This morning’s news that the Nashville Predators acquired Cody McLeod from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Félix Girard was a bit out of left field. Yes, we’re slowly creeping towards what should be an intriguing NHL Trade Deadline in a month and a half. Things like this are going to rumble along on that day. Yet, as far as trades go, this feels like the Predators are reaching for answers and hoping that something sticks.
To understand this trade I feel like there are really about three avenues that need to be explored: last off-season, Cody Bass being injured at the end of December, and last night’s Predators game against the Boston Bruins.
Let’s start by asking the question: what type of team are the Nashville Predators?
If you were to have watched them last season, or in the past, you would say that they are a quick team with some excellent skill players but have stellar defensemen and a high caliber goaltender.
If you were to have watched them last night – you’re probably looking at today’s trade and simply agreeing with it. That game was a heavy -heavy- style contest. It nearly had a playoff feel about it and was surprisingly heated given how it isn’t like the Predators and the Bruins play all the time. The game was very defensive for the Predators. They weren’t rolling offensively and leaned a lot on Juuse Saros and getting shots blocked in front of him to steer clear of danger.
Another key element to last night’s Predators game was seeing Roman Josi get checked towards the head by Anton Blidh which resulted in a five-minute major for interference. Blidh wouldn’t be answering in the fight department for the occasion. Instead all inquiries were redirected to Adam McQuaid. Newly acquired from waivers Derek Grant decides to make a big first impression and instead took a few impressions and an upper-body injury.
What was happening in Colorado not far removed from that? Why, McLeod face-punching Joseph Cramarossa of course. That fight came after a big neutral zone hit by McLeod which caught the eye of Cramarossa. It appeared after the fact that McLeod was more game for a scrap after the hit than Cramarossa. And that sort of played out in the fight itself, too.
Now, about how last off-season plays into moments such as last night’s Predators game. You know how Blidh didn’t fight but McQuaid did? You know how McQuaid is a heavyweight when it comes to his HockeyFights résumé? Well, in instances where a player the level and importance as a Josi goes down from a hit like that – who do the Predators have to act such as a McQuaid? Because they did have one and he just so happened to be the defensive partner of Josi and team captain.
When the Predators did trade Shea Weber they did get a superstar level talent in P.K. Subban. It is in no way fair to judge this trade now and it will be a good few years before you can actually take into account just how both organizations did from swapping two of their best players for one another. But, what Subban never had in him was a presence on the ice of intimidation. If Weber were paired with Josi last night I question not only if Blidh gets away from that check to Josi without a fight – I question whether he thinks to deliver that check in the first place. The Predators don’t have that presence anymore. They need a little bit of bite to them. So, who do they have?
The Predators have sixteen fighting majors this season. And, while I would still argue that the day and age of the enforcer is gone, that still gives an indication of times when the game simply dictates a response or action. Who leads the Predators in fighting majors this season? Austin Watson with six fights. He is followed by Bass with three fights. Mike Fisher has two fights. And then five other players have dropped the gloves a single time.
Watson, as much as I love this soundbite of Magnus Hellberg – who at the time was saying that sarcastically because Watson had just delivered his second career pro fight, was not the choice to match-up with McQuaid. Who is to say Watson wouldn’t have suffered the same fate that Grant did? And, if so, who is there to make the crucial blocked shot late last night in the closing seconds of a 2-1 game?
You would assume then that having a guy like Bass around is then the next step. But he isn’t available. Bass went down on 12/28/16 after clashing legs with a member of the Iowa Wild near the Admirals bench. He needed help to get off the ice and down the tunnel to the Admirals locker room. He has since had an MRI to diagnose the full extent of his injury, which hasn’t been revealed in detail at this moment, and has missed the Admirals last six games. He is considered out long-term.
There is no presence on the ice then for the Predators for moments such as last night. Players who could do the job aren’t suitable for it. And the one that is isn’t available and was earlier in the season someone they tested to waivers anyways. This is where today’s trade comes in.
Again, I feel most Predators fans likely view last night’s game and the player they just received and see that as a quick fix to a needed role for no cost at all because Girard never played in the NHL anyways. I see the merit of what a McLeod can bring to the Predators. There is a role there that can be filled. I can also hope that McLeod coming to a new setting can provide some life into his game that he clearly wasn’t getting as part of a struggling Avalanche group this season. What’s wrong with this move is that it punches a hole in your AHL affiliate by trading away its heart and soul type of player for someone whose career accomplishment to this point was leading the NHL in fighting majors last season.
McLeod is 32-years old. He has been a well respected locker room presence for the Avalanche and served as an alternate captain for five of his ten seasons with the organization. That says a tremendous amount about the character he can provide to a team. I’m not questioning that one bit. What I do question is the amount it took to acquire the struggling and aging forward from the Avalanche.
Girard is 22-years old. He has been with the Admirals in the AHL since his junior playing career came to an end. He was a captain of Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL his last two years in junior and has worn an alternate captain “A” on the front of his Admirals jersey numerous times over the course of his 172 games played for the team.
While stats might not shine for Girard that by no means degrades what he is doing on the ice. Girard has been the best face-off man that I’ve covered in the AHL since starting out in 2012-13. That same level of care and attention to detail in the face-off circle he provides to his teammates, such as Vladislav Kamenev – an aspiring top center for the Predators. He is a first choice option for the penalty kill and last season, because of his face-off work, started getting pushed to the power-play. Girard is, and has been since his arrival when he scored on his pro debut, a relentless on and off ice worker. The sort of player that genuinely makes a team and his teammates better.
At the heart of the Admirals locker room is the group known as the “French Fries” which features Girard as well as Jimmy Oligny, Frédérick Gaudreau, Jonathan Diaby and first year pros Alex Carrier and Anthony Richard. Oligny might be the dad of that group but Girard is very much the ringleader. What this move does on what feels like a microscopic level to the Predators feels like an atomic bomb to that group – and therefore the Admirals as a whole.
The Admirals started the season with a thunderous bang by going 12-2-2-1 all the way through the month of November. Then injuries started to plague the Predators. The Admirals defense was rattled and shifted up, down, and around. Recently, this same level of fluctuation has hit the forward group. From the start of December to today the Admirals have gone just 8-9-0-1 and have scored only two goals from their last 189:43 of ice time over their last four games.
Tonight the Admirals face the Grand Rapids Griffins who aren’t just leading the Central Division but the entire Western Conference. If there were ever a game for the Admirals to get KO’d stiff on the ice – it would be tonight. Their top defenseman, Carrier, is up. Their spark plug forwards, Harry Zolnierczyk and Pontus Åberg, are up. And now they have just effectively had their heart ripped out to bring in an NHL player who has more fighting majors these last two seasons than points.
Did the Predators fill a role today? Yes. Does the role that the Predators filled today still have a legitimate place in the current NHL game? Sure, but it should never have cost what it just cost the Predators to acquire it.
What is your initial reaction to today’s trade by the Nashville Predators? Is this a move that they needed to make? Did they give up too much or is this a set-up trade for something bigger in the weeks ahead?
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