David Poile is not interested in love at first sight.
The Nashville Predators general manager believes in a professional courtship, if you will. His theory is that it takes time for two parties to get to know one another, to trust one another, to believe in one another.
There comes a time, though, when commitment is the best option.
The latest examples were the recent deals for 25-year-old forwards Craig Smith (five years, $21.25 million) and Colin Wilson (four years, $15.75 million).
“When a player is in his mid-20s and has been with you for a few years and you believe you know what he’s capable of, I think the best thing to do is for both sides to commit to one another for the long-term or you just move on,” Poile told the Nashville Post last week.
Of course, there’s no such thing as forever in the NHL. Four or five years, in these cases, constitute a long time and even those deals come with no guarantees.
Poile has negotiated similar packages with other notable players throughout the years. Some worked out better than others.
A look at others to whom the Predators have committed, and vice versa under comparable circumstances:
(27 years old)
Six years, $27 million
Why: The deal was done early in the season and went into effect with the start of 2008-09. At the time, the first draft pick in franchise history already was the Predators’ all-time leader in goals, points, game-winning goals and overtime points.
Return on investment (ROI): Legwand scored 20 goals for the first (and only) time in the first season of that contract. At the end of 2007-08 he had 327 points in 549 games (an average of .596 points per game). In 407 games that followed he had 239 points (.587 points per game). Basically, the Predators got what they paid for but not what they hoped for.
(26 years old)
Seven years, $31.5 million
Why: This deal was done shortly after the 2007-08 season, one in which Erat tied his career-high with 57 points and set personal bests in goals (23), game-winning goals (six) and registered his first career hat trick.
ROI: He played almost five of the seven seasons on that deal with Nashville but scored more than 20 goals just once. He did set a career-high with 58 points in 2011-12 and scored four playoff goals (half his current career total) in 2010. Much like Legwand, he remained consistent but never made the offensive jump the franchise anticipated.
(28 years old)
Seven years, $49 million
Why: This deal was done early in the 2011-12 season and was considered a critical first step in the team’s plan to lock up him, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to long-term deals before they became free agents. At that time he already had been a Vezina Trophy finalist once and was on his way to a second.
ROI: He set franchise records with 43 wins and 73 games played in 2011-12 – before the deal took effect. Injuries and illness were issues for the first two seasons but he finally started to deliver a big payoff with 41 wins and 2.18 goals-against average (and a third Vezina Trophy finalist nod) last season. The market for goalies has not quite caught up to this deal but it still looks like a good one.
(27 years old)
Five years, $14.5 million
Why: In the wake of Suter’s departure two months earlier, Nashville was desperate to keep the rest of its core defense intact and executed this deal hours before NHL owners locked out the players for four months. Plus, Klein topped 20 points for the first time in his career the previous season.
ROI: The 2003 second-round pick played just one season and part of another before the Predators traded him to the New York Rangers. In 94 games played under this pact he had just 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). At a time when his experience was supposed to mean the most, management shipped him out to make room for the next round of young defensemen.
(23 years old)
Seven years, $28 million
Why: Having played just one full NHL season (a lockout-shortened season, at that) Josi proved himself a worthwhile complement to defense partner Weber. Rather than risk a repeat of the Ryan Suter fiasco, Predators management convinced the youngster to commit the rest of his 20s to them.
ROI: In the first two seasons of the deal Josi consistently has gotten better. Last season he was Nashville’s highest scoring defenseman and joined Weber among the top five in Norris Trophy voting. If the upward trend continues, this deal is going to look like a bargain in the last couple seasons.
(26 years old)
Five years, $21.25 million
Why: The last pick in the 2007 NHL draft averaged 26 goals during his first three full NHL seasons. Twice in a span of three seasons (2009-10 and 2011-12) he led the team in goals, which made him (at the time) the only player drafted by Nashville to do so more than once.
