.  While Ryan isn't Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos, he is a pure sniper.  His lowest goal total over a full season--31, is just one shy of the franchise's shared record of 32.  His career high of 35?  That's pretty rarified air for a Nashville Predator.  While some critics would be quick to point out that his surrounding cast in Anaheim isn't something we'd be able to provide, no Perry or Getzlaf for example, it's worth noting and even more impressive when you consider that Ryan put up these kinds of numbers from the second and even at times third line, and with only second power play unit time.  For most of last season, he plied his trade with a washed up Saku Koivu and the much-maligned Jason Blake.  There's little doubt that he could maintain those kinds of numbers and bring a shoot-first mentality to an all-American first line in Nashville with say, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson.  And then there's of course the trickle-down effect of having a "star" player that keeps opposing defenses honest.  Consider exhibit A-- last year's playoff tilt with the Vancouver Canucks.  While our defense and goaltending as well as timely goals from unlikely sources kept the series close on paper, you only had to watch the games to know that the Predators were holding on for dear life.  There was little in the way of real offense because the Canucks defense had very little to "shut down."  There was no true threat to key in on.  In a series like that, it's true that Ryan's numbers may suffer--but it then frees up secondary scoring(in our Lexicon, that's considered 'primary scoring') to get the job done.  It allows players that should be complimentary--Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn, just to pick two names out of the hat-- to step up under lesser defensive scrutiny.  Adding a sniper of Ryan's caliber makes the team on the whole that much more dangerous.

Now, the on-ice effect of trading for Bobby Ryan is obvious.  What might not be as apparent is what such a trade does for the legitimacy of the franchise.  The Predators have long been a bit of a darling around the league-- the little team that could.  We've been easy to root for, easy to like because--on paper, we shouldn't be as successful as we are.  But when it comes down to it, the reason that it's so hard to dislike us is because we've never been a real threat.  The Predators are perennial playoff contender, but since 2007, it's been tough to realistically call them a Cup contender.  A lot of that has to do with counting on guys like Mike Fisher and Martin Erat-- again, second or third liners on a great team--to be our primary scorers.  It's not something that many around the league can take seriously. Adding a player of Ryan's caliber adds a marquee forward to the mix.  It's a single addition that transforms the Nashville Predators in the eyes of NHL fans--including our own--into a true Cup threat.  If you look at the buzz that trading for a guy that is, let's be honest, a very good third line center in Mike Fisher created, what sort of message does trading for a true "star" player send?  It sends the message that you're not willing to be a team that relies on hard work and a little puck-luck alone to be a contender.  It's a matter of taking success into your own hands.

Most of all, this is a chance for David Poile and the ownership group to put their money where their collective mouths are.  With the Toronto Maple Leafs in town recently, the sting was still fresh to many of us, knowing how close we once came in a similar situation.  The Phil Kessel sweepstakes became a two horse race, one that we ultimately lost out on due to an unwillingness to give Kessel an extra 750K a year, according to Boston Globe writer Kevin Paul Dupont.  Poile has long preached that he's aware of the Predators' offensive deficiency, and that when the time comes, he has no problem dealing from the cupboard for the "right player."  There couldn't be a player more right for our situation.  Similarly, ownership has pledged to increase payroll--again--for the "right player."  It's time to make a statement to the league--and more important, a fanbase that's been patient and starved for success for several years.

Ultimately, none of this is a groundbreaking revelation.  If you read this blog, you're likely aware of the type of player Bobby Ryan is, and what acquiring him would do for the team.  So...what does it cost?  When legendary Preds blogger Jeremy Gover asked me to contribute to a coordinated blog effort to gauge that, we had already been tossing some ideas back and forth, and I think we've got a pretty fair offer that wouldn't sting too terribly much.  Something important to consider is that the Ducks are currently at the 50 contract max--so whatever we dealt would have to keep that in mind.  Picks and prospects become a premium, but obviously they're going to want a good, young, established player in any package as well.  With all of that in mind:

To Anaheim
Patric Hornqvist
ONE OF Ryan Ellis OR Roman Josi
Teemu Laakso
ONE OF 1st rd pick OR Austin Watson

