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Why Jokinen or Spezza make sense… And why they don't…

We are now 48 hours from the NHL Trade Deadline. Thanks to a 10-4-1 February, the Nashville Predators find themselves as buyers and there are plenty of players who could help this team not only get into the playoffs, but also get past the opening round for the first time in franchise history.

There are plenty of right wings available like Nik Antropov, Colby Armstrong and even former Pred Scottie Upshall that could come in and address a need at wing immediately. All three possess a threat to score but they’d only have minor impact (with the exception of Antropov who just might need a change of scenary). So, to truly find a player that’ll put you over the top, a little “outside the box” thinking is required.

Two names any team would love to have on the back of their sweater are Phoenix Coyotes alternate captain Olli Jokinen and the Ottawa Senators’ Jason Spezza. The only problem is they’re both centers and the Preds already have two top line centers. If you bring in a center of Jokinen or Spezza’s talent level, does Jason Arnott or David Legwand get demoted?

Do both of them?

Both Jokinen and Spezza present pro’s and con’s. With Jokinen, he only makes $5.25 million/year but is also a 10-year veteran who’s never been to the playoffs. If you’re Poile, you certainly want your top paid player to come through in the post season but, with Jokinen, there’s no clutch-performance track record. Spezza, on the other hand, is a point-per-game guy, even in the playoffs, but carries a much larger price tag at $7 million per.

That hefty price tag may scare some people but, if you really look at what he brings to the table, it’s the only real downside. At 25 years old, he’s in the prime of his career. He would instantly bring a scoring threat to a roster that has struggled to score this season, and he’s under contract through the 2014-15 season which would please Predators GM David Poile considering he doesn’t like rental players.

On the flip-side, Jokinen is also an attractive pick-up but for different reasons. His $5.25 million/year contract is more in line with what’s already on the Nashville books (Arnott, Martin Erat and Legwand are the top paid Preds at $4.5 million/year) and he also wouldn’t be a rental player as he’s under contract thru next year. Add all that to the fact that he’s never been on a team that’s made the playoffs so, one would think, he’d play out of his mind if ever given the chance to skate in the post season tournament.

Here’s where the “outside the box” thinking comes in: What do you do with the existing roster? Not just who/what do you give up to a bring in a player of Jokinen or Spezza’s ability, but how do you rearrange the lineup once the deal’s been done?

First, who’s available to give up in a trade? Let’s break down the Preds situation right now. Arnott, Dumont and Legwand have no-trade clauses so they’re out. Radek Bonk will garner some interest but seeing as how he’s the best  faceoff guy in the league (minimum 600 draws) you want to keep him unless it’s a deal breaker. Obviously Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are untouchable as Poile locked them up for years to come and they’re the long-term foundation of the defense corps. As much as you’d love to get something for Dan Ellis, Phoenix doesn’t need a goalie and while Ottawa does, if you’re the Preds, you need someone reliable between the pipes if Rinne goes down.

It’s only natural to assume both Ottawa and Phoenix would want to upgrade (and get younger) on defense while they rebuild so that leaves the usual suspects: Ville Koistinen, Kevin Klein and Dan Hamhuis. (It should be noted that, unless the Coyotes or the Senators are able to sign him to an extension, Koistinen would not help them long term as he’s an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.)

Also, you need to make some room in the top six in order to accomodate bringing in Jokinen or Spezza, not to mention clear some cap space. Erat’s inconsistent play this season, and lack of a no-trade clause, makes him a prime candidate to be moved. Furthermore, his $4.5 million/year added to that of Hamhuis’s $2 million/year, would free up just enough cap space to bring in Spezza and break even. Thus, the best looking deal here is Erat and Hamhuis to Ottawa for Spezza with Erat or Hamhuis and a high draft pick for Jokinen being the pretty nice consolation prize.

Whether Poile decides to pull the trigger on a deal for one of these two elite players or not, the Predators finally look destined to make the playoffs this season. They’re playing their best hockey of the year, they’ve shown they can hang with and beat the top three teams in the league (Boston, San Jose and Detroit) and they’re even getting elite-calibur goaltending from rookie Pekka Rinne. While it would be crazy to suggest that they’re a single piece away from a serious Cup run (like in 2004 when Forsberg seemed to be the missing piece), it’s very possible that they’re one or two pieces away from a second-round appearance. Given the history of the franchise fizzling out in the first round, a conference semi-final appearance would be huge not only for this team, but for the city.

So, in short, why do Jokinen or Spezza make sense for the Predators? They’re elite players, they average a point-per-game throughout their careers, and they come without the fear of the “rental player” tag.

Why they don’t? At least one solid roster player would undoubtedly be shipped out, their price tags are “high” and “even higher,” and they come with the fear of not having the “rental player” tag.

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