NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Predators won their first playoff series last spring. Now general manager David Poile thinks three trades within the past two weeks positions Nashville to do much more this season.
“We’ve certainly got ourselves in a real good position here in the playoff race, and I think with these trades we’ve certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year when we get in the playoffs,” Poile said Monday after making two trades before the NHL deadline.
“So we’re done. Like I said, I’m really happy.”
The Predators paid a big price, sending a first-round pick in the 2012 draft to Buffalo for centre Paul Gaustad and a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. Earlier Monday, Nashville picked up forward Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal earlier Monday in exchange for a second-round and conditional fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Nashville had received the conditional fifth-round pick from Montreal 10 days ago along with defenceman Hal Gill in the first of Nashville’s three big trades before the deadline.
Poile said he feels he filled the needs for a big defenceman in Gill, added more scoring with Kostitsyn in re-teaming him with his brother Sergei in Nashville and a strong centre in Gaustad who can fight and move up and down the lineup while handling faceoffs in the final minute.
“We paid a big price, but again it’s a specific player to play a specific role,” Poile said.
“Everybody pays their prices at different times. Most clubs pay big money at July 1st. We haven’t been too notorious in doing that. I feel real good about paying a little bit more if that’s the case on Feb. 27 when you have 20 games left in the season to challenge for the playoffs and to challenge for the Stanley Cup.”
Gaustad, travelling to join Nashville in North Carolina, said Monday night on a conference call he had tried to forget about the season-long talk he would be traded after spending about 12 years in western New York with the Sabres. Now the 30-year-old centre will be playing in the post-season again with the Predators.
“Playing against them is very hard,” Gaustad said. “They play hard. They play the system hard. I mean you look from the goaltender to the defence and the forwards, it’s a balanced attack. I’m excited to join that group.”
The Predators went into Monday night’s game with the Los Angeles Kings fifth in the Western Conference, six points behind Central Division leading Detroit. Nashville gave up nothing but draft picks in these three trades, though the Predators did send forward Jerred Smithson to Florida for a draft pick on Friday.
The Predators won their first post-season series last year against Anaheim but lost in six games to Vancouver. Then they were criticized last summer for letting players like Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward, Marcel Goc, J.P. Dumont and Shane O’Brien leave.
Poile wanted to give some of his younger players time to develop, and now the Predators have 10 players having scored 10 goals apiece. Nashville also ranked first in the NHL on the power play Monday for the first time in franchise history.
If these moves pay off with a deep playoff run, then the biggest dividend might be convincing defenceman Ryan Suter to re-sign with Nashville. Suter becomes a free agent July 1, and he had made it clear he wanted to see how committed team owners were to winning. Captain Shea Weber will be a restricted free agent after this season as well.
Poile said he hopes Monday’s moves show all the Predators how committed ownership is to winning.
“Hopefully a big playoff run here will get Ryan signed up,” Poile said.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said two teams offered first-round picks for Gaustad with the first not from Nashville. But one team withdrew its offer, and the deal was on at midnight and off Monday morning only to be revived this afternoon. Then the calls came about 90 minutes before the deadline.
Gaustad is in the final year of a four-year, $9.2 million contract.
“He was born and raised with the Buffalo Sabres,” Regier said. “But when we looked at it, we thought long and hard about whether or not to trade him, and if so, under what conditions to trade him. And we set the standard high, and the standard was we had to be able to acquire a first-round pick and if we couldn’t acquire a first-round pick in that process, then we were not going to trade him.”
Nashville came through with the right offer. Poile likes Gaustad’s size at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds that Nashville wants to match up with the rest of the Western Conference in the playoffs.
Gaustad has seven goals and 10 assists in 56 games this season. In his seventh full NHL season, Gaustad is a reliable checking forward and a good face-off specialist that Nashville needed after trading away Smithson. Both Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn are expected to join the Predators in North Carolina where they play the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
“I’ve been on the short end of a lot of 2-3 games,” Poile said. “Hopefully this year we’ll be winning them 3-2.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow, in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.