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What should be the Preds’ trade deadline approach?

The Nashville Predators have put together a solid first 57 games of the season. If they dodge their annual late-season funk they will, at the very least, be jostling with Central Division foe St. Louis for home-ice in the first round. Which makes the upcoming trade deadline intriguing for this team.

GM David Poile has the personnel assets, front office resources and a desire to acquire a top-six forward. The problem, as Poile has said recently, is that there are triple the number of buyers against sellers and everyone is looking for an additional piece for a run at the Stanley Cup.

On top of that, there aren’t many impact forwards available; and what is available may not be overly attractive to the Preds. Rick Nash won’t be donning the Predator Gold. Jeff Carter’s albatross contract is a turn-off for most GMs. Ales Hemsky is injury-prone and his recent work ethic has been questioned. Tuomo Ruutu and Brenden Morrow sustained injuries that will keep them out beyond the Feb. 27 deadline, so neither are an option.

Remember: Poile isn’t one to roll the dice time after time. He did it in 2007 with the Peter Forsberg acquisition, which didn’t get the Preds any further in the playoffs than in 2006. He did it last year with the Mike Fisher acquisition, which was a key addition for the team getting past the first round. Other than that, Poile hasn’t pulled the trigger on a ‘big splash’, per se.

Does he need to do so now? It’s a dilemma that most Preds fans have been debating in recent days and weeks.

Yes, the Preds are ranked fifth in the West in goals per game courtesy of solid balance. Yes, they possess the best back end three-headed monster in the league. Yes, they’ve had an impressive record inside the NHL’s toughest division. But as Section 303’s Jeremy Gover outlined today, the Preds may be one piece away from seriously challenging for the Stanley Cup.

Spare a late-season charge from Los Angeles, Chicago or any other Western Conference team below the fifth seed, or Detroit losing momentum down the stretch, the Preds will likely fall in the 4-5 matchup for the second straight season. They may face St. Louis in that scenario, a team the Preds match up well against and have had success against this year.

No matter the seed, if the Preds get by the first round again they will have to go through the likes of Detroit and Vancouver to reach the Stanley Cup final. Do the Preds have the goods to beat those teams in a seven-game series? Maybe. Is ‘maybe’ good enough to stand pat at the deadline?

You can make an argument that the Preds can beat anybody when they are at the top of their game. But history shows that they have lacked that one offensive piece when facing the elite teams in the playoffs – 2004 and 2008 against Detroit, 2010 against Chicago and 2011 against Vancouver. The Preds gave those teams their best shot, but fell just short in the end. Those four series proved that the Preds were one game-breaker away from possibly winning.

Let’s take last year as an example. The Preds went toe-to-toe with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks, who dominated everyone in their path to the postseason. Every game the Preds lost in that series was, virtually, by one goal. Who was the difference-maker? Ryan Kesler, racking up 11 points in six games and taking over the entire series.

As it stands now, the Preds are still that one game-breaker away from making teams like Detroit and Vancouver sweat about the possibility of facing Nashville in the playoffs.

The current price for a rental top-six forward – or that ‘one game-breaker’ – is ridiculous. Poile realizes that, along with the other GMs in buying mode. If the sellers realize this, too, will their demands shrink as the deadline approaches? If so, then Poile may pounce. If not, Poile could very well stand pat and go with the currently-assembled roster into the stretch run, and I don’t know if that will be good enough to win 16 playoff games.

The Preds need a forward. Not a depth forward – they have enough of them. But the Preds need a forward that can either score goals or bring a creative dynamic to what the offense currently has to offer.

Aside from possibly adding a forward, I’m sure Poile would like to pick up a veteran defenseman with a rookie currently holding down a spot on the second and third pairings. Montreal’s Hal Gill, Tampa Bay’s Pavel Kubina and Carolina’s Bryan Allen are available rentals. All three are experienced and have size – both are attributes that the Preds’ blue-line could use more of.

Are the Preds going to swing a trade between now and Feb. 27? I honestly couldn’t tell you; it depends on how the market shakes out. But if the Preds believe they are a Stanley Cup contender, and if this is the last go-round with both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter patrolling the defense, Poile has to strongly consider making an upgrade, and possibly overpaying a bit – if it’s out there.

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