ROI: In announcing the deal Poile said Hornqvist "has become – and will remain – an integral member of our core group." Well, he remained with the team for one season in which he scored 22 goals and his attitude soured. He went to Pittsburgh in the trade that brought James Neal, a more versatile and mobile threat.
(23 years old)
Five years, $12.5 million
Why: A first-round pick (11th overall) in 2009, Ellis had no shortage of believers within the organization after his first full NHL season. Most notably, concerns about durability due to his size were eased when he played 80 games in 2013-14.
ROI: The deal makes sense because the salary sets reasonable expectations for a player who accomplishments in junior hockey, in many cases, were beyond comprehension. An injury limited him to just 58 games but he scored 27 points, the same number as the previous year and a clear indication that his game includes some significant offensive upside.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Surprising? It shouldn’t be.
The injury issues that have plagued the Nashville Predators in their Western Conference quarterfinal series with Chicago are nothing new. In fact, Nashville has a rich history of chasing championships without some of its best players.
Even worse, it’s going to take something dramatic for the Predators to break that tradition. Following Tuesday’s 3-2 triple-overtime loss (the longest game in franchise history) they trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Maybe they would be in the same predicament even if they had center Mike Fisher and Shea Weber for the last two-plus games. Fisher was injured early in the second period of Game 1 and Weber went out late in the second period of Game 2.
It’s easy to think, though, that things would have been better had those two not gotten hurt. At the same time, it’s tough not to imagine the postseason without at least one key player sidelined by a health issue.
A recap of some of what Nashville has faced in its postseason history:
The player: Marek Zidlicky was Nashville’s highest scoring defenseman and second-leading scorer overall with 53 points (14 goals, 39 assists) and became the first player in franchise history to play all 82 games in his first season with the team.
The injury: In the opening minutes of Game 1 of the first playoff series in team history, against Detroit, Zidlicky sustained a concussion when he absorbed a check. He missed the remainder of the series.
The outcome: Nashville was limited to one goal or fewer in all four losses of the six-game series with the Red Wings. None of the Predators’ nine goals came from defensemen and Zidlicky’s primary defense partner, Kimmo Timonen, finished with no points and a minus-3 rating.
The player: Tomas Vokoun set then-franchise records for wins (36) and shutouts (four) in a season. In so doing he helped Nashville earn more than 100 points and a second-place finish in the Central Division for the first time.
The injury: Ten days before the end of the regular season he was diagnosed with blood clots. The treatment caused him to miss the remainder of the schedule and the postseason.
The outcome: Chris Mason replaced Vokoun and allowed three or more goals in each of the first four playoff games against San Jose, one of which Nashville actually won. His goals-against average was 3.45 and the Sharks eliminated the Predators in five games.
The player: Steve Sullivan immediately became one of the most productive offensive players in franchise history the moment he was acquired in a February 2004 trade with Chicago. In 2006-07 he became one of the first two players ever to have at least 60 points in back-to-back seasons with Nashville and was better than a point-per-game performer.
The injury: He sustained a back injury during a February game against Montreal. The issue not only caused him to miss the remainder of that season and the playoffs, he missed all of 2008 and the first half of 2009.
The outcome: Limited to just 57 games, he still finished fourth on the team in scoring. Even a deadline deal for future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg was not enough to help the team overcome his absence, and San Jose eliminated Nashville in five games for the second straight season.
The player: Jason Arnott tied for the team lead with 72 points (only Paul Kariya ever scored more for the Predators) and had a Nashville-best 44 assists during the regular season. At that time, his 248 shots tied a franchise record.
The injury: Arnott scored the game-winner in Game 3 against Detroit, the second of two goals in nine seconds late in the third period. In his exuberance, Alexander Radulov jumped on Arnott and knocked the back of his head into the boards. The incident caused a concussion that knocked Arnott out of the remainder of the series.
The outcome: Arnott played the next game, which Nashville won, but sat out the final two. Detroit limited the Predators to one goal total in those last two, won both and took the series in six games.
