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:
ONE OF Ryan Ellis OR Roman Josi
ONE OF 1st rd pick OR Austin Watson
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:
1st rd pick OR Austin Watson
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.