As the lockout reaches its official conclusion this week, all 30 NHL teams will have about 10 days to fill out their rosters for opening night. When it comes to transactions it very well may be a frantic time. General managers have had plenty of time to think what could be their next move or how they will fill certain needs.
The Nashville Predators did most of their dirty work before the lockout during the busiest offseason in franchise history. If the season started today, they would put a playoff-caliber product on the ice. Maybe not a Stanley Cup contender – getting back to that point, without Ryan Suter, depends on the progression from the youngsters – but they would be the competitive team we’ve all grown to expect every year.
When you look at the roster, though, there are question marks. How will Shea Weber and Roman Josi adjust to each other? How will the defense as a whole respond without Suter? Will Colin Wilson and Craig Smith take the next step offensively? The list could go on and on.
No matter how many concerns there may be, the Predators aren’t the only team with them coming out of the lockout. I think most of us would agree this is a team more than capable of making the playoffs this spring.
But what about when/if they get there? What is the Predators’ biggest concern if they do make the playoffs? It is something Poile will need to address if the team wishes to go all the way.
What is that concern? Getting a true No. 1 center.
In his time in Nashville, Mike Fisher has been a perfect fit in Barry Trotz’s system. Fisher provided a lift last season, between his clutch goal-scoring and big second half. But no matter how you look at it, he’s not a top-line center by league standards – especially by the standards of the league’s elite teams.
Just look at the top teams and their top centers: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, Henrik Sedin in Vancouver, Brad Richards in New York, Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles, Claude Giroux in Philadelphia, Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit.
All of those centers make their teammates better. No offense to Fisher or David Legwand, but the Predators don’t have anyone of that ilk. Could Wilson get to that level at some point down the road? I’m hesitant to say yes, but it’s a possibility. I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket, though.
The lack of a top-line center – or a bona-fide goal scorer, for that matter – has always been exposed when the playoffs roll around. It’s one thing that has held the Predators back in postseasons of the past.
This Predators team is well-rounded but maybe two pieces away from threatening to win a Cup in the foreseeable future. One of those pieces is a top-line center. They are tough to find, but finding one has to be at the top of Poile’s list of priorities.
How else can Poile improve this team in free agency right now or before the April trade deadline? The Predators could use some additional depth.
Depth was a strength last spring, but not at this moment. With Gabriel Bourque injured, the Predators’ depth may be a weakness. Another third- or fourth-line winger wouldn’t be a bad addition. Defensively, they could use an experienced Jack Hillen-type seventh defenseman. They may rely on Milwaukee to provide short-term fixes, but there may not be much quality coming from there.
|Sergei Kostitsyn||Mike Fisher||Martin Erat|
|Colin Wilson||David Legwand||Patric Hornqvist|
|Craig Smith||Nick Spaling||Matt Halischuk|
|Brian McGrattan||Paul Gaustad||Brandon Yip|
|Roman Josi||Shea Weber||Pekka Rinne|
|Scott Hannan||Kevin Klein||Chris Mason|
|Hal Gill||Ryan Ellis|
Though the Predators are still youthful, there will be injuries early on in the season as players will go from the KHL, AHL or quasi-daily drills to a sprint towards the playoffs in a compact schedule. Depth is always important in the NHL – it will be at a premium this season.
Finding additional depth will be key for Poile as the season goes along, but eventually bringing in a top-line center is vital if the Predators wish to taken seriously as a Cup contender.