Tuesday, February 28, 2006 

Trade Deadline Preview

The NHL is back from the Olympic Break, and with the NHL comes roster changes. Already, Scottie Upshall and David Legwand have been recalled, and Shea Weber has not been returned, so there have been changes on the Admirals roster already, and the NHL has yet to pick up a puck. The trading freeze was lifted at midnight, and so begins the last frantic rush to the Trade Deadline on March 9.

The recall of Legwand creates a log jam at center in Nashville, which leads one to believe that some moves are forthcoming. As hockey fans, we like to speculate over who may or may not be moved, and who may or may not be coming to Nashville/Milwaukee as a result. While I will not speculate as to who we might acquire here in this article, I thought it might be interesting to speculate who might be gone from Milwaukee, or even Nashville, and how that would through trickle down affect Milwaukee. Unlike my normal articles, this one is going to be more subjective and opinion than journalistic fact.

With that disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to look at some names.

Starting in Nashville two name spring to mind as potential movers prior to the deadline, especially when one takes into account the comment that Predators’ GM David Poile said that the next trade wouldn’t be as painless as the Timofei Shishkanov for Mike Sillinger deal: David Legwand and Martin Erat.

Legwand is a former first round draft pick, in fact Nashville’s first ever draft pick. However, he has never truly lived up to the hype that surrounded that position. And to be honest, it’s not really his fault. He’s never shown the offensive flair that was attributed to him, yet has been a very solid two-way center known more for his defense than his offense. His three games in Milwaukee on the reconditioning assignment showed that he wasn’t yet fully rehabbed from his knee injury, and wasn’t at 100% or even close. What it also showed was that his heart is as big as ever it was. With a swollen knee, and the opportunity to sit out Sunday’s game as he knew it would be his last in Milwaukee, he chose to play because it was the best thing for the team. Perhaps, a change of scenery would be a good thing for Legwand. A place where he can go without the heavy expectations placed on him in Nashville could help rejuvenate his career image from the point of view of the fans. In the new NHL, Legwand’s ability to play defense and speed are good assets that would make him marketable. The play of Scott Nichol, Yanic Perrault, Vernon Fiddler, and Jared Smithson in his absence has made a serious logjam when you also take into account team captain Greg Johnson. Nichol and Perrault were both free agent signings prior to the season, so it’s not likely that either would be excessively likely to be moved. Nichol has been hurt a large part of the season, like Legwand, and is known primarily as a gritty forward. Perrault, conversely, has shown an offensive flair and is known throughout the NHL for his skill at winning face-offs, which is a key skill in the new NHL. Thus, it is doubtful that Perrault would be moved for anything less than a huge deal.

Fiddler and Smithson have both opened eyes in Nashville and earned spots on the ice regularly, but also have the ability to be sent back down. This does leave a non-trade related out if the Predators need it, though a trade would seem more likely. Nashville needs one or two players to make a push to the next level, to win against the elite teams more consistently, and to be able to handle the long haul of the NHL Playoffs.

Martin Erat is the last remaining member of Nashville’s Vowel Line. He also won a Bronze medal in the 2006 Olympics, having a big game against Russia with a goal and an assist. Erat is fast, fiery, and shifty. He is known more for his offensive flair than his defense. He also has a history of streaks and sometimes has been rumored to be problematic in motivation. He’s never really exploded the way people have expected. This creates the potential, much like Legwand, to be moved. His play in Italy may raise his stock as well, as he played very well in a clutch game. Another team might be interested in him to replace a player that Nashville covets. Also, Erat has a near clone in Milwaukee: Simon Gamache. Gamache, like Erat, is fiery, fast and shifty. He is also known almost exclusively for his offense, and not his defensive prowess. Gamache is a player that likely has no trade value currently, as he was on waivers twice, and only claimed by two teams, both of which had also waived him: Nashville and St. Louis. While the fact that no other team claimed him likely is very difficult for Gamache and his fiery disposition, it may tip the scales in his favor in Nashville. Recalling him might not be a bad move to replace a guy like an Erat, who he matches up with well skill-wise.

