Predators GM David Poile stood in front of a group of reporters on February 27th, relieved to have acquired Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad (and Hal Gill ten days prior) at the trade deadline. Poile was confident that the final pieces for a long playoff run were in place.
Less than a month later, a giddy Poile re-introduced Alexander Radulov to the Nashville media. If there was any question as to whether the Predators were a Cup contender before, Radulov’s return answered those doubts and put a target on the team’s back as a favorite to come out of the Western Conference.
Poile knew he was taking somewhat of a risk by parting with draft picks and bringing the ever-energetic Radulov back into the fold. But it all seemed to work.
The Predators jelled at the right time and went into the playoffs with home-ice advantage in the first round. They went on to quickly beat rival Detroit in five games. Everything was falling into place, as the Predators had finally solved their long-time measuring stick.
It was finally the Predators’ time to shine.
Two weeks later, the highly-anticipated postseason in which the final result was supposed to be and expected to be different is now over.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasoning for the Predators’ departure from the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Was it because the Phoenix Coyotes were a bad matchup for the Predators? Was it because the mid-series suspension of Radulov and Kostitsyn was a distraction? Was it because Barry Trotz was out-coached by Dave Tippett?
Again, it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing.
The potential consequences of this premature playoff exit already have fans worried about what next year’s roster will look like. A long run to the Stanley Cup final would have answered the looming questions by themselves. Now, with 15 players unsigned for next year, there are a lot of uncertainties heading into what is guaranteed to be an interesting off-season.
It was a great season for the Predators. They recorded 104 points after sputtering out of the gates. Attendance rose for a fourth straight season. Ultimately though, the Predators failed to prove this year that they are any more of a contender than they were last year, when they were put out in the second round as well.
How will this disappointing outcome against Phoenix impact Ryan Suter’s chances of re-signing with Nashville? It’s already the storyline of the Predators’ off-season.
Suter’s decision, whether it’s to stay or leave, could very well start a domino effect with other top (restricted) free agents-to-be, like Radulov and captain Shea Weber. But that’s another story for another day.
“Right now I’m disappointed how tonight went and I haven’t really thought about it,” Suter told reporters after Monday’s season-ending loss.
One of the top reasons why the Predators decided to go ‘all in’ this spring was because Suter, set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, has been on record saying he wants to play for a winner year after year.
When Poile made all of those late-season additions, he knew if Suter left in the summer that this would be the Predators’ best chance at winning a Stanley Cup. It’s somewhat similar to 2007 when Poile and the front office pulled the trigger on acquiring Peter Forsberg, knowing the ownership situation would be coming to the forefront in the summer.
Obviously both situations, in 2011 and 2007, have their differences. If Suter leaves it’s not like it’s going to put the team’s future in doubt. But it would cause Poile to have to go through another reloading process if the Predators want to get back to Cup-contending status.
The reloading process would be a tad easier if Poile still had the assets he traded away at the deadline. If you recall, he dealt this year’s first- and second-round picks, as well as a second-round selection in 2013, for the services of Gaustad, Gill and Kostitsyn – all rental pickups, mind you.
If Poile had those picks he might be able to swing a first- or second-round pick for a young defenseman that could help fill the void from Suter’s potential departure. Or Poile could keep those picks to replenish the farm system.
Whatever happens this summer, Poile’s ‘all in’ gamble didn’t produce the result he was hoping for here in the playoffs. You could say the gamble also backfired if Radulov and Kostitsyn indeed disrupted team chemistry. However, I’m sure Poile will state that he didn’t regret bringing those two into the fold.
Instead of preparing to face the Los Angeles Kings for the right to go to the Cup final, the Predators will be cleaning out their lockers this week and going their separate ways for the summer.
This isn’t how the season was supposed to end for the Predators. It wasn’t supposed to end one game and two days before it did last season. They were supposed to have a ‘different’ outcome. They were supposed to parade the Cup down Broadway.
It is a bitter end to a memorable season because this was supposed to be their year. But it wasn’t.
Now when Poile addresses the media this week as a final sendoff before the 2012 off-season commences, he’ll certainly have a different tone than he did a short two months ago.