Today is the first day of March. In a normal 82-game season, the trade deadline either would have just happened or the countdown to it would be down to hours, minutes and seconds. Instead, the deadline of April 3rd in this lockout-shortened season is a month away and hasn’t yet become a hot topic in the hockey world.
That being said, some trades are starting to roll in – and they will continue this month as teams try to maximize the usage of rental pickups. For instance: after April 3rd the Predators will play just 11 regular season games, almost half of what teams usually have with their deadline acquisitions.
The Predators’ recent bump in the road, losing five of seven, has some fans clamoring for a trade to bring in an impact scorer. Could they use an additional goal-scorer right now? Of course. Could they even use some defensive help to shore up the back end? Absolutely.
But is it the right time to once again go all-in at the deadline? No.
In each of the last two seasons, Predators GM David Poile has traded away his first-round pick. Doing so for Mike Fisher in 2011 made sense, especially since he wasn’t just a rental pickup; Fisher has been a nice coup for the organization. Giving up a first-round pick for Paul Gaustad a year ago, a rental at the time, was justifiable because the team was going for it and the faceoff/penalty kill specialist was a missing ingredient. Andrei Kostitsyn and Hal Gill, acquired for second-round picks, provided quality depth late last season, too.
There’s a time to roll the dice and a time to play the conservative card. The years 2007, 2011 and 2012 were the right time to push the poker chips to the middle of the table. Now? Not so much.
Poile treats his draft picks like gold, and he has been hesitant to surrender a first-rounder each time he has done so. The first time Poile traded a first-rounder, in 2006, it didn’t work out as hoped. Defenseman Brendan Witt, acquired from Washington, was a bust. More importantly, the Predators have nothing left to show from their 2006 draft class.
In 2007, with the ownership fiasco looming, they had to go for it with the Peter Forsberg trade. And as mentioned, Fisher and Gaustad were worth acquiring for the hefty price tag of a first-round pick.
As proven in recent games/weeks, this Predators team needs more than just one piece to make them a Stanley Cup contender. Though they are currently fifth in the Western Conference, they haven’t played like an elite team in the season’s first six weeks. Their defensive game has recently regressed and the offense is last in the NHL in goals per game.
If you’re not a stranger to this site, you know my feelings about the Predators needing a true No. 1 center to build the offense around. That player just isn’t available for trade right now. If he is, the price a general manager would have to pay to acquire him would presumably be more than a first-round pick.
From 2008 to 2010 the Philadelphia Flyers essentially didn’t have a first- or second-round pick (they drafted Luca Sbisa in the first round in 2008, but traded him to Anaheim in 2009 in the Chris Pronger deal). It’s starting to hurt them, as they don’t have much talent in the system that would be impactful in the present or future.
The Predators are better off looking at the big picture and saving their future assets rather than dealing more of them away. The draft is still this organization’s pipeline for talent and they can’t afford to keep trading draft picks, a la Philadelphia.
Compared to other teams, the Predators don’t possess a lot of young talent outside of their current NHL roster. They need an influx of talent for the future. If the Predators happen to struggle down the stretch and miss the playoffs, they could use a lottery pick (like Wilson and Ellis were) on a talented player to help replenish the system.
Furthermore, youngsters like Colin Wilson, Ryan Ellis, Craig Smith and Jonathon Blum are viewed as key pieces of the Predators’ future and shouldn’t be used as bait to acquire a quick fix. The tricky part for Poile will be surrounding them with top-end talent, which may have to come through free agency if they wish to hold on to their young core.
Another thing to look at for this spring is the standings. Through Thursday’s action, four points separate third and 12th place in the West; two points separate fourth and 11th.
1. The jam-packed standings will result in less deadline sellers but a higher demand, which means teams will probably overpay between now and April 3rd.
2. All it may take for a team to either make or miss the playoffs is a random end-of-season three-game winning or losing streak. That fact alone should make GMs think twice about paying a price at the deadline.
I’m not saying the Predators don’t need to make a trade. I’m saying they shouldn’t continue to give away assets for a quick fix that may not even result in playoff success – or even a playoff berth for that matter.
The next five years are more important than the next two months.