Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past.
This week, we look back at the Nashville Predators ahead of the 1998-99 season. The Predators were looking to build their first roster with the expansion draft, free agency and the entry draft in the offing. Take a look behind the scenes ahead of the inaugural season in Nashville as we get set for the Vegas Golden Knights to undergo a similar process as the league’s 31st franchise.
‘In search of Predators’
May 15, 1998 — Vol. 51, No. 36
By Jeff Legwold
David Poile views the entry draft as a can’t-miss-proposition for his expansion Nashville Predators.
That’s the way it is when you have nothing but needs and wants.
“We have nothing right now,” said Predators’ GM David Poile. “Certainly anybody we take, there’s going to be a need there. When it’s all over, we’d like to have had some kind of symmetry to what we have done, but we have a long list.”
As the league’s 27th franchise prepares to add a roster to its operations, the Predators find an expansion draft complicated by free agency and an entry draft where help, for the most part, is years away.
The Predators have asked for and received from the league copies of about 100 contracts of players who they believe will be left unprotected in the expansion draft. They are reviewing the deals in search of potential bonuses they may not want to pay — several players are likely to get more playing time in Nashville than they did this season so some individual performance bonuses may not be desirable — as well as simply making note of the duration of each deal. Oh yes, the salary too.
“What may be desirable in a contract for one organization may be detrimental to ours,” Poile said. “We want the complete picture.”
Poile, coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Paul Gardner have refused to name names at this point.
And as the GM for a lackluster Team USA at the World Championship, Poile may have gotten a glimpse of his 1998-99 season up close and personal. The players who make up the first Predators’ team will most certainly lack scoring touch, be singled out for “being as hard working a player we can find” and be a second- or last- chance candidates.
“There is always the hope someone who hasn’t had the kind of success they’ve hoped for or hasn’t met expectations can find something here,” Trotz said. “We’re realistic, though, we know the skill level may not be there right away, nobody’s going to expose scorers for us to take.”
Also pinch the team is free agency; good for players seeking ever-growing salaries, but not so good for an expansion team seeking an unprotected gem or two.
There is little incentive for many teams to sign their current free agents — especially veteran goaltenders like Curtis Joseph, Craig Billington and John Vanbiesbrouck — before the expansion draft because it would be a huge risk for the Predators to take an unrestricted free agent.
If Nashville selected an unrestricted free agent it would have just five days to sign him before he became available on the open market for all to bid on. Basically, from Poile’s perspective, it will allow teams to protect more players they truly don’t want to lose.
“Certainly that portion of it is a moving target,” Poile said. “There are going to be some difficult choices there as far as if we think we can get something done. And trades can’t be made until 48 hours after the last game of the Cup final so we won’t even know where everybody is until about a week-to-10 days before the draft.”
The team has also spent untold hours and dollars scouting Europe and is expected to make at least a few forays for some Europeans, especially forwards.
Trotz, having spent several years in Portland of the American League, has also taken several tours through that league in search of prospects. Privately, the Predators say they don’t have much interest in International League players.
As far as the entry draft, the Predators, like most teams, had Rimouski Oceanic center Vincent Lecavalier and Plymouth Whalers’ center David Legwand at the top of their list. Unfortunately, barring a trade to move up — and that’s not likely to happen since they don’t have anybody to offer to get those picks — they won’t get a shot at either of those players. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the right to pick first overall following the May 10 lottery with the San Jose Sharks slated to pick second. Nashville will draft third overall.
Manny Malhotra of the Guelph Storm is one player who will receive consideration. Predators’ scouts love his level-headed astute play with the puck and while he has not shown the scoring output they will desperately need, he has the rest of the package. Draft Preview has Regina Pats defenseman Brad Stuart rated third overall. Whoever is taken third overall is likely to be at least one year away from the NHL, even with the expansion Predators.
Overall, the team has made roughly 630 individual scouting reports on North American players and that total climbs to more than 1,000 when the European reports are thrown in.
Poile will bring all 13 of the team’s scouts, as well as Trotz and Gardner, to Nashville May 27 for four days of meetings to review each player that has been scouted and try to reach some kind of consensus of a final wish list to take to Buffalo.
“When it’s all said and done there we would like to have big defenseman or two who can play the physical game and we’d love to take a young goaltender that maybe we can develop down the road,” Poile said. “But I think it’s safe to say we have a lot of work to do and not much time left to do it.