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Preds fail to address biggest need once again, so what if…

A lot of kudos have to be given to Nashville Predators’ David Poile for the job he’s done as General Manager when it comes to drafting and picking up bargain players off the NHL scrap heap.

But, when it comes to addressing the biggest need, he falls way short and it’s time we called him on it.

We’ve defended Poile in the past, looking at what he’s had to work with over the past few years in this, a non-traditional hockey market. He’s managed to field a playoff caliber roster despite an ownership change, he’s managed to get something for nothing by trading players’ rights to teams just before they become unrestricted free agents and he’s been nothing short of spectacular identifying young, raw talent on the blueline. Heck, just in the past couple months, he’s even managed to avoid contract impasses during the summer by locking up key free-agents-to-be Pekka Rinne and Marcel Goc early.

But, again, when it comes to addressing the Preds’ biggest need, he can’t seem to get the job done.

So, with that in mind, we take a look back at players that could be wearing a Nashville sweater this season but, for whatever reason, aren’t.

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Phil Kessel
RW – Toronto Maple Leafs
It was no secret: the Predators were one of the finalists in the Phil Kessel sweepstakes this past fall. Both Nashville and Toronto were talking to the Boston Bruins and Kessel’s agent Wade Arnott in an attempt to acquire the 22-year phenom. The Maple Leafs won the sweeps by not only giving up a first and second round pick in the 2010 draft and a first round pick in the 2011 draft, but also by signing the Madison, Wisconsin native to a five-year deal worth $27 million; a cap-hit of $5.4 million/year.

It was known, even then, that Kessel wouldn’t be able to suit up for his new team until probably November as he was recovering from shoulder surgery. For a small market team like Nashville, it was going to be a high price to pay to not be able to see immediate dividends. Furthermore, what if the shoulder injury ended up being a nagging one? Then the cash-strapped Preds would’ve made an injury-prone player their highest paid player in franchise history.

Then the real reason surfaced.

The Bruins wanted Colin Wilson included in the deal and, naturally, Poile declined. Shortly afterward, the trade call came into Leafs headquarters.

Kessel made his Maple Leafs debut on November 3 and he wasted no time bursting onto the Canadian scene. In his first game, he failed to post a point but had an amazing 10 shots on goal. Then he went on a tear, putting up eight points in his next six games wearing the Leaf on his chest. Kessel leads his new team in goals (22) and is second in points (42), all despite missing a month at the beginning of the season. His 42 points would lead the Preds in scoring and, considering there’s more talent in Nashville than there is in Toronto, his production might even be greater than that.

A scary proposition that the Predators missed out on.

Alex Tanguay
LW - Tampa Bay Lightning
He’s been a point-per-game scorer in his career but those days were apparently left in Colorado. Left winger Alex Tanguay was rumored to become a Pred during the summer but, as fans in Nashville have grown accustomed to hearing, they just missed out at the last minute. Tanguay chose to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a modest one-year, $2.5 million deal, partnering him with fellow point-per-game players Vincent Lacavalier, Martin St. Louis and, now, Steven Stamkos.

After all, if you want to get back to producing, you surround yourself with talent, right?

Unfortunately for Tampa, the partnership hasn’t generated a career revival for Tanguay. The 30-year old Tanguay has just 34 points in 63 games, including just nine goals. He’s on pace for his worst season statistically since 2001-02 when he amassed 48 points in 70 games in his second season with the Avalanche.

Now, surely, at $2.5 million for only one year, Tanguay’s numbers would be welcome in Nashville, especially considering David Legwand makes $4.5 million and only has one more goal than Tanguay (and one less point). But, let’s be honest, if Poile had’ve signed Tanguay, he would’ve been looked to to solve the scoring problem in Middle Tennessee and we know now that it would’ve been a disaster. As we wrote back in July, bringing in an inconsistent scorer with a history of minor injuries to try and solve the scoring problem would just be a bad idea all around.

All that being said, compared to other players’ salaries and production, signing Tanguay wouldn’t have been a failure at all. From a PR-standpoint, however, it would have been a train wreck.

Maxim Afinogenov
RW - Atlanta Thrashers
Despite being a former 70 point scorer, Maxim Afinogenov was constantly in Lindy Ruff’s dog house in Buffalo. He wore out his welcome and the Sabres didn’t opt to re-sign him this summer. We at section303.com were preaching to anyone who would listen that the Predators should take a flier on this guy who can raise fans out of their seats every time he touches the puck. Nashville hasn’t had a guy like that since Alexander Radulov and, an argument could be made, he jumped ship just before becoming that kind of exciting player.

So there Afinogenov was. An affordable, exciting player. Out on the open market. Looking for a team to take interest. Only Atlanta did and offered him a try-out contract. Not during training camp, mind you, but as late as the pre-season, meaning he was available for over two months. All he’s done this year is go out and return to his former self, netting 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points in 64 games. His 50 points would not only lead the Preds, but would be 10 points more than the current leader, Martin Erat. Secondly, his 20 goals would trail only Patric Hornqvist (23) for the most in Music City.

And for those nay-sayers who want to bring up the Ilya Kovalchuk argument, Afinogenov hasn’t missed a step since the all-world sniper left Atlanta. He has six points in his last eight games.

Oh, and did we mention he’s doing all that for only $800,000?

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Regardless of which of those three players you’d rather have in a Nashville sweater, it’s very apparent that Poile and the Preds have dropped the ball when it comes to addressing the biggest need this team has faced for the past three seasons: a scoring winger. Scoring by committee is great (Preds have eight players with 30 or more points, and Ryan Suter at 29) but, when you need someone to step up when the team is struggling, you look to your go-to guy. Well, Nashville doesn’t have a go-to guy and that’s only going to come back to bite them come playoff time.

Assuming they make the playoffs.

3 Comments

  1. Codey Holland

    March 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    For the sake of “What If”, Vaclav Prospal.

  2. lethargic

    March 8, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I nominte Alexei Ponikarovsky. Size, scoring, left wing. Three things this team is desperate for.

    Out of those three, Kessel might end up being the biggest regret if Wilson ends up being plagued by groin issues his entire career. Right now the worst is probably Maxim. To pretend we couldn’t use that production at that price is insane.

    I also wonder if it’s fair to say what Tanguay is doing in TB means he would be a disaster in Nashville. He’s on a pretty stacked offensive team there. Is he the first option there? Or the second, third or fourth? I would think that on the Preds he’d be the focal point on offense and looked at as the number one offensive threat. Here he’d be playing with a bunch of guys who seem terrified to shoot the puck. If all he did was shoot the puck every time one of those guys passed it to him he’d probably triple his numbers.

    • Jeremy K. Gover

      March 8, 2010 at 3:09 pm

      That’s actually a good point, lethargic. Like Goc, who came from a top-heavy Sharks team, he might shine more were he to be a go-to guy elsewhere. Didn’t think of it like that.