To Nashville
Bobby Ryan
Sheldon Brookbank

In this first proposal, we give Anaheim a young player that's already hit 30 goals once, but needs to work on consistency and being effective in places other than right in front of the net--at nearly 3 million dollars cheaper.  They also get a high-end defensive prospect-- Ellis may interest them due to his connection to Cam Fowler, having played together with the Windsor Spitfires.  They have their choice of a first round pick in this year's draft or, if they want another prospect that's a little bit further along, they can have 2010 first rounder Austin Watson.  Teemu Laakso is a throw-in-- they can play him, they can waive him.  He's essentially being traded for a slight upgrade on our part in Sheldon Brookbank.

Now, the second proposal isn't one that I discussed with Jeremy, but I think it's intriguing nonetheless:

to Anaheim:
Patric Hornqvist
Jonathan Blum
1st rd pick OR Austin Watson

to Nashville
Bobby Ryan
Francois Beauchemin OR Toni Lydman

In this deal, they get a more established, but still young defenseman in Blum--with the bonus that he grew up a Ducks fan in nearby Rancho Santa Margharita.  In exchange, we upgrade our second pairing with a veteran presence in the short term--while keeping prospect defensemen that will eventually be able to take their place when they move on.

In my never-humble opinion, I think both of these deals work well for both teams.  Obviously, there are unforeseen variables brought on by things like bidding wars--but even if we needed to add further picks or prospects, I think we've got the ammunition to make a deal happen.  It's just a matter of "Patient Poile" swallowing the lump in his throat and making it happen this time.

I haven't purchased a white away sweater yet.  I'd love to stick number 9 on the back of one for my Christmas request-- and I'm not referring to JR Lind's departed icon, he who must be CAPITALIZED.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My (somewhat scattered) perspective on the Weber-happenings

Hey ladies and germs -- long time since I've hollered at you!  As it so often does, life has gotten in the way of living, lo these past 9 months of blog silence. I had made a conscious decision to blog only when an event that truly struck a nerve or tickled my fancy occurred.  There are plenty of other blogs out there that cover the  day-to-day minutiae and game recaps, and do a better job of it than I could.  However, like many others, I seem to have found my muse this week, so hopefully you enjoy the following.  I've just got to get it off my chest.

Depending on who you ask, yesterday was the darkest day in the history of the Nashville Predators, or just another harrowing loop in the wild, enjoyable ride of Preds fanship.  The truth lies, as it so often does, somewhere in the middle.

We'd be remiss to ignore the great Balsillie fiasco of 2007 when considering our franchise's darkest hour, but I'm not so quick to write this off as another minor stumbling block to be overcome, the sort we deal with year after year.  While the Predators moniker has become synonymous with dirty hands, blue collars, and from-out-of-nowhere names, the past few years have introduced a few new elements to our identity.  Three, in particular: Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, and notably, Shea Weber.  I won't get into the resumes of these three; their accomplishments are well-known and documented.  What does bear mention is what they've done for their club.  These three young players have brought a level of talent and recognition to Nashville that was previously only seen in the country music industry.  For the first time, Nashville has legitimate, superstar-level talent, and the rest of the league salivates accordingly.  Prior to the past week, the fanbase may have been grumpy about things like a quiet free agency, the selection of a goaltender with our first pick in the draft, or the "sale" of a promising young player like Cody Franson, but these are "hardships" that go hand-in-hand with being a Predators fan.  At the end of the day, in the face of these nuisances, we could find solace in the knowledge that our franchise's foundation was a triad of superstar players.  We endured the claims of "inside information" about the various components wanting out, the bad trade proposals, the barrage of  "you won't be able to afford to pay them, anyway."  We were able to weather all of that because we had been assured by all levels of the organization, from ownership, to front office, to coaching staff, that those three were going nowhere, irrespective of the cost.  That knowledge was what we hung our hats on, going into what should have been our most exciting offseason in team history.

