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Razor's Edge: How the Predators stay so competitive

Ray Ferraro
3/22/2010 2:37:38 PM
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One of these days, I hope the Nashville Predators get a near-salary cap budget to work with.

Every year, they cobble together their club, lose another player to a bigger payday elsewhere (Alexander Radulov), draft well (it's often a defenceman), get excellent goaltending and are a total pain in the tail to play against. It seems as though no one can quite take them seriously enough, yet year after year Barry Trotz and his excellent staff guide their team with a realistic, "this is who we are" approach.

Their leading scorer is Martin Erat and he has 48 points. Patric Hornqvist has been a revelation with 28 goals, but they know they can't run and gun, but can score enough, and they lead the NHL with nine players that have 30-plus points. Not enough to overwhelm you, but enough to get the job done. I asked a coach this week if he thought Nashville would fold at all down the stretch, and he said, "not a chance, they play too solidly all over the ice." I have always loved the underdog, as I felt I was one when I played, and I love the spunk the Preds play with.

What Nashville does year after year - from GM David Poile, to assistant general manager Paul Fenton, to Barry Trotz - is remarkable. They also have one other thing going for them. The players they select and trade for are generally hard workers and quality people. If they can just give a former No. 1 draft pick David Legwand directions to the opponents net, that might help. He hasn't scored a goal in 31 games.

I wrote back in October, after Ryan Kesler had nine points in his first 10 games, that the Canucks were eventually going to have to include him in their core group as they look towards the future. I felt that his contract would be less than Mike Richards and north of David Krejci. That's where Kesler's contract eventually came in at, and a player who has built his game to be an almost perfect No. 2 centre is justly rewarded. In the last three years, his points have gone from 37 to 59 to 66 - and he has done that without sacrificing his role of handling the opposition's top offensive line. The one area that has seen the biggest increase has been his power play time, and as a result he has a career high 12 power play goals.

Kesler has a deceptive release and will shoot off the half wall on either side. Most players don't shoot with their stick on the board side on the power play from the half wall, but Kesler is not shy to let it go from the top of the circle. Some have suggested that $5 million is too high for Kesler, but you have to look at the total of what is available and how each team balances the total. Add Kesler's $5 million per year cap hit to Alex Burrows' $2 million cap hit and it's easy to see that a combined $3.5 million for the next three years for these two players alone leaves Vancouver in good shape. I am still a little unsure about Vancouver's defence, in particular without Willie Mitchell, and that was illustrated in giving up 54 shots to the Red Wings in the OT loss Saturday. But with Daniel Sedin scoring his 20th goal, the Canucks have six players with 20 goals and might be able to outscore a few problems in the playoffs.

Razor Cuts

1) 600 goals for Teemu Selanne - congrats! He looked just about done after a terrible one-year stint in Colorado in 2003-04. He was a step slower and didn't have that jump that helped him be so dangerous offensively. Then a funny thing happened - the lockout. He had knee surgery, took a year to rehab and hasn't looked back. Since the lockout ended, Selanne has 147 goals in 298 games. For a guy who never seems like he has a bad day, he is one step closer to an inevitable Hall of Fame plaque. He's a competitor, a gentleman and a winner.

2) After watching the Rangers play Sunday afternoon, it is hard to believe they can make up ground to become the eighth seed in the East. Their centre ice position is a mess, with waiver pick-up Erik Christensen playing on their top line. No disrespect, but that can't be a solution. The only reason acquiring Olli Jokinen was a good idea is that his contract is up at the end of the year and they unloaded Ales Kotalik's $3 million cap hit for the next two seasons. They have overpaid Chris Drury, who is best in a support role, not clogging the cap with a $7 million hit. Of course, no Ranger overview could be complete without the required shake of the head at Wade Redden's $6.5 million hit for the next four years. They clearly are going to have to chew that deal if they want to take a step forward any time soon.

