Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Coming Home To An Empty House

The image to the left is that of Bridgestone Arena located in Nashville, Tennessee. There have been a number of good players who have called this arena home including Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Ryan Suter, Tomas Vokoun, and Jason Arnott. The recurring theme with these players are that they all left to go somewhere else. It's not that Nashville didn't try to keep them; in fact, it was just the opposite. But when Shea Weber returns home to Nashville after the Predators finally matched the offer sheer from the Philadelphia Flyers, he's returning home to a seemingly empty house.

As you're aware, Ryan Suter took a deal from the Minnesota Wild in order to be closer to home for both him and his wife. Nashville GM David Poile reportedly didn't have a chance to match the offer to keep Suter, and one-half of the dynamic defensive duo was gone before Weber and Poile could even make a play to keep him in Music City.

Alex Radulov is also gone, having signed a deal to return to the KHL. After his "distraction" in the playoffs with the late-night partying followed by his departure for greener pastures in Moscow, Weber told the Bob Marjanovich Show on Vancouver's Team 1040 that he felt betrayed by Radulov's decision not to return to Nashville.
"I don't really know what to say about it because I was one of the guys that stood up for him and wanted him back," he said. "There were a bunch of us that played with him that felt the same way.

"You feel a little bit betrayed, but I am sure he feels bad about it now and he looks back on it and wishes it didn't happen. Those are the things you can't take back and we've got to move forward."
As you're probably aware, Nashville hasn't filled the voids left by both Suter and Radulov yet, and there aren't many top-tier free agents left to close the gaps left by these two players. Essentially, Shea Weber will return to captain the Predators this season, but there aren't a lot of character guys with top skill that can take some pressure off him. Can Weber play 40 minutes a game? That's unlikely, so he'll need someone to step up much in the way he did in his first couple of seasons.

The Predators certainly aren't out of the game, though. Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber will be counted on more than ever to stabilize the defensive zone, and Weber will have to be as effective as he was this season when in the offensive zone. They could make runs at a few free agents that are still on the market.

Players like Shane Doan, Jochen Hecht, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Petr Sykora are all players that would fit the mold of what Barry Trotz is instilling in his current crop of Predators. Younger players like Keith Seabrook, Cal O'Reilly (for the second time), and Tyson Sexsmith can certainly add a spark to either the Predators or to the Admirals, prompting some of the younger Predators to either sink or swim. In any case, there is still talent available, but Nashville may have to pay a bit more to get these players now.

I like the development of some of the Predators last season, though, and these players will certainly be leaned on more this season by Barry Trotz. Gabriel Bourque came on late in the season, Roman Josi looked poised as a regular defenceman, and Colin Wilson appears to be ready to break out. The more that these younger kids get into situations where they need to sink or swim will be good for their development. Obviously, in saying that, you can't just toss them into the deep end and expect them to keep their heads above water, but the fact that they showed some good performances last season bodes well for the future. There may be some bumps along the way, but they performed well last season to earn a spot and keep it. That's good for Nashville.

The pain of losing Radulov won't be felt as much as losing Suter will be. You just can't replace 20-25 minutes per night that easily when talking about Suter's skill. Weber will certainly log some more ice time to make up the difference, and it remains to be seen how this may affect the Predators' captain. The cupboard, in terms of star power, is far more bare than it was when the season ended, and that will make it tough for all of the Predators next season.

The early pain, however, may develop into some great character. Nashville can grow closer by losing Radulov and Suter. Weber will need to lead the way, but there may be some break-out stars next season in Music City. And that will be music to the fans' ears. It just may take a few rewrites to get all the players on the same page of music.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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