John Glennon's piece this morning discussing the Nashville Predators and their willingness to draft defensemen with either (or both!) of their first-round picks tomorrow night surely has some fans scratching their heads. With 8 blueliners on the active roster for most of last year, and a number of prospects either ready or close to being ready for NHL duty, surely GM David Poile is looking for more talent up front or in goal to balance out his resources? Apparently not, as Mr. Poile has other means at his disposal to address the problem:
"All I tell our scouts is to put the list in order and to give me the best player. The best player will be the best asset. If we have an imbalance in our depth chart, that will be my problem or situation to deal with.''
Make no mistake, there most certainly is an imbalance on the Predators depth chart right now, and unless it is addressed soon it could hurt the team in both the short- and long-term. While Ville Koistinen enjoyed semi-regular action in his first NHL regular season, Kevin Klein only appeared in a handful of games, and risks rotting on the vine if he has to sit in the press box for most of 2008-9 as well. Toss in the fact that Cody Franson, Alexander Sulzer, and Janne Niskala will be pressing for jobs in Nashville soon, and it becomes obvious that Nashville's defensive depth could well become an impediment to the development of its blueline prospects. In short, something needs to be done via trade to swap out some of that current value, and provide opportunity for younger (and cheaper) players to crack the lineup. So, for your consideration, Mr. Poile, I offer up the following humble suggestions:
Door #1 - Olli Jokinen: The Florida Panthers captain has been at the center of trade rumors for eons now, but this time, it looks like he could indeed be sent packing. According to TSN's Darren Dreger, Florida is looking for "two young NHL roster players and a first round draft pick." I'd start by offering up the #15 2008 pick (Nashville's 2nd in the 1st round) along with either Koistinen or Klein, a regular, non-Top Six forward (Tootoo, Fiddler, or Nichol) and Radek Bonk (gotta clear out room at center). This would give Nashville a monstrous advantage at center over almost any team in the league, allowing for a three-line offensive attack built mostly on center/winger pairings (Arnott/Dumont, Legwand/Erat, Jokinen/Radulov) that allow for the other winger to play a support role as in the Left Wing Lock. On the power play, Jokinen could take the center position and allow Jason Arnott to play along the boards and set up for his one-timer. The only problem there is that Jokinen is perhaps even a worse faceoff man than Arnott, something Nashville wouldn't be excited about.
Door #2 - Justin Williams: TSN's Dreger notes also that Carolina GM Jim Rutherford "remains on the hunt for a defenseman," and that "names like Erik Cole, Justin Williams and Tuomo Ruutu are being tossed around as bait." Williams might make a good fit on the left side of one of Nashville's top lines, assuming of course that his knee has recovered from a torn ACL. Bubba over at Canes Country interviewed the Hurricanes on this point, and it looks like things are moving along well. So what might it take to lure Williams away? Again, I'd offer up either Koistinen or Klein, along with either a prospect or a 2nd-round pick.
Door #3 - Jonathan Cheechoo: Sticking to Dreger's column, he floated the San Jose sniper as possible trade bait. As he turns 28 this summer, Cheechoo should have plenty of productive seasons left in him, and I'd wager that his 10.45% shooting percentage of last season will turn out to be an aberration, relative to his typical 14-16% (project that across 220-260 shots, and you're looking at a 30-40 goal scorer). Cheechoo would command more than Williams in trade, so you're likely looking at parting with a 1st-round pick, along with Koistinen-or-Klein and perhaps a prospect.
It would appear that Top Six forwards are indeed out there to be had, and if David Poile takes the initiative, some creative solutions to the current roster imbalance might be found. Besides these specific examples, there may be opportunities to trade up in the draft and go after an elite offensive talent that could help the Predators quickly. For example, while the draft is chock-full of defensemen, a team may be willing to swap picks with Nashville (along with taking a blueline prospect that's closer to the NHL) so the Preds could move up if they need to in order to get a Nikita Filatov or Mikkel Boedker (or, gasp, both!). For an organization that needs to get the maximum performance out of each roster dollar spent, this might be the most affordable way to inject offensive ability into the Predators lineup.
While Poile's patience has been a major asset to Nashville in building up this surfeit of defensive talent, the time has come to reap the benefit and deal from a position of strength. Letting opportunity pass will only turn this organizational depth into a bottleneck, and threaten the development of young prospects going forward. There are certainly worse problems an NHL general manager can have, but that doesn't detract from the urgency of the situation.