The Predators had a crazy night. And it signified a true change in the direction of the franchise.
First, the Predators traded Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for James Neal. There were a few crazy moments on the Draft floor in Philadelphia, and twitter was abuzz over what was going on. But, in the end, Poile got the top six forward he was searching for.
Let’s look at the good in this trade. James Neal will easily be a top-line guy on the Predators. He has put up consistent production year-to-year. Despite only playing 59 games last season, Neal still put up 61 points. In 2011-2012, he put up 81 points (40 goals and 40 assists). Those kind of numbers have been hard to come by in Nashville. Also, Neal is 26 years old. He is a great young guy that can last in Nashville. Second, Nick Spaling was a pending Restricted Free Agent (RFA), and the Predators were unlikely to re-sign him anyway. They were able to ship him off instead of just letting him walk. Finally, Neal’s cap hit. He is signed through 2018 and has a $5 Million cap hit per year. That leaves $17 Million in cap space to re-sign RFAs and sign new players come July 1st. I would not think the Predators will sit on this acquisition and call it a day. But, more on that later.
Now, the potential downside to this trade. There are two big questions surrounding James Neal. Primarily, are his character issues going to affect him in Nashville? He is notorious for dirty plays and suspensions. Will that fly on his new team? James Neal is the kind of player that would be miserable under Barry Trotz. The fact that the Predators pulled the trigger on him is a sign of the change in the Predators organization. Secondly, will he be able to perform without Evgeni Malkin feeding him the puck? Many are concerned that much of his production is credited to the fact that he played with Malkin, who is quite possibly the best player in the NHL. Needless to say, he won’t have a guy like Malkin on his line in Nashville.
Patric Hornqvist was an integral part of this Predators team and a great player. He will certainly be missed in Nashville. When I first heard that Hornqvist was being moved in this trade, I was a little concerned. But, after reflecting on it, Hornqvist’s departure is not that bad. In trading, you have to give something to get something. And the benefit of Neal outweighed the benefit of Hornqvist. Also, Hornqvist does not have a ton of speed, and in order to succeed in Peter Laviolette’s system, speed is a nice thing to have.
One of the best things about this trade is that the Predators didn’t give up that No. 11 Overall Pick. They ended up using that pick to bolster the offense once more. The Predators picked the Swiss phenom Kevin Fiala at No. 11.
According to Hockeyprospect.com’s Black Book, Fiala was the 15th ranked prospect in the Draft. He has a wealth of offensive talent with a great blend of speed and skill, both qualities that fit well in Peter Laviolette’s system. He still has some developing to do. He has a small frame, so he needs to bulk up. He also has some turnover issues when he tries to do too much on the offensive end. He won’t be NHL-ready for this season. He will most likely play in the Swedish League for another year and continue to grow as a player. But, the sooner he comes to North America, the sooner he can work his way through Milwaukee and hopefully to Nashville.
So, in essence, the Predators picked up offense, and then more offense at the NHL Draft. So, what do they do next? Why, get even more offense, of course!
According to CapGeek, the Predators have $17M in cap space for this season. That’s $17M that could go to re-signing players like Michael Del Zotto or Ryan Ellis, and towards some more offensive talent. A top six forward like James Neal can only make Nashville a more lucrative destination. It is a message to potential free agents that this isn’t the same old Predators organization. Guys like Paul Stastny and Brad Richards will probably end up on bigger teams in bigger markets, but this Neal trade may prompt them to take a second look at Nashville. However, players like Mike Cammallieri, Radim Vrbata, Ales Hemsky, Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen, and Mikhail Grabovski have to be more interested in Nashville with a name like James Neal on the roster.
So, stay tuned Preds fans. Day 2 of the Draft will only bring more intrigue, and July 1st is going to be pure chaos. Let the madness begin.