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Nashville Predators Win Trade with Leafs, but Assets Acquired Are Unnecessary

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterFebruary 15, 2015

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 18:  Cody Franson #4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a face-off against the Nashville Predators during NHL game action November 18, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Graig Abel/Getty Images

The Nashville Predators won the trade.

I truly believe that. I just don't know why they wanted to win this particular trade.

While you were having a nice little Sunday at Target or a miserable Sunday shoveling snow, the Predators pushed their chips into the middle of the table by acquiring defenseman Cody Franson and versatile forward Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a first-round pick, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a salary dump in the form of center Olli Jokinen. Sportsnet's Chris Johnston tweeted the news:

Chris Johnston @reporterchris

BREAKING: The #leafs have trade Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for first-round pick, prospects.

Based on the assets exchanged, the Predators come out comfortably ahead.

But why? Why is this the move?

The Predators have the most points (82) and best points percentage (.732). They are sixth in the league in Fenwick close (53.1 percent), according to Hockey Analysis, and their league-high PDO (102.2) is somewhat sustainable because of goaltender Pekka Rinne. Everything about the Predators says they are legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup.

The thing about this deal that is perplexing is that it reinforces two areas that don't need any reinforcing: the right side of the blue line and a group of depth forwards who possess positional flexibility.

When everyone's healthy (which isn't the case at this moment), this is the ideal Predators blue line after adding Franson:

Nashville Predators defense corps
Left defenseRight defense
Roman JosiShea Weber
Seth JonesCody Franson
Mattias EkholmRyan Ellis
Anton VolchenkovVictor Barley
NHL

Ryan Ellis has been out since early January with a lower-body injury but skated Saturday and could be back this week. Whether he or Seth Jones moves to the left side or to a more permanent spot on the third pairing remains to be seen, but this is where picking up Franson seems unnecessary.

Shea Weber is the unequivocal No. 1. Ellis (55.8) and Jones (55.4) have flourished at five-on-five in smaller roles on the right side while Weber plays big minutes against the opponent's best forwards. Ellis' injury has forced Victor Bartley (51.5) into a more regular role as the No. 6, and while he hasn't been great, he's held his own and has hardly been a detriment.

Jones (6 goals, 14 assists) and Ellis (5 goals, 13 assists) don't have the offensive abilities of Franson (6 goals, 26 assists) although the difference between them isn't stark. If Franson takes over for Jones on the second power-play unit, Franson brings four goals and 11 assists in 55 games; Jones has two goals and six assists in 56 games.

For a team that ranks 17th on the power play, that's seemingly an upgrade. How much of an upgrade is it, though, when Franson has his 15 power-play points in 170 minutes, 18 seconds and Jones has his eight power-play points in 120:28? Franson averages a power-play point every 12 minutes; Jones a point every 15 minutes.

With Weber and Roman Josi cemented on the first power-play unit, Franson will have fewer opportunities than he did in Toronto.

If GM David Poile plans to use Ellis as a trade chip or Ellis' injury is worse than believed, it makes the shuffling of one of the league's best blue lines pre-trade less confusing. If that's not the caseand again, trading a first-round pick in the mid-20s is hardly a big dealhow much will Franson improve the fortunes of the Predators?

Santorelli, on the other hand, is a little easier to justify, especially if you view the deal as Franson for a first-round pick and Santorelli for a 20-year-old prospect who may not have much of an NHL future.

Bob McKenzie @TSNBobMcKenzie

Some scouts peg Leipsic as potential 3rd/4th liner tho some say he's not a lock to play regularly. 7-28-35 in 47 AHL games this season.

Santorelli can play wing or center and can do so on any of the Predators' four lines. Again, this really wasn't a pressing need for the team; Matt Cullen, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith all possess the ability to move from wing to center and secure a spot in the top nine. Santorelli is just another guy who can do this role—quite well, of coursebut he wasn't a necessity.

Unlike Franson, who can help the power play, Santorelli doesn't have much in the way of special teams value.

The Predators are 15th in penalty-killing at 81.3 percent. Santorelli was used sparingly on the Leafs' PK, averaging 38 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game. One season ago with the Canucks, Santorelli was used more often (1:43 per game) but wasn't one of the go-to forwards. Whatever the impact Santorelli has on the Predators' penalty-killing, if any, it can't be expected to be anything more than minimal.

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 12: Mike Santorelli #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 12, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The New York Islanders defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Everything about this tradewhich, again, the Predators wonscreams "minimal upgrades." That's not what you want from an all-in move.

If the Predators really wanted to make a meaningful deal, they should have considered adding reliable scoring forwards.

Scoring forwards? For a team scoring 2.95 goals per game, which is sixth-best in the league?

Yes.

Remember when the St. Louis Blues traded Jaroslav Halak for Ryan Miller last season? It was a confounding deal because Halak, who is backstopping the Islanders to one of the best records in the league this season, was arguably better than Miller, who provided at best a minimal upgrade for a team that was scoring more than three goals per game yet could've used more scoring punch.

The Blues' offense faded down the stretch, Miller was horrendous and the team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

A lateral trade by a Cup contender that yielded no tangible upgrades? Sound familiar?

Here are the Blues' important numbers at the time of the Miller trade, along with the Predators' numbers today:

Blues and Predators after trade deadline moves
TeamRecordPointsGoals per game5-on-5 SH%PDO
St. Louis Blues39-14-6843.209.4101.7
Nashville Predators38-12-6822.958.4102.1
war-on-ice.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com

Like a stock market bubble, all the signs were there for the Blues that their goal-scoring rates were unsustainable and a crash was coming, yet the team chose to ignore it and bafflingly traded to fill a nonexistent need. The Blues scored 2.17 goals per game after Miller's arrival and 2.33 per game in six playoff contests with the Blackhawks.

The Predators aren't at the same alarming levels as last season's Blues, but there are some warning signs and still time to address them.

Take a look at the Predators' five leading scorers among forwards: Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, Colin Wilson, James Neal and Craig Smith.

Forbserg is a rookie with zero playoff experience; Wilson and Smith combined have one goal in 15 playoff games; Ribeiro is a playmaker, not a scorer, but six goals in 49 games isn't great; and perhaps the biggest reason the Penguins traded Neal was because they felt his game wasn't tailored for the postseasonand two goals in 13 games last year speaks to that.

Santorelli has never experienced the postseason.

Look, hockey is a weird game, and maybe Forsberg, Wilson and Smith are prime-time playoff performers, Ribeiro earns himself a handsome new contract by teeing them up and Neal is so motivated by the trade that he scores a goal a game. Anything is possible.

But if you're Poile, that's the area you need to look to bolster, not the defense, not the bottom six. It's not as though the market is flooded with those types of forwards, and the price for adding Phil Kessel must be astronomical if a first-round pick and prospect is the going rate for a second-pairing D-man and a third-line forward. But that should be the area of concern.

The Predators won this trade. It would have been better if they had won a different one.

All statistics via NHL.com.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

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