Moving to Milwaukee, the list of players who are likely in their last season here grows. However, unlike some of the players who are likely to be gone at the end of the season due to contracts expiring, some are more likely than others to be moved.

One player whose value is likely never to be higher is Libor Pivko. Libor has always been seen as “one step away” or as the player “closest to being in the NHL” it seems. After the 2004 Calder Cup Championship Season, he was practically penciled in to play in Nashville the following year. However, the NHL Lockout lost that season. Pivko did not have a breakthrough season in the AHL however, and some questioned his desire and fire. This season, after a look in training camp, Libor has displayed a good assist side to his game, and has played very well as a point man on the power play. Unlike Gamache and Erat, Pivko is strong defensively, and plays extensively on the penalty kill. Prior to this season, the defensive side of his game was his primary claim to fame. However, during the Calder Cup run, he did show the ability to put the puck on net with some regularity. This gives him intriguing possibilities for a team building for the future.

Brandon Segal is another player who is quietly having a good solid year for Milwaukee. Unlike some of the more offensive players in the system, Segal brings something that falls under the category of “intangibles” to the rink: heart. This young man hits well, passes well, and unlike most so-called “Bangers” skates well. He also plays responsibly in both ends. He has shown the ability to score, just not prolifically.

Jordin Tootoo is another player who might be moved. He has a full season plus in the NHL, a reputation for fiery play and as an instigator. He also seems to not be progressing the way Nashville wishes him, and has been passed by Scottie Upshall in Nashville’s eyes. Tootoo brings energy and protection for a team’s star players. However, his offensive upside is limited. This would make him potentially more attractive to a team which is trying to build and improve than one who fears his sitting in the penalty box in the playoffs.

Greg Zanon is another player who has seemed to be caught in a numbers game in Nashville. A strong defensive player, and a solid part of the clubhouse, Milwaukee’s Captain is good enough to make the NHL. However, Nashville has a logjam on the blue line. With partner Kevin Kline in the wings, and Shea Weber in Nashville, he might be running out of places to move up. However, that doesn’t mean another team might not be interested. He has a great deal to offer a team not nearly as deep on the blue line as Nashville. He is reminiscent of another former Admiral and Predator defenseman, Karlis Skrastins, who now plays for Colorado. One Nashville traded.

Brian Finley has some intriguing possibilities as well. A former first round draft pick, he has been a solid net minder for the Admirals. However, he has lost some ground this season to Pekka Rinne, who has had a hot glove. Rinne was an AHL All-Star this year, and has seen a larger share of the games due to a number of minor injuries that have slowed Finley down. In their NHL trials earlier this season, Finley got shelled by Tampa Bay, while Rinne defeated Chicago, looking solid in doing so. While Tampa Bay is a stronger team than Chicago, it is possible that the two games and the fact that Rinne has seen a majority of the ice time in Milwaukee could hint at move for Finley. Another fact to consider, according to most experts, a number of NHL Goalies will be moved in the next two weeks. That means that there will be a need of goalies to replace them on teams that are out of the race. This would be a good opportunity for young net minder, such as Finley. While I find it less likely that Nashville would give up on Finley just yet as he has such great upside, it is an intriguing possibility that does need to be considered.

Lastly, team scoring leader Darren Haydar has to be considered. Darren is caught in an awkward situation, much like Gamache. There are too many players like him in Nashville. In Haydar’s case, the guys ahead of him are Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan, two of the top scorers in the NHL. It is a tough nut to crack for a rookie with 2 games of NHL experience. Unlike some of the other players from the 2004 Championship team, Haydar has shown that he has learned to play defensively, and has seen time on the power play. He also has played more physically, not shying away from hits and contact like most small players. His strength is still his offense, but the fact that he has worked on the other side of the game as hard as he has bodes well for his future. The fact that he is at the point in his career where he has to consider his options makes it a possibility that Nashville moves him to get something in return for him since they don’t seem to have a place for him at the next level at this time.

The next two weeks will be an exciting ride for players in the system, as already in the last three games 18 scouts were in attendance. That number is likely to increase as the deadline looms closer and teams are making their final decisions. Odds are, at least one or two players in the organization will be moved, perhaps more.