The player: Patric Hornqvist became the first Nashville draft pick ever to score 30 goals for the franchise and tied a team record with eight game-winning goals. No other Predators player had more than 21 goals and Hornqvist’s team-best plus-18 rating was more than double all but two of his teammates’.
The injury: He was hit by a slap shot in the next-to-last game of the regular season, April 7 at Phoenix. He sat out the final game before the playoffs.
The outcome: Hornqvist made it back in the lineup and played 13 minutes in the playoff opener against Chicago, a 4-1 Predators victory but missed the next four games. He returned and had an assist in Game 6, but the Blackhawks won that one 5-3 and closed out the series.
(Photo: Getty Images)
If there were a way to accurately measure emotions, Wednesday’s 2015 playoff opener likely would have set the record for most disappointing postseason loss in Nashville Predators history.
As it is, players, coaches and everyone else who took in the action must decide for themselves the depth of their despair following a 4-3 double-overtime loss at Bridgestone Arena in a game Nashville led by three before the end of the first period and ultimately set several actual franchise playoff records.
“You would rather be sitting in a different position, for sure, but it is only one game,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We are going to get ready [and] pull a lot of positives from this game.”
A look at some of what occurred in the contest that lasted three hours and 43 minutes:
• It was the third longest playoff game in franchise history at 87:49 and the second longest postseason contest (by 25 seconds) to a 5-4 double-overtime loss to San Jose on April 11, 2007.
• Nashville’s 54 shots on goal broke the record of 46 set April 30, 2011 at Vancouver (also a double-overtime contest).
• Nashville’s 17 shots in the third period set a record. The previous mark was 16 (twice) and the previous high in a home game was 15 (three times).
• The combined 96 shots on goal (Chicago had 42) easily surpassed the 81 that Nashville and San Jose had in that 2007 contest.
• James Neal tied the franchise record for shots in a game with nine. Patric Hornqvist (April 15, 2011 at Anaheim) is the only other player ever to do so.
• Filip Forsberg’s seven shots on goal set a Nashville rookie playoff record. Alexander Radulov had the previous mark of six (April 11, 2007 vs. San Jose).
• Three goals in one period (the first) tied the franchise record for a home playoff game. The Predators had done it three times previously (it’s worth noting that their only loss in those three games was to Chicago, 5-3 in 2010).
For what it’s worth, players and head coach Peter Laviolette did not seem terribly disappointed when it was over. In fact, they expressed a certain optimism about the things they did accomplish.
“I thought we played a really good game,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “Five-on-five, I thought we had some really good chances to win it. It just didn’t go our way, and we have to move past it. We have to put it behind us. In the playoffs, it’s short term [memory].
“They won and we didn’t. We have to move forward. We can’t dwell on anything.”
Added Colin Wilson, whose two goals also tied a Nashville playoff record (it happened 12 times previously): “Yeah. It’s the big cliché. It’s one game at a time, especially in playoffs. You never want to lose, especially in double overtime. I think we have a great group here and I like the way that we played (Wednesday) night.”
Craig Smith is in position to do something no Nashville Predators player ever has.
With his goal at 5:49 of the third period Saturday, the 25-year-old right wing became the Predators’ outright leader this season with 23. He broke a tie with James Neal, who has missed the last four games with an upper body injury, moved two up on Filip Forsberg and three ahead of Colin Wilson, who also did not play in the 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena.
Smith was Nashville’s leading goal scorer last season with 24 (one better than Shea Weber) and no player ever has topped that list in consecutive seasons.
Four have led the Predators in goals more than once. In each case, though, there was at least one season in between the two.
