When the clock ran out on the Predators on Monday night, the clock also may have run out on Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, cornerstones of the franchise, as Nashvillains.
Everything lined up for the Predators this season: Weber and Suter, headed to free agency, convinced management to line them up with a winning roster and prove to them they were committed to the task, or so the story goes.
Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn highlighted the late season pickups for Nashville. They spent a first round pick (a first round pick!) on Paul Gaustad, a defensive centreman that represents a pretty menial spot on a roster for such a short period of time. Also, Hal Gill, who can, um, skate upright.
Point being, everything fell together for Nashville this season. I’ve made my thoughts clear on the Pekka Rinne contract, and while I’m not convinced that he was the problem in the series against the Phoenix Coyotes, I’m also not convinced that any goaltender is worth enough money to throw at. Even historically good goaltenders have rough seasons every three years it seems (see: Tim Thomas, 2009-10). If you were going to gamble on two of the “big three”, one of them ought not to have been Rinne.
But I digress.
Everything lined up, and you can’t teach the group. Don Cherry said as much, that you can’t coach a group this late in the season. When Barry Trotz suspended Radulov and Kostitsyn for some extra-curricular activities in the lead-up to Game 2, it was somewhat understandable. There’s a team code that players need to adhere to, and it can’t be bent or broken. Fine.
But when you suspended the same players for Game 4 after a Game 3 victory, you aren’t playing your best roster. You aren’t giving your team the best chance to win. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice, which Trotz thought he could do after the 2-0 win for the Preds in Game 3 on the heels of a strong performance from Rinne. His Preds didn’t out-chance, out-shoot or out-play the Coyotes to an incredible degree in that game, it was just one game out of 8… 92, rather. It was a single game out of 92 that was won in unforeseen, odd circumstances.
I can’t think that the suspension helps the team in any way at all. I also can’t think that it “cost” the team Game 4, but it looks bad when you lose a game and you haven’t sent out your best roster. Is that the message you want to send to Weber and Suter? That you’re more committed to a couple of team rules than putting the best guys on the ice? If you’re sending the right message to Radulov and Kostitsyn, you’re sending the wrong one to Weber and Suter.
I feel like I’ve defend Radulov too much in this space, but it’s not without reason. As brought up on Coach’s Corner in Game 6 of the Capitals/Rangers series in regards to Reggie Leach’s habits during the 1976 playoff run:
“The Flyers still needed one more win to reach the finals, but Leach was already celebrating. After failing to report for the morning skate on the day of Game 5, teammates found him passed out in the basement of his Cherry Hill, New Jersey, home. When a shower and coffee didn’t achieve a complete revival, the right wing had a few more beers.
[Bobby] Clarke talked Shero into letting Leach play and the Rifle scored five goals as Philadelphia put away Boston, 6-3.”
The Flyers lost the finals to the Montreal Canadiens in four games, but Leach was given the Conn Smythe Trophy, the one skate ever awarded it in a losing cause.
Point being, you put out your best guys. You might be sending the wrong message. It doesn’t matter who you’re directing a message at, really, just put the best guys on the ice. It seems like a simple enough concept. Hopefully the Preds will be able to hold onto their two best defencemen.