Monday, June 18, 2012

All In or All Over?

At the trade deadline, Nashville Predators GM David Poile pronounced to the hockey world that the Predators were "all in" in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup. Trading draft picks for trade deadline acquisitions and the successful completion of tortuous negotiations to bring Alexander Radulov back to the NHL were taken as proof that Poile had pushed his chips to the center of the table.

Perhaps the biggest move at that time was the move he did not make, and that was refusing to entertain offers for soon to be free agent defenseman Ryan Suter. Instead, Poile said that Suter was integral to a run for the Cup (he was), and every effort would be made to sign Suter to a long term contract. The ownership group of the Predators had committed the financial wherewithal to do just that and had given the go ahead to that effort.

Predators fans cheered the ballsy moves by Poile and the way he had positioned the team for a run at the Cup. Certainly there was risk in not maximizing a return to the team by trading Suter, but if the Predators and Poile were truly "all in" then keeping Suter on the roster was essential.

Fast forward to mid-June, and the Predators are without a Stanley Cup and a contract in hand from Suter, who has indicated that he is going to look at the offers that come his way in free agency on July 1.

Now, that push to go all in without getting Suter signed or trading him for other assets seems not ballsy, but foolish.

But was it?

There is no doubt that Suter is one of the best defensemen in the NHL, so trading Suter at the deadline would have certainly weakened the roster moving into the playoffs. Of course there would be player(s) coming back had Suter been traded, but trading Suter would have a far more lasting impact than just that transaction and the effect on the team in the playoffs, though.

Shea Weber- remember him?- is a restricted free agent this year, and one can only imagine how those negotiations are going to progress between his camp and Poile and the Predators. But you can count on this as sure as Shea's slap shot topping 100 mph, and that is that both he and his agent are watching closely to see not only how the negotiations with Suter progress, but if the Predators are committed to doing what it takes to bring a Cup to Nashville.

So what message does Weber take away from the Predators if his long time defense partner and vital cog to the team is traded away at the deadline? Or between the end of the season and the free agent deadline? I can't speak for Shea, but I would believe that it would make all talk of of commitment to capture a Cup sound hollow.

Suter said during the season that one criteria for any team of which he was going to be a member is that team had to be committed to winning a Cup. Part of that commitment has been demonstrated by several years of stable local ownership and the indication from the ownership that they were committed to spending the money necessary to get the players that could get a Cup to Nashville. The moves at the trade deadline to add players that potentially get the Predators the Cup was further affirmation of this commitment.

You had better believe that is one of the criteria that Weber will be using to make his decision as well.

And Poile knows that.

Arguably, signing Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter represents an inflection point for this franchise. Young talent will be developed and more importantly, retained is the message that is emphatically delivered. Rinne was the first step, and a significant one. Now the task for Poile is to get the two premier defensemen signed.

And if he is successful in that process, the  Predators become a "destination" franchise, one that will be attractive to other talented free agents. Nashville as a franchise is already highly marketable to prospective free agents as a place to live; signing Suter, and then Weber and legitimately competing for a Cup every season makes Nashville an even more attractive place for what happens on the ice. The ability to position Nashville as destination for talented free agents that want to win a Cup would have been severely damaged if Suter had been traded.

So is it all over for the Predators and Suter?

I don't think so.

There are a lot of attractive attributes to the Predators that appeal to Suter, not the least of which is that the team- with Suter on the roster- is a perennial playoff participant and is close to challenging for the Cup. Suter likes Nashville and is comfortable here off the ice. It is my belief that money, quality of life, and the potential to win a Cup are available in Nashville, and potential suitors will have to show that they are able to surpass his present situation to entice him to move.

I am not an apologist for Poile and his actions. I will be as upset as every Predator fan if Suter leaves the team, especially with no compensation coming back the other way. But the negotiations with Suter are one part of a larger dynamic. And if Poile had played it any other way, the opportunity to sign Suter this season would have been obviously lost, but it is my belief that so would the opportunity to sign Weber to a long term contract.

Certainly Poile can still trade Suter's rights to another team. At this time, there is no indication that he will. His stated belief is that the Predators still have a very good chance of signing Suter.

So while it may have been "all in" in their quest for the Cup, Poile and the Predators are playing another high stakes game in going to the deadline with Ryan Suter.

And it is hoped that David Poile has played his cards well.

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