How do you assemble a team into becoming Stanley Cup champions in the NHL today? The question every general manager strives to answer. There’s the being so bad and winning the lottery a couple of times method Chicago and Pittsburgh have used to their benefit. That’s the easiest way to add franchise players if the right prospect is at the top of the draft board.
Boston and Los Angeles have combined homegrown talent with good free agent signings and timely trades to capture the cup a few times between them. The fact is there isn’t a sure-fire strategy to becoming a perennial contender in the league. Tanking doesn’t work for everyone, (Hi, Edmonton) and the salary cap doesn’t allow any franchise to buy success on the ice.
The Predators have yet to win big in the postseason but currently deploy a contending lineup in a method that isn’t very common. Of the current top six forwards in Nashville, FOUR of them have been acquired via the trade market in the last three years. The same trade market that is much maligned for providing a lack in big moves and definitely not looked upon as a resource to build a team.
But that’s exactly what the Predators have accomplished. The most surprising part is all four players are still in their prime. Trades are predominantly made for players on the backside of their careers, but not in the curious case of Nashville. They’ve collected two 30 goal scorers in Neal and Forsberg, a top line All-star center with Ryan Johansen, and their current first line winger in Calle Jarnkrok for basically Seth Jones and Patric Hornqvist if we’re just counting productive NHL players.
The above situation is video game type stuff that defies logic. That’s not how it’s supposed to be done.
The forward group isn’t the only component of this team. The Predators have immensely benefited from being the best at drafting and developing defensemen in the league. That has kept them competitive for much of their existence and counteracted mediocre pedigree in forward drafting.
The best forward the Predators have EVER drafted and developed is perhaps Craig Smith. Arguments can be made for Alexander Radulov, Scott Hartnell, or Hornqvist but past those four guys is a big dropoff. For whatever reason, the team has an eye for defenders infinitely more than their forward counterpart.
That’s what makes the team’s current crop of young, talented players up front so much more unbelievable. Poile and the management group haven’t gone by the book to makes this team a contender right now and for the foreseeable future. In fact, they’re writing a new book.
This Predator blueprint isn’t likely to be repeated by another team or even Nashville themselves due to the rarity of the situation. Building through the draft and sprinkling in free agents with a traded player or two is still and will be the most consistent formula in a successful franchise, but the job the Predators front office has done to turn a huge negative in the lack of homegrown forward talent into a prosperous situation without dismantling the team has to be applauded.
The organization has filled the pipeline recently with exciting prospects that could very well buck the trend of relying on outside sources to score goals up front. If that comes to fruition, the sky’s the limit.
In an NHL climate that sees blockbuster trades come few and far between, Nashville has capitalized on constructing a successful team in a way no one could have foreseen. But hey, a flourishing professional hockey franchise in Nashville seemed unconventional, too.