Friday, July 1, 2011

Predators Part Ways, Stand Pat in Free Agent Frenzy

The first day of the NHL free agency period has been described as a "frenzy". In looking at some of the deals that were consummated today, a more apt description might be "foolishness".

In the foolishness, uh, frenzy, of the first day of free agency, the Nashville Predators did......wait for it.....


And that is not a bad thing.

The Predators did lose some unrestricted free agents, players that had been an integral part of last season's team. Marcel Goc, Joel Ward, and Steve Sullivan were all signed by other teams on this first day of free agency.

Watching players go out the door and seeing no splashy signings occur is frustrating to the fans, but why don't we pause for a moment and assess what has happened today and how the Predators can still be successful in free agency.

There are several considerations to keep in mind:

There is a general feeling that many of these contracts signed today were divorced from the reality of the player's performance. Specifically, many general managers overpaid for players such as Ville Leino, Joel Ward, and Thomas Fleischmann, to name a few. This is not a criticism of those specific players, but these contracts are representative of GM's that had money to spend and are banking on players to continue to improve their performance and have rewarded a solid season or playoff campaign.

If you ask me to explain how experienced GM's get caught up in the frenzy of overpaying for a player, well, I am at a loss to do so. Perhaps some GM's feel the pressure to do something (Imma lookin at you, Scott Howson) to keep their job. They certainly were filling a roster need. When you overpay as many of the GM's did today, there is, however, a disconnect between performance and payment. And this can be a conceit of a GM and his team- believing that his coach or his system can squeeze even more out of a player than his former coach. Yes, we all know of players that have benefited from a change of scenery, but a change of scenery at an inflated salary makes no sense.

There is also the particular case of the Florida Panthers, who were so far below the salary floor that they had to spend an enormous amount  of cash to get to the floor. The Panthers skewed the market by virtue of having to pay for players to get closer to the floor. They were willing to take on contracts (Brian Campbell) and pay above market rates for players (Thomas Fleischmann), and their actions no doubt had an influence on the market for contracts on this first day.

Predators GM David Poile is chided and often criticized for "doing nothing" during free agency, especially early on in the process. I don't believe for a moment that Poile doesn't work the phones and attempted to get a deal done, but Poile is going to do a deal at the right price. Part of that is the self imposed budget of the team, but credit has to be given to Poile for being savvy enough to be a good judge of talent and what that talent is reasonably worth. His peers operate with different salary constraints and different team needs, which can (and did this free agent period- see: Florida) skew offers to the FA's.

Another consideration is organizational depth. As Predator fans, we are grateful for and we have cheered the development of our young players. This past season, we relied heavily on those players to step into key roles in the regular season and the playoffs. The advent of free agency doesn't mean that our young talent has disappeared or has had a setback in their development. One of the strengths of the Predator organization is the depth and improving talent in our system. Many teams have significant holes in their system or feel they need that one special player to get them to the Cup, and they attempt to plug those holes through free agency. That is part and parcel of the frenzy that is free agency, and perhaps indicative of a weakness in a team's farm system. All of us agree that the Predators could use more consistent scoring, but is it better to develop that scoring or attempt to buy it?

This brings us to where the Predators are right now. This team, if nothing else, is consistent in embracing their philosophy of the "Predator Way". That philosophy has been to draft well and develop players, and when the time is right, give them an opportunity to shine. As mentioned, we saw some younger players thrust into key roles this past season, and they performed admirably. It is obvious that they have to improve, that their game has to make a jump to the next level for this team to continue to be successful.

This also means that the Predators have to have existing players on whom they depend perform to expectations. It is imperative that the guys that are the core of this team have to produce; that is why they have the contracts they do. This is another obvious point, but it is one that the Predator nation needs to keep in mind. It is easy to be enamored with another team's forward and fall in love with their production. What we have to keep in mind is that we have players that have the ability to perform at the level of any of the free agents that were signed today to unreal contracts. This puts the onus to produce on the core of the Predators roster.

Were the Predators going to deviate from that philosophy today? Only if the right player to fill a need was available at the right price. Were those players available- at the right price?


That doesn't mean that the Predators will not still be active. However, it will be on their terms; a player that can fill a need and at the right price.

Here is a bit of coach speak: you dance with who brung ya.

And the Predators are going to be dancing with with their core players and developing young talent.

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