In the past two days the Nashville Predators made moves to finally boost that defensive group of their’s. Relax, that’s the sarcasm that can be afforded when the top four defenseman on your team are: Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. With Petter Granberg being brought into the fold for two-years I felt that the matter of seventh choice defenseman could come down to him or potentially Stefan Elliott. Now that the Predators signed veteran defenseman Matt Carle I’m left thinking Anthony Bitetto is the odd-man out in Nashville -and- whether or not both Granberg and Elliott could be Milwaukee bound with first-year pro’s such as Jack Dougherty or Alexandre Carrier getting shipped to the ECHL all thanks to NHL overflow.
At this point in time the Predators current defensive group seems to be setting up with high-powered and full-throttled machines taking up the top two defensive lines with a good veteran presence mixed in as the third pairing.
For those living under a rock, my apologies for not getting to much into it on this website’s end, but that Weber there is not -that- Weber. That would be Yannick Weber as the whole reason for getting Mr. Subban was trading long-time captain Shea Weber to the Montréal Canadiens straight-up. The -other- Weber signed a one-year deal on the first day of free agency and, to be honest, it was fairly quiet since that actually took place. That changed once Granberg and Carle were given the thumbs up.
The true loser and odd-man out in yesterday’s news was Bitetto who looked to be taking that left side role on the third defensive pairing with Weber for the 2016-17 season. When Granberg signed his two-year deal no one really bat an eyelid on the matter. Bitetto and Granberg were the surplus to requirements for the Predators last season and figured in here and there until Bitetto started to pull further ahead between the two. Bitetto was still in and Granberg was likely the best bet for seventh choice defenseman. That changed yesterday when a veteran defenseman in Carle, someone that operated with Predators head coach Peter Laviolette oversaw with the Philadelphia Flyers for three seasons (2009-12), signed as a free agent with Nashville. The move should mean that Carle bumps Bitetto down the pecking order where he was already last man on the “ice-time for defenseman” totem pole and into that cobweb collecting, NHL payday collecting, and suit wearing position of seventh choice defenseman. It’s simply the downside of being on the fringe to being part of -no arguments here- the best and deepest defensive group in the NHL entering this season.
Most may have understandably burned that last Predators playoff game from memory but my lasting image from that game, aside from wondering what happened with -that- Weber, was seeing a cool, confident, and aggressive Bitetto storming the ice. He looked to have really settled in finally and let loose. That made his contract extension all the better. Under my microscope here in Milwaukee Bitetto showed constant year-to-year improvements in his game as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals be it improving his professionalism by accepting a trip to the ECHL (2012-13), getting in better shape (2013-14), improving offensively (2013-14), and blending his game all together to be a complete defenseman (2014-15). Last season was his first full go at the NHL and, hey, there were speed bumps with signs of promise. Sounds familiar to a Bitetto I’ve watched previously. Allow him to access a seasonal performance and await to see his progression because he tends to make the necessary adjustments. Sadly, that’s going to be a bit more complicated now given he will need to do it from the outside in.
Where Bitetto loses out doesn’t stop purely on his playing time for this year’s Predators, either. The trickle down effect that the Carle signing has actually becomes an overflow in the talent pool that makes that two-way portion in Granberg’s contract make all the more sense for the 2016-17 season.
Last season the Predators felt fine and dandy with two surplus defenders waiting in the wings if needed. That eventually ended up becoming three with Granberg being snagged off waivers and then back to two once Victor Bartley was sent on and then cleared the waiver wire process to reach the Admirals. The Bitetto and Granberg “on the outside looking in” setup allowed for Bitetto to play 28 games while Granberg played 27 games. If needed the Predators can go right back to this well. Either that or they can now play with the concept of trusting Bitetto as a seventh man anchor in the event he is needed while allowing Granberg, on his two-way contract, to start the upcoming season in the AHL. This is where we reach an overflow problem.
My assumption for the Admirals defense for the 2016-17 season was for a very clear cut concept based on what head coach Dean Evason started to preach in regards to having three left-handed shooting defenseman paired with three right-handed shooting defenseman. For how the off-season looked up until Tuesday I felt confident that opening night at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena would look something along these lines (pun intended):
Jimmy Oligny won’t have his line-y Corey Potter back from the end of last season but he should have someone just as capable in Elliott to play alongside as the top defensive pairing. While signed on as a two-way contracted talent it is most likely that Matt Irwin remains in Milwaukee for the bulk of the coming season and the eventual 29-year old should provide a great security blanket for the likes of a first-year pro such as Dougherty who did log game-time for the Admirals at the end of the 2015-16 season. Then comes a question of what to do with sophomore defenseman Trevor Murphy? Well, the recent Rookie Development Camp in Nashville conducted by Evason and the Admirals coaching staff seemed to indicate an answer to that question considering Murphy and incoming first-year pro Carrier were paired the entire camp and looked great together.
And this is where the curveball of overflow from Nashville changes things…
Now that it appears that the Predators defense has gone to plaid (cheeky joke inside of a joke) the potential overflow of talent topside can alter things quite drastically for the Admirals and for the incoming prospects set for their first full-season of professional hockey. Let’s assume that both Granberg and Elliott end up in Milwaukee and that the Evanson philosophy of pairing of left-handed and right-handed shots on defense remains. The Admirals likely slot Granberg with Oligny as a shutdown defensive line, Elliott with Irwin to have a balanced yet attack minded line, and then are left to decide between Dougherty or Carrier for Murphy’s linemate all while Teddy Doherty and Jonathan Diaby familiarize themselves with Skyline Chili in Cincinnati. Given Carrier’s form at Rookie Development Camp alongside Murphy I have a hard time seeing that dynamic get split up which would make Dougherty the man on the fringe.
If this all sounds dodgy: relax. This is just a potential scenario and one that may not even need to happen if the Predators hold true to having Bitetto and Granberg watching from the sidelines until they are needed like last season. After all, if the Predators want Bitetto and Granberg to be stationary and not playing but just be there in the off chance a rotation is needed? They showed they can be up to the task a season ago and can give it a fair go once again this season. There is just one thing that creeps into my head and it is this. The Predators paying NHL level money to Granberg to be a stationary eight choice defenseman while the option exists to pay him less while playing him in the AHL doesn’t quite fit their typical modus operandi… although Austin Watson was a rare exception to that last season.
Should Bitetto and Granberg end up falling into their roles held previously? It’s good. Should the Predators decide to go with Bitetto as that surefire fallback plan if someone gets injured and send Granberg down to Milwaukee to remain active? It’s good. At day’s end the beauty out of all of this defenseman madness is that the Predators have so much depth that it is almost problematic to try and figure out the best path for all parties to get set on the right course while maximizing team performance and career development for the prospects. Certainly Taylor Aronson and Garrett Noonan might have different opinions about how the thickening of glass ceilings at both the NHL and AHL level can hinder career progress. I’m hopeful that for Dougherty and Carrier’s sake that they don’t eventually find themselves this coming season, as first year pro’s, in situations that they shouldn’t be playing in with it then coming back as a year lost or not fully utilized.
The question of “whether the Predators will need an optional eighth defenseman in Granberg” will be one of those storylines to keep an eye out for once the pre-season starts up in late-September. It can go really two ways with possible repercussions that would not only impact the look of the defense in Milwaukee but also Cincinnati. Is there such a thing as having too much depth? Because I feel the Predators might test that boundary in 2016-17.
If you were in Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile’s shoes: would you keep Petter Granberg alongside Anthony Bitetto as defensemen in reserve or would you have Granberg start his season with the Milwaukee Admirals and have seven defensemen stationed in Nashville?
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