3) The Leafs had a pretty scary charter flight last week, where they were bounced all over the place and the players were shaken up a bit. That reminded me of a flight we had when I was playing in L.A. As we were going through a really bouncy stretch, Eddie Olcyzk, who was terrified of flying at the best of times, kept fidgeting, changing seats and re-tightening his seat belt - all the while sweating through his blue dress shirt. Just to make him more nervous, Kevin Stevens was telling him that no matter how tight that belt was, it wasn't going to help him unless the pilot landed the plane. Eddie didn't find this funny, but everyone else did. Gallows humor is awesome after the fact and we couldn't stop giggling at Eddie every time we hit turbulence after that.

Fan Mail

Hey Razor,

Just wondering your thoughts on the Norris this year? I've got a young group of Doughty, Keith and Green with Green taking home the hardware. Keep up the good work, It's a pleasure listening to you between boards.

Curt K - North Bay

An interesting race this year, mainly because the winner will be young and a first timer. Even though I didn't have him on my Olympic team, I am going to pick Mike Green. His offensive numbers are just too significant to ignore and his team is running roughshod over the Eastern Conference.

Hi Ray,

The Hockey News' Future Watch issue has just come out and has a great article on AHL teams and their role in developing professional hockey players. My question is about the different AHL teams. Who do you think has the best track record of building up their prospects and preparing them for the NHL game? I'm a huge Oilers fan and very excited about the prospects that the Oilers have coming. My biggest fear is that they are going to rush them into the line up. As much as I'd love to see Eberle/Svenson and this year's draft pick in an Oilers jersey, I'd rather see them come in with a year of pro under their belts or as a call up that has been so good, he has no more to prove in the AHL. Thanks!

Rob - Yellowknife

I guess over the last decade, Detroit has been as productive as anyone at taking middle to low round picks, developing them, and having them play for their NHL team. I believe the theory of being patient with younger players generally pays off in the long run. It is tempting for clubs to get their kids into the NHL quickly, and a lack of patience spending time developing these players is evident with some teams. Of course there are always exceptions to this train thought, but most of the players who don't spend anytime in the minors are high end picks. The salary cap pressure can push a veteran out and shove a team closer to taking a younger, cheaper player more quickly and some teams feel they can develop their 18-year-olds better than a junior team. A cautionary look might be in Minnesota, who kept James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot before they were ready. Sheppard is still trying to find his way, and Pouliot of course was traded this winter. Because the Oilers are last, it is tempting to say that Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson should be in the NHL next year. Eberle will make the decision for the team. He will either be ready (skating and strength wise) or he won't be next September. The AHL experience he is getting now will certainly help. Paajarvi-Svensson will have to get out of his Swedish contract first, and then will still have to adjust to North American life and rink size. A bit of patience can't hurt.

Ray,

I do not like the shootout, but accept the fact that it will remain. What do you think of a points system that takes into account that a shootout win is not really a great win, and losing is not rewarded at all? I think the NHL should consider awarding two points for a regulation or OT win, one point for a shootout win and no points for any kind of loss. What do you think?

Dylan

I haven't loved the current point system and the governors are looking at how to make regulation wins more significant. I like a system with a three-point regulation win, two-point overtime/shootout win, and a single point for an overtime/shootout loss. This way, each game is worth the same number of points.

Hey Ray,

I was lucky enough to be at the gold medal game in Vancouver and thought the overtime period was spectacular (the entire tournament for that matter). I'd like to hear your thoughts regarding the NHL adopting 4-on-4 in OT during playoffs.

1. Are you in favour of 4-on-4 playoff OT?

2. Assuming 4-on-4 playoff OT reduces the amount of marathon OT sessions during the playoffs, would the NHL be able to secure better TV coverage in the USA?

3. What was the longest OT session you've ever played in during the playoffs?

Thanks from The Mighty Oil Will Rise Again

Love the signature. I do like 4 on 4 overtime, and would be in favor of it in the playoffs after one 20 minute 5-on-5 period. Long overtimes are killers for TV scheduling and assuming games might fit into a tighter schedule, that would be a bonus for carriers - particularly those that don't carry sports exclusively. The longest OT game I played was 35 minutes of overtime in the 1993 playoffs - one of three straight overtime wins for the Islanders over Washington. I scored the winner in Games 3 and 4 and had an assist on the winner in Game 2 - and would have loved all games to be shorter. But it never seems like a bad thing when you win!

Hi Ray,

We all knew it would take a while for the GMs to figure out the best 'recipe' for a team. Do you think the GMs have figured it out yet? Is it too soon to tell? Who's better off? A team like Chicago - with a lot of assets, but little room, or a team like Montreal, that faces a second consecutive off-season where it needs to re-sign 10 players? We are seeing long-term contracts lasting 12 years. Aren't these contracts going to come back to haunt GMs? When Zetterberg is 40 years old and still has over $5 million in cap hit, won't that be a problem?

Thanks

Teams are constantly "figuring out" what is the best way to manipulate their cap room. I am a little unsure about the long contracts, it is impossible, but a little predictable, to tell how effective a player will be in their late thirties. Most of these contracts are agreed to with the fact that very few players play at 39 or 40-years old. The length is a way - with declining payouts - to get the overall average salary cap ‘hit' a little more manageable. The contract has to be signed and in effect before the player is 35, so if he retires the cap hit goes away. So Zetterberg's money at that age won't be a factor if he retires. One thing we did see out of the lockout, having all kinds of cap room and a need to sign 10 players doesn't work very well. Boston tried it, and had disastrous results.

Hi Ray,

I was surprised by the NHL decision on two games for Ovechkin versus the four for Lapierre. I watched both games, felt they were identical in velocity, momentum and positioning and Lapierre was a first time offender where Ovechkin has run into a couple of problems in the past. The only difference I could come up with was one came after a goal while the other did not. Did the league believe the Lapierre hit was an intent to injure as retribution for the goal and the Ovechkin hit was not? Or was this a case of double standard? I am a Habs fan, but I love the game more and just wonder whether you see a rationale here that I cannot.

Thank You, Ted

It is hard to believe there isn't a double standard at times. From the volume of letters I got from Caps fans, they felt Ovechkin was wronged getting any games. The plays were very similar - the only difference in my mind was that Scott Nichol was going faster when Lapierre pushed him and in an even more vulnerable position than Brian Campbell was when Ovechkin pushed him. That said, I thought the suspension should have been four for Lapierre and three for Ovechkin and that was before Campbell's injury was diagnosed. I believe you have to suspend the act. If it is worthy of a suspension, it shouldn't matter if the player is hurt or not. If Campbell wasn't hurt, it shouldn't have mattered.

Dear Ray...

I must say I am shocked at your comment on your recent blog in reference to the Flyers on Bobby Orr. "Was to dump the puck into Bobby Orr's corner and then punish him when he went back to collect it. That's fine. That's the tough part of the game." That is clearly why the game lost its best player to early retirement. Bobby Orr was only 28 when he was forced to leave the game - that in itself is terrible. The best player in the history of the game and he's done at 28 ? There is something wrong with that, big time. And that is never really talked about. So why would anything change? Why do we accept this? Every four years we come out and witness great hockey at the Olympic Games and then revert back to this type of play. You guys in the media should be all over this. It is a joke. There was hope after the lockout but that is fading fast. Very disappointed...thank you for your time.

Danny

Shocked? Really? I am talking about one series - that isn't why Bobby retired. Bobby Orr was my idol - my favorite player on my favorite team. He retired at 28 for many reasons, not the least of which was surgical procedures and rehabilitation were no where near as advanced as they are today. Look at the old photos of Bobby after surgery. Leg in a cast, immobilized for weeks. I had an ACL replacement surgery this summer, and started rehab five days later. You have seen Bobby's commercial with the scars on his knees? I have 3 pinhole scars that you have to search for. It all is so much more advanced today. There is no question that Bobby took a lot of punishment and perhaps more could have been done to protect him, but I don't believe for a second that he wouldn't have played much longer with today's surgery-rehab. I cannot compare the Olympics to a regular season game. The players themselves will tell you a two-week tournament with the best players in the world can't be compared to the grind of a season that lasts six and a half months. If you want to compare apples to apples, watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.



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