The Nashville Predators made a big change this year at trade deadline day: they were buyers.
In the past, Nashville was well-known for operating the team on a tight budget and would often deal away key players at the trade deadline that they were almost certain to lose anyway as unrestricted free agents during the upcoming summer.
But this year, GM David Poile was given the green light to bring in new players for the stretch drive and the Predators added a pair of forwards in Paul Gaustad from Buffalo and Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal.
The new additions did not come cheaply. The Preds sent a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2013 to the Habs for Kostitsyn and a 2012 first-round draft choice to Buffalo for Gaustad. Nashville also got back a fourth-round pick in 2013 as part of the Gaustad trade.
When you add the acquisition of defenseman Hal Gill from Montreal 10 days ago, the Predators added three players who could play key roles in the stretch drive and during the playoffs for the team.
Poile was very excited about his new acquisitions. “We've certainly got ourselves in a real good position here in the playoff race, and I think with these trades we've certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year when we get in the playoffs,” Poile told reporters. “I'm really happy.”
The Predators are presently fifth overall in the Western Conference with 79 points. They have exactly 20 games remaining on the schedule. That places them just six points behind the Detroit Red Wings who are first in the Central Division. The Preds have a game in hand.
These moves are designed to make the Predators play with the big boys like Detroit and Vancouver, not just in the regular season, but also in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Gill adds size and experience on the blue line. The 6’7” veteran has a long reach and can help clear opposing players out from in front of the Nashville net. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009 which gives a young Predators team a valuable asset: a player who knows what it takes to win a championship in their locker room.
Gaustad is a role player who is useful during the regular season but will have increased value in the playoffs. He is a checking-line center who can help slow down opposing teams’ top lines. He also adds size and is a very good penalty killer. Gaustad has won 56.8 percent of his faceoffs this season and that could be pivotal in the playoffs especially teams like Detroit who thrive on puck possession.
Gaustad is a perfect fit to fill the role Jerred Smithson had on the Preds. Smithson was dealt to the Florida Panthers Friday for a sixth-round draft choice.
This is the last year of Gaustad’s contract so unless Poile can re-sign him, the 30-year-old Fargo, North Dakota, native will be a rental player for the Predators. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Andrei Kostitsyn will join his brother Sergei in the Nashville lineup. The two spent three seasons together in Montreal. Andrei is also eligible to be a UFA this summer. In 53 games with the Habs this season, Andrei has 12 goals and 24 points. He has three career seasons with more than 20 goals including a career-high 26 in 2007-08. He will add size and scoring balance to the Predators lineup.
Coach Barry Trotz thought the deals his club made today show the team has entered a different era in its history. “I think organizationally, our expectations have gone to a different level and our commitment level is much higher [to win the Stanley Cup] than ever before,” Trotz told The Tennessean. “This move was made for the long haul. We’re hoping we can be one of the teams that goes deep [into the playoffs].”
“I've been on the short end of a lot of 2-3 games,” Poile added. “Hopefully this year we'll be winning them 3-2…We've got a good feeling about our team as we move forward.”
The Predators still have a lot of issues facing them including the future of defenseman Ryan Suter, one of the team’s “Big Three” who will leave this summer if Poile can’t sign him to a new deal. But the message being sent now by management is a clear one: this team has the potential to be special. For once, the Predators are going for it all right now.