TWICE ON TOP
A look at the players who have led the Nashville Predators in goals more than once:
Scott Walker – 25 in 2000-01; 25 in 2003-04
Jason Arnott – 27 in 2006-07; 33 in 2008-09
Patric Hornqvist – 30 in 2009-10; 27 in 2011-12
David Legwand – 27 in 2006-07; 12 in 2012-13
(Notes: Arnott and Legwand shared the team lead in 2006-07; 2012-13 was a 48-game season)
Smith scored in the season-opener against Ottawa and has not gone more than nine straight games without at least one. The second of two nine-game droughts ran from Jan. 29 through Feb. 12. Since then he has nine goals in 18 games.
Last season he had a stretch of 13 straight games without a goal before he scored four times in the final three contests.
He is one of only six Nashville players who has appeared in every game this season and leads the team with 225 shots, already a career-high.
It was not enough to carry the Nashville Predators to victory.
Craig Smith’s 20th goal of the season Thursday did, however, put him in select company along with some of the franchise’s most notable draft picks.
Combined with his 24 goals last season, the 2009 fourth round selection (98th overall) is just the sixth player drafted by Nashville to score 20 or more goals for the team twice. The list includes the Predators’ all-time leading scorer David Legwand and current captain Shea Weber. In all, eight different homegrown players have scored 20 at least once.
Smith, Patric Hornqvist and Scott Hartnell are the only ones to do so in consecutive seasons.
“I’m just kind of staying hungry,” Smith said. “To be able to contribute to a really good team has been awesome. I really loved the guys that I’ve been playing with. ... So kudos to them too.”
A look at the Nashville Predators draft picks who have scored at least 20 goals for the team, based the number of times they did it:
4 – Patric Hornqvist (2009-10, 10-11, 11-12 and 13-14)
3 – Martin Erat (2005-06, 07-08 and 09-10)
2 – Craig Smith (2013-14 and 14-15)
2 – Shea Weber (2008-09 and 13-14)
2 – David Legwand (2006-07 and 0809)
2 – Scott Hartnell (2005-06 and 06-07)
1 – Alexander Radulov (2007-08)
1 – Denis Arkhipov (2001-02)
Smith tied Thursday’s game with the Minnesota Wild at 2-2 with 11:29 to play in the second period when he converted a partial breakaway with a diabolically quick shot up and under the crossbar. It was the second time in the period the Predators came back from a one-goal deficit.
Minnesota went ahead for good 1:17 later, though, and added an empty-net goal late in the contest. The 4-2 defeat was just Nashville’s fourth regulation defeat in 31 home games.
For Smith it was his sixth goal in the last seven games.
“He was really strong (Thursday) night,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “His skating was sharp and he seemed like he had lots of energy, lots of pop out there. He seems to be finding his way offensively with regard to scoring goals right now. He’s a hot player for us.”
He is the third Nashville player with at least 20 goals this season. James Neal was the first to hit that mark, Feb. 17 against San Jose. Filip Forsberg followed two nights later against the New York Islanders.
With 20 games remaining, Smith, who currently trails Neal and Forsberg by one for the team lead, has plenty of time to surpass last season’s total.
“I didn’t set a number on it,” he said, regarding any goals goal. “I just want to try to be consistent and make plays and get chances every night.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
When the Nashville Predators need a goal they start with their first line.
Often, that’s all it takes. Through 16 games, James Neal, Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro have combined for exactly half of the Predators’ 42 goals scored.
When it comes time to finish off an opponent, though, everyone is a candidate.
Craig Smith became the eighth different Nashville player to record a game-winning goal this season when he delivered the tiebreaker with 2:02 to play in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
“I feel like if we just stick with the 60 minutes and what the guys are trying to do out there that in the end we will find success and goals,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “(Saturday) was a great example of that.”
Neal got the first goal, his team-leading ninth of the season, with 4:15 to play in the second. That tied the score at 1-1, and it stayed that way until Smith scored.
It was the Predators’ 11th victory of the season. They are one of 10 franchises to have won at least that many games at this point of the season. Few, however, have spread their game-winning goals out among as many, or more players.
