The Nashville Predators started out this offseason with the hope for a brighter future. After missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Predators needed a change in culture. Nashville has always been viewed as the destination for defensive-minded, “grind it out” hockey, but that viewpoint does not draw many desirable free agents. In an attempt to change that, the Nashville Predators attempted to make a major splash in this offseason, but after a recent injury to veteran center, Mike Fisher, the organization is left searching for answers.
The Predators began the offseason by firing their 15-year coach Barry Trotz. Trotz had been the only coach in the history of the franchise, and for many years he was hailed as a great coach that could “make the most out of nothing”, given the usually-unimpressive roster that Nashville iced every year. However, when the team missed the playoffs again this year, the winds of change began to blow. In his stead, the Nashville Predators hired veteran coach Peter Laviolette. Laviolette has always brought out the best offensive tendencies to his teams, but a major change to the Predator’s roster would be required to make it work in Nashville.
The organization made their first major splash on draft day, trading Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for 30-40 goal scorer James Neal. Neal easily became the most dangerous forward that the Predators have had in years, who typically saw their offense come from elite defenseman, Shea Weber. Rumors after the trade stated that the Nashville Predators weren’t done, looking for the No. 1 center to lead their team offensively. Both Eric Staal and Jason Spezza topped the rumor list, but the possible Staal trade never made it past the rumor stage, and Spezza exercised the no-trade clause in his contract to block the almost-completed trade to Nashville.
Missing on their first two targets, the Predators were left settling for Finnish center Olli Jokinen. Jokinen has shown the ability to be a No. 1 center in the past, scoring over a point-per-game (PPG) on some terrible Florida teams. Lately, he has bounced around from team to team, going from Phoenix to Calgary, from Calgary to New York, back to Calgary and finally ending at Winnipeg. Over these many years, his play has dropped to that of a 2nd/3rd line center, but the Nashville Predators must be hoping he can find some of his old magic to anoint him as their new No. 1 center. However, recent events have made the importance of a good No. 1 center all the more important.
It was announced on Monday that veteran center, and the Predators No. 2 centerman, Mike Fisher would miss the next 4-6 months after receiving surgery for a ruptured Achilles. The injury leaves Nashville searching for answers, as their already shallow center depth becomes all the more so. Luckily for the Predators, there are still centers available that could fill that role, though not without their own faults.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been trying to find a taker for Vincent Lecavalier and the remaining four years of his contract all offseason. Lecavalier is starting to feel the effects of age, but he has played for Laviolette before and could find his game again in Nashville. Unfortunately for the Flyers, it seems unlikely that Nashville will be eager to take that bad contract off of Philadelphia’s roster, especially after the Flyers attempted to offersheet Shea Weber only a few years ago. Mike Ribiero is an interesting option for the Preds, though after being bought out by Phoenix for “behavioral issues”, it may be best for organization to avoid that situation altogether. The Nashville Predators could also take a chance on Derek Roy, who has been unable to find the magic he had in the Buffalo Sabres uniform, but he likely still has a few good years left in him.
None of these players would be ideal pick-ups for the Predators, but just like they had to settle for less in their No. 1 center position, the organization may have to settle for less in replacing Mike Fisher. With many teams in the already-strong Central Division improving this offseason, the outlook of this upcoming season does not look good for the Nashville Predators and may result in more questions being asked than the answers they seek.
This article is one in a series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner