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The genius that is David Poile…

Just two weeks ago, the Nashville Predators top line center was a 35-year old with a $4.5 million salary, with a no trade clause, who was compiling a history of concussions and who had a reputation for playing hard only when he wanted to.

After a few trades and a free agent signing, General Manager David Poile has transformed that top line center into a 28-year old, up-and-coming, hard working and fast skating center, a 22-year old right wing prospect, a second round pick and $1 million in annual savings.

Not bad for two weeks work, eh?

On the afternoon of June 19, Preds captain Jason Arnott was shipped back to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Matt Halischuk and a 2011 pick. Then, on July 2, Poile inked former Phoenix Coyotes center Matthew Lombardi to a three-year, $10.5 million deal.

The pros: Lombardi is just entering his prime at 28-years old. On top of that, he’s one of the fastest skaters in the league, he’s a hard worker, he’s a solid two-way player and should immediately help the putrid Nashville power play that ranked 24th in the NHL last season.

The cons: With Arnott gone, it appeared as if the logjam at center had been unclogged. David Legwand, Colin Wilson, Marcel Goc and Cal O’Reilly were set to center the four lines in Music City while Jerred Smithson and Nick Spaling would more than likely play wing and/or center on the penalty kill units. Instead, with the addition of Lombardi, Legwand, Wilson and Goc look to round out the top four lines with Smithson, Spaling and O’Reilly being the victims of a numbers game. Who gets left out? Is Smithson traded? Is Spaling sent back to the Milwaukee Admirals despite his tremendous work ethic and stellar penalty killing? Is O’Reilly this year’s perma-scratch like he was at the end of last season.

And then there’s also the concern about Lombardi’s salary. Is this deja-vu for Preds fans who saw both Legwand and Erat have career seasons in their contract years then turn around and sign long-term, $4.5 million/year deals before disappearing? Sure, they’re not terrible players by any means but they don’t exactly earn their $4.5 million cap hits, let alone their no-trade clauses. Lombardi could be in the same boat. He’s only had one 50-point season in his six-year NHL career and, oh hey look, it was last year. Secondly, Nashville needs goal scoring. He only has one 20-goal season and that was back in 2006-07 when two guys named Jerome Iginla and Alex Tanguay were his linemates.

But, let’s just say the Montreal native tallies just 50 points this year. Is that so bad? It’s not exactly what Preds fans are hoping for but it’s better than the alternative. The alternative was Arnott – who made $1 million more – who only scored 46 points last season. Also remember that Legwand – who makes $1 million more – only scored 38 points. And remember that Erat – who makes $1 million more – only scored 49 points.

In short, compared to the top paid Nashville forwards, Lombardi is a steal, even if he maintains his recent production.

Point, David Poile.

Now let’s talk about Dan Ellis. A fan favorite in Music City who has moved onto the Tampa Bay Lightning via free agency. But his signing in the state of Florida didn’t come before Poile traded his negotiating rights to the Montreal Canadiens (with Dustin Boyd‘s rights as well) for right winger Sergei Kostitsyn.

Kostitsyn is a restricted free agent that hasn’t signed with Nashville as of yet but he has been in contact with the Predators and, according to Poile on the Thom Abraham Show this past Friday, conversations have been positive. While he hasn’t exactly lit it up in the NHL, the 23-year old shows plenty of offensive potential. He posted an amazing 131 points one year in junior and then, more recently, led his countrymen at the past Olympics with five points in four games for Belarus.

Surprisingly, his production in the Winter Games, and not his 131 point season in junior, best proves that potential. The Olympics are games against other professional hockey players and not under-sized, yet-to-fill-out 17 and 18-year olds. Add to that, Belarus had only four NHL players on their roster and, therefore, wasn’t exactly a favorite. On one of the worst teams in Vancouver, Kostitsyn still scored at better than a point-per-game clip and actually finished the tournament with a plus-2 rating. Also, he was third among Belarussian forwards in total ice time.

The Predators are getting that kind of potential in exchange for a center who had a poor audition in a Preds sweater and a back-up goalie who wasn’t going to re-sign in Nashville anyway?

Point, David Poile.

And what about that highly-coveted guy named Dan Hamhuis? The Predators and Hamhuis “weren’t anywhere close” as far as contract negotiations went so Poile “pulled a Poile” by sending his exclusive negotiating rights to the Philadelphia Flyers. Nashville got their own 2005 first round pick Ryan Parent back in return; a guy that had under achieved in the Flyers system to say the least.

If you recall, a deal was on the table at the trade deadline this past March that saw Hamhuis going to Philadelphia in exchange for Parent among other related assets. Not only did Poile roll the dice by keeping Hamhuis in Music City for the playoff run and then, eventually, the playoffs, but he was still able to get Parent even after retaining Hamhuis’ services for the rest of the year.

The best part? The Preds sent a conditional seventh round pick in 2011 to the Flyers along with Hamhuis. The condition? They’d only get the pick if Philadelphia wasn’t able to sign him. Well, just moments after the first round of the NHL Draft ended on Friday, June 25, Hamhuis’ rights were dealt again, this time to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Apparently the Flyers “weren’t anywhere close” either and so they shipped him across the state of Pennsylvania, which, in turn, meant Nashville wasn’t even out a draft choice.

(And, if you’re doubting how important a seventh round draft choice is, consider this: Nashville’s leading goal scorer in 2009-10 was Patric Hornqvist. “Horn Dog” was drafted 230th overall in 2005, which makes him – you guessed it – a seventh round draft choice.)

So, in summary, Poile was able to keep Hamhuis in town for the playoff run, still got the Flyers roster player he wanted and didn’t lose a draft pick.

Point, David Poile.

Whoever thought getting something out of nothing was impossible never met Poile. He turned, in total, three players that weren’t going to re-sign in Nashville anyway into two (potential) roster players and then upgraded the top center position by shaving off seven years of age and $1 million annually.

Head Coach Barry Trotz, all of a sudden it seems like, has three lines he can roll that can produce offense. Assuming Hornqvist re-signs and a deal gets finalized with Kostitsyn, the 2010-11 Nashville forward lines should look something like this:

Steve Sullivan– Wilson – Hornqvist
Kostitsyn – Lombardi – Erat
JP Dumont– Legwand – Jonas Andersson
Jordin Tootoo– Goc/Smithson – Joel Ward

The talented O’Reilly would be relegated, once again, to perma-scratch duty and Spaling would be sent to Milwaukee and assume the front of the “recall” line. And, if those two valuable guys are forced out of the equation, the Preds appear to be in great shape.

Game, set and match, David Poile.