A look at the number of different players with game-winning goals for the NHL’s winningest teams (through Sunday):
9 – Anaheim (11 wins)
9 – Calgary (11 wins)
9 – Boston (11 wins)
8 – Nashville (11 wins)
8 – Tampa Bay (12 wins)
7 – New York Islanders (11 wins)
7 – Pittsburgh (12 wins)
7 – St. Louis (12 wins)
6 – Vancouver (12 wins)
6 – Montreal (14 wins)
Neal and Forsberg, the top two goal scorers, are the only Nashville players with more than one game-winner. Each has two.
Taylor Beck and Paul Gaustad each have one goal apiece. Both, though, were game-winners. Ribeiro, Eric Nystrom and Matt Cullen all have one as well.
It’s similar to a year ago when 15 different players had game-winners, led by Patric Hornqvist’s six.
“We’ve been seeing a lot (of tight games),” Smith said. “It’s tough to get through the neutral zone and play smart there.”
It’s been a little easier for the Predators to find someone to score a difference-making goal.
Filip Forsberg tied the Nashville Predators’ record for consecutive games with a goal when he scored at 13:21 of the first period Thursday.
The argument can be made, though, that his six-game streak is the best in franchise history. It includes more assists and a better plus-minus rating than either of the three players who accomplished it previously.
Forsberg’s goal was Nashville’s first in their 4-3 loss at St. Louis. He added assists on the next two, which gave him five during the streak. That’s as many as Patric Hornqvist, Alexander Radulov and J-P Dumont had combined during their respective six-game goal streaks.
Forsberg’s plus-minus rating (plus-9) also is — by far — the best of the bunch.
A comparison of the four Nashville Predators-record six-game goal streaks:
Filip Forsberg (Nov. 2-13, 2014)
Goals – 7, Assists – 5, Points – 12, PPG – 2, Plus-Minus – plus-9
Predators record: 4-1-1
Patric Hornqvist (Oct. 27-Nov. 8, 2011)
Goals – 7, Assists – 1, Points – 8, PPG – 1, Plus-Minus – plus-5
Predators record: 4-1-1
Alexander Radulov (Jan. 21-Feb. 2, 2008)
Goals – 7, Assists – 1, Points 8, PPG – 0, Plus-Minus – plus-5
Predators record: 4-1-1
J-P Dumont (Dec. 29, 2007-Jan. 8, 2008)
Goals – 6, Assists –- 3, Points 9, PPG – 3, Plus-Minus – plus-5
Predators record: 4-2-0
What has been consistent each time a player has been on this type of roll is the team success that comes with it. Each time, the Predators won four of the six and this is the third time out of the four that they earned 11 out of a possible 12 points during that stretch.
James Neal does not want to hear that he was in the right place at the right time.
Sure, as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins he was part of one of the NHL’s best offensive teams and played centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, each a league scoring champion and Hart Trophy winner within the last three seasons. In three full seasons with that franchise, Neal was basically a point-per-game performer (178 points, 179 games).
From his perspective, though, he was right where he should be.
“It takes a certain player to play with those guys,” Neal told the Nashville Post on Saturday. “It’s not the easiest job to play with those guys. They expect a lot out of you and you need to produce for them or you’re not going to be there. So I think it goes both ways.
“Obviously, it was fun to be able to play with (Crosby) and (Malkin) — (Malkin), for the most part. It was a whole lot of fun.”
In other words, he is confident he can be just as productive as a member of the Nashville Predators, who opened training camp Friday.
Nashville gave up a lot when it traded for the 27-year-old left wing in June. The deal included left wing Patric Hornqvist, the only Predators draft pick ever to score 30 goals for the team and one of only two players in franchise history (Jason Arnott was the other) to score 27 or more goals in more than one season.
Neal had 27 goals last season, just as he did for Dallas in 2009-10, his second full NHL season. His career-high was 40 with Pittsburgh in 2011-12, the year Malkin led the league in scoring. The challenge now is not for him to fit into the Predators’ attack but to elevate it.
