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Predators sign defenseman Francis Bouillon…

If you were thinking the Nashville Predators were going to become the first team in NHL history to dress six “home-grown” defensemen, think again.

According to RDS and John Glennon’s article in the Tennessean, the Predators have signed veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon to a one year contract worth $750,000.  The team has made no official announcement and are not expected to until tomorrow.

Although it’d be an obscure reference, Predators fans might actually recognize his name. He played four games in a Nashville sweater back in 2002 after being claimed off waivers from Montreal. After just enough time to deem it a cameo appearance in Music City (21 days), the 5 foot 8 inch defenseman was then re-acquired by the Canadiens on October 25, 2002 after he was put on waivers yet again, this time by Nashville.

The 33-year old undersized blueliner brings an element of veteran experience to a defense corps that isn’t exactly rich with NHL resumes. Before the signing, Dan Hamhuis led all Predator defensemen with five years experience. Bouillon joins the roster toting 10 seasons behind him, incuding a season in Sweden during the lockout year of 2004-05.

While the words “scoring winger” were on the top of Nashville’s wish list this off-season, the term “veteran blueliner” was found just below that. Names like Chris Chelios and Jay McKee were thrown around as possible replacements for the departed Greg deVries. General Manager David Poile went off the board and picked up the relatively familiar face of Bouillon instead.

But what does that addition do to the Preds current depth chart? Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Hamhuis and Kevin Klein are the shoo-ins while rookies Cody Franson, Jonathon Blum, Alexander Sulzer, Teemu Laakso are fighting it out for the final two or three spots.

“I think it puts him in that four and half spot,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “Sometimes he’ll probably be a (number) four and sometimes five.”

Upon hearing of the signing, blogger Brandon Felder projected there’s a domino effect at play here. Instead of having three spots up for grabs, now there’s only two, at best. The Predators could still carry just six defenseman and that would translate to a mere one open spot. Based on all of that, it appears as if the defensive pairings will be as such: Weber-Suter, Hamhuis-Klein and Bouillon-Sulzer/Laakso.

Or will they?

“Obviously we’d like to see Kevin Klein grab that fourth spot but, if that doesn’t happen, Frank’s been a number four for years,” Trotz said. “If Kevin grabs the ball and really performs and Frank’s five, we’re in great shape. If Kevin doesn’t and Frank’s four, we’re in great shape.”

Casting some doubt in Klein ever being a top four d-man, huh coach?

Despite being as tall as Steve Sullivan, Bouillon brings a level of aggressiveness and intensity to the table. He’s not afraid to hit anybody and he’s not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary. If he were to be paired with Hamhuis, one of the best hip checkers in the league, not too many players are going to be using the boards when entering the Preds defensive zone.

He might not only be altering the defensive depth chart, however. With the physical nature he brings to the team, how do the likes of Jordin Tootoo and Wade Belak fit in? Are their roles now diminished? Let’s face it, with Bouillon in the lineup, is Tootoo’s grit needed as much? Is Belak needed at all? 

And what about the defense? Other than what Trotz brought up about Klein, what did the organization see in their young defensemen that they didn’t like? Just last week they made a point to say that they didn’t need to bring in a veteran. What changed their minds? Who’s not living up to their expectations in camp? Is this a preemptive transaction so another one can be made in the future? Is there a trade on the horizon that might cost the Preds one of their defensive prospects? When signing a player of this ilk, it raises a lot of questions.

Predator fans will be eager to hear answers to those questions and, of course, see Bouillon don a Nashville sweater – for the second time – on Saturday night. 

Bouillon is the son of a French-Canadian mother and a Haitian father but is actually American-born. Short of the four games he played for Nashville, he’s spent his entire NHL career in Montreal. He’s been to the post season four times and also represented the United States in the 2003 World Championships.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images North America