So what happened?  We've gone from Weber's re-signing being the assured foregone conclusion of the summer to a pit in the stomach, as we look toward next summer.  From the mouths of Weber and Poile themselves, this contract was supposed to be a layup.  For whatever reason, it didn't happen that way, and I fear that nothing can be taken for granted.  There's plenty of talk centered around what Weber's potential exit could mean for the franchise.  Some take a doomsday stance, feeling that he's the latest talent to be farmed out to the rest of the NHL.  Others have a sunnier perspective, rationalizing that losing Weber can be softened by the aforementioned presence of Suter and Rinne, as well as the emergence of young guns such as Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.  For once, I have to take the hard-line.

We've been assured since the current ownership group came in that Weber was part of the "core" group of guys, that they knew what his demands were and that they were prepared to meet them.  As a fan, we invest in the team through ticket and merchandise purchase, and moreover, through emotional investment.  To know that our owners were prepared to reward that personal investment was a refreshing change of pace.  The latest turn of events is thus a bitter pill to swallow.  There's many arguments being made in the Twitterverse and Blogsphere at the moment that losing Weber wouldn't be the end of the world.  On the ice, it might not, but from a franchise credibility standpoint, I think it's as close as we've ever come.  We have our first homegrown captain, a top three defenseman in the league, a Norris runner-up, and the face of the franchise -- it's absolutely NOT okay to let him go, regardless of the presence of the other two cornerstones or an embarassment of riches in your prospect pool.  You do what it takes.

Of course, I'm appreciative of the fact that it does take two to tango.  Weber has to WANT to stay, and I still believe that he does.  The speculation is that the breakdown in talks occurred due not to money -- rumor has it that the Preds were willing to venture into rarified, 7 million+ air-- but term.  The Predators want to know that if they're going to make Weber the highest paid player in franchise history, that their investment will be one of long term.  On the other hand, Weber doesn't want to take that money and wind up the only big fish in the pond.  Weber has understandable reservations about the team's continued competitiveness.  He's seen that we've got a good foundation, that we're inching closer to being a true contender, as opposed to a team that's consistent good, but not great.  Now, he wants to know, before taking that final plunge of ultimate commitment, that the team and ownership is equally dedicated.  He wants to know that we're going to literally put our money where our mouth is, likely by ponying up to retain Suter and Rinne, and also augment our admittedly anemic offense.  Some fans are taking this as a mortal offense -- but I tend to be understanding.  Weber is a part of an unbelievable, generational group that has already racked up a considerable amount of hardware -- not just gold medals at different stages, but Stanley Cup rings.  He doesn't want to be married to a team that doesn't have a legitimate chance of winning a Cup.  It's difficult to begrudge him that, and while some believe that our chances aren't that different with or without the Captain, I'm not so quick to subscribe to belief in his replaceability.  Like it or not, Weber is a rare talent, and filling that void would be much harder than some realize or would like to admit.

So what happens now?

I don't believe that arbitration will poison the well with Weber to the extent that some maintain.  I still believe that Weber remains amenable to being with the team long term, but he does have concessions that he'd like met.  My point is that as fans, our concessions should likely mirror Shea's :  don't tell me you're committed to winning at an organizational level, show me.  Sign Suter by Christmas.  Sign Pekka by Valentine's day.  Accomplish those two tasks, and all of this Weber unpleasantness becomes another in a long line of  "Oh man, remember THAT?" moments.  On the other hand, if you don't believe that you can sign him, I don't believe you can run the risk of losing him for nothing.  If you don't feel that you can meet conditions acceptable enough to Weber to convince him to re-sign, then trade him -- the sooner, the better.  But if we MUST trade him -- God help you, the return has to be good.  Picks and prospects are of no value to an organization at our current stage.  We're in, as GMDP likes to put it, within a window of opportunity, at the moment.  Long term assets are nice, but if we're aiming to win a cup before 2020, Weber needs to be turned into proven, NHL-level talent of an equal caliber.  Anything less, and we've put a black mark on the franchise's credibility, a dent in the relationship with the fanbase, and worst of all -- we've taken a step back in our pursuit of our uniform, unerring goal of winning a Stanley Cup.

Your move, Mr. Poile.  No pressure.