“I don’t want to put all the pressure on James,” first-year coach Peter Laviolette said. “We brought him here for a reason. It was for his offensive talents. He’s a big, young strong winger that can create offense and that’s why we brought him here. But I truly think it will be a team concept that drives this team in the end.”
That his current team lacks the star power of his former one matters little to Neal.
“I came into the league and played with Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro and then played with Brad Richards,” he said. “They’re all good centermen but each guy is different so you have to adjust your game to them.
“Lots of guys have played with great players and have not been able to produce.”
Nick Spaling probably did not need to get in a fight the franchise that traded for him roughly a month ago.
It made sense, therefore, that the former Nashville Predators forward avoided arbitration Thursday when he agreed to a two-year, $4.4 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The $2.2 million annual salary is twice what he made with Nashville in 2012-13. He earned $1.5 million last season on a one-year deal.
Oddly, on a team with as much star power as any, he is now the sixth highest paid forward and one of only six signed beyond the coming season.
“To me, it seems like a fair deal,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “We really like Nick. We know he's going to play a good role.
“… He's coming out of a role and a system where it was more of a defensive system. Now, he's going to go into a new system that could give him an opportunity to put more points up.”
Spaling, 25, set career-highs with 13 goals, 19 assists and 32 points last season. Nashville drafted him in second round (58th overall) in 2007 and traded him, along with Patric Hornqvist, to Pittsburgh on June 27 for left wing James Neal.
As far as Plan Bs go the Nashville Predators could have done a lot worse than James Neal.
Their new first-line left wing is a rugged 6-foot-2, 208-pound sniper whose shot is regarded as one of the game’s best. He also is signed through 2017-18 at $5 million per season, an unquestionably reasonable rate for a player who has and – given that he’ll be 27 at the start of the season – might again average a point per game for an entire season.
Of course to get him general manager David Poile traded forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Pittsburgh. Two days removed from the deal he felt better than he did in the moments that led to it.
“I told [Pittsburgh general manager] Jim Rutherford, ‘I’m getting nervous about this trade,” Poile said Sunday. “I think when you get there you’re at the point where you know it’s good for both teams. It was certainly, in our minds, a trade for a top forward. He’s a natural goal scorer. … He is strong on the power play. He’s got a great release. He’s got a great one-timer. Basically, he provides a dimension we have lacked here with the Predators.”
No team generated more headlines during the National Hockey League’s draft weekend than the Predators, who made news because of who they got in a trade (Neal) and who they did not get (Ottawa center Jason Spezza).
Poile declined to address specific questions, but what he did say on the subject gave the overwhelming impression that Neal and Spezza were an either/or proposition and not a swing for the fences that ended up a ground-rule double.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray wanted to deal Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001, but was unable to do so. He told reporters at the draft in Philadelphia that he had an acceptable offer from Nashville but Spezza, who has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, refused to sign off on the move.
“I don’t want to say what we did or didn’t do,” Poile said. “Bryan Murray said what he said. All I’m going to say publicly is we called and we were told by Ottawa and his agent that he did not want to go to Nashville.”
He refused to offer any details about whether Hornqvist and/or Spaling were included in that offer, although it seems virtually certain that they were. He conceded only that those discussions took place “way before” draft weekend, when the Predators finally settled on and, in a manner of speaking, settled for Neal.
As recently as 2011-12, Neal averaged a point per game when he had 40 goals and 41 assists in 80 games for the Predators. In 413 games with Dallas and Pittsburgh he has 315 points (161 goals, 154 assists) in 413 contests.
“My vision is that at some point we will get a top center,” Poile said. “We’re trying to get top six forwards. I believe that Neal is a top three forward. I’m open-minded to when you have the opportunity to get one of these guys to be able to do it. I was very happy I was able to do it because it didn’t disrupt our defense and it didn’t take away our first pick.
“… I think James Neal dramatically changes the look of our forward roster.”
Even if he is a different guy than the one they initially envisioned doing so.
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