At a time like this, it’s easy for fans to be sad and angry. Anytime you lose a star player, it hurts worse than losing a game or a playoff series.
Today, the Nashville Predators lost a player that many fans had grown up with. They’d learned the game of hockey while Ryan Suter grew and matured right in front of their own eyes.
Suter was the prized player the Predators selected with the seventh pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, which was held in Nashville.
Fans watched him put on a Predators sweater for the first time inside the very arena that he started his pro career in. They watched him record an assist in his first NHL game – which came on opening night in 2005, the first game following the lockout.
When Suter made a mistake that led to a goal, fans questioned the decision to pick Suter over Dion Phaneuf (who was taken ninth overall by the Flames). They questioned the decision making when he was a healthy scratch against the Sharks in the 2006 postseason.
As Suter’s skills matured, the fans’ appreciation for him also matured. He morphed into a fan favorite and became a building block for the franchise. Any doubts that Suter was a special player were erased in the winter of 2010 when he helped lead the United States Olympic team to a silver medal. His popularity reached an all-time high.
“Ryan played a prominent role on our team,” Poile said via conference call. “He was an assistant captain. He played more minutes than any other player in the NHL, most on the power play than anybody in the NHL. He was paired with a Norris Trophy finalist in Shea Weber.”
In all, Suter appeared in542 regular season games with the Predators, scoring 38 goals and adding 200 assists. He appeared n 39 playoff games, collecting 13 points. He’s one of two defensemen in franchise history to record 200 assists.
And now he’s gone.
Though Poile wouldn’t say he was misled or betrayed, you could hear in his voice the pain and disappointment over this whole process. On a separate conference call today, Suter said the phone call to Poile this morning was “the toughest phone call I’ve ever had to make in my life.”
The Predators did everything they could to please Suter. They went all in at the trade deadline. As Poile said today, no team did more at the deadline than the Nashville Predators.
“The disappointment for me comes in the reason for the final decision,” Poile said. “If you told me like in the old days that [Kimmo] Timonen and [Scott] Hartnell – they left to Philadelphia because we couldn’t afford them – this was not a case of money. If you told me that our franchise wasn’t tracking well, that our ownership wasn’t in a good place, that we were a losing team that we never made the playoffs – then those are things I couldn’t fight off.
“Everything that [Suter and I] talked about, we were, are, or did – and from that standpoint, it’s very disappointing.”
Poile offered Suter a contract that was fair in both length and value. They were more than willing to offer his close friend and new teammate, Zach Parise, a similar contract.
But it didn’t matter.
Though Poile and the organization did everything they could to keep the All-Star defenseman, there was one thing they couldn’t overcome: family.
“We asked him what the reason was and he said it was for family reasons,” Poile said.
And that’s what hurts Poile the most.
In the end, there was nothing he could have done to change Suter’s mind. Poile was behind the eight-ball from the beginning of this negotiation and, in the end, he’s the one that will receive much of the blame. Most of that blame, however, will be cast unfairly.
What was Poile supposed to do differently? Suter himself told Poile in November that he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Ryan had said when we had a meeting in November with [his agent], that he wasn’t going anywhere else and that he was signing with the Nashville Predators. It’s a quote.”
For longtime Predator fans, Suter will be remembered as one of the best to wear Predator Gold, but the memories won’t be nearly as fond as they could have been.
Last night I watched Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, playing out his final MLB season, turn in a 5-for-5 performance at the plate. It was one of the special moments that remind fans why they care so much.
For Suter and the Predator fan base, those moments will no longer feel the same. Jones chose to stay in Atlanta for his entire career and he will go down as an all-time favorite. Never to be forgotten. Suter chose a different path, but it doesn’t erase this disappointment of what could have been.
Poile summed it up best today when he said, “I think this is a real missed opportunity. This could have gone down as the best defensive pair ever in National Hockey League history.”
Poile’s attention now turns to replacing Suter and signing Captain Shea Weber to a long-term contract.
Whatever ‘Plan B’ is, don’t doubt that Poile has been preparing for this. Yes, he thought Suter was coming back, but Poile knew all along that it was possible Suter would sign elsewhere and has been preparing as such.
The Predators still have two all-world players in Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber. They are still one of the youngest teams in the NHL and they just signed two experienced veterans in Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad to fill key roles.
As Poile said today, the franchise has a strong core of veterans and a ton of skilled youth to build around.
“Our core is in their prime years; Pekka Rinne, Weber, Erat, Legwand, Fisher, etc. And we’ve got some really good up-and-coming young players like Ellis, Josi. Bourque, Hornqvist,” Poile said.
The window of opportunity isn’t closed – far from it.