Understanding The Félix Girard Trade

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)
(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

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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8 thoughts on “Understanding The Félix Girard Trade”

  1. It’s the first of several blows I feel are coming, to be delivered to MKE via NSH. I was extremely pissed and still am over this. And it stems back to the Weber trade as you eluded to. The last several trades going back to Leipsic to this haven’t really won them anything but the same old same old. Perhaps being paitent is key and let guys develop and others return from injury. I feel the Ads Season is slipping away quickly from what was a promising start looks like it could see this team outside the playoffs again. I don’t envy Dean at all. The amount of headaches he has to deal with…..

  2. Daniel, I think one sentence you wrote sums it up the best. “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. ”

    It’s not really even specific to the Preds, but in the NHL in general. The “League” may want fighting out, but doesn’t it speak volumes that GMs still sign these enforcer type of guys even if they only play 5 or so minutes per game? They must still see the intimidation factor as necessary. It’s a lot like baseball where if one pitcher plunks a batter you can bet it’s going to happen the other way too.

    Of course one could make the argument that it shouldn’t matter if some one is hit with a cheap shot and injured, the receiving team should take the higher ground and shake it off/not retaliate. Changing the entire hockey culture, which is a very physical sport, to match that, would be extremely difficult.

    Frontrowjon, your comments are always good to read, but I’ll just make a point I’ve made in the past to others upset about something that happens to an AHL team because of NHL team actions: this is exactly what an AHL team is for. AHL teams are for development of prospects and injury call-ups (mainly). Yes, it great if your team wins, but ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Dean Evason has expressed those type of sentiments in the past multiple times; you just roll with it as you know that’s the deal. Can you really be pissed about that?

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful and detailed post; as a Preds fan only just now (with all the injuries) starting to get familiar with the current prospect pool I suspected Poile had overpaid badly for McLeod, and I’m sorry to see I was right.

    I do have one question. If I’m reading this right, you refer to the need to find a player who can fight the McQuaids of the NHL for the dirty and dangerous plays of the Blidhs. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just fight the Blidhs in the first place, instead of allowing–as you put it–inquiries to be redirected? Like you, I can’t imagine Weber letting Blidh get away unscathed, if he’d even had the nerve to try anything with Weber on the ice, but nowhere in my attempts to imagine is a scenario where Weber waits a while and then obligingly decides to fight Adam McQuaid instead.

    It looked to me (wasn’t able to find a replay or video to confirm, though) like Järnkrok tried to go after Blidh when the initial hit happened but was intercepted by a ref or linesman, but good God I don’t want Calle Järnkrok fighting. Still, you specifically said you didn’t want Watson fighting McQuaid, instead of Watson fighting in general–why would he be fighting McQuaid, instead of fighting the guy who decided to concuss Josi in the first place, unless we’re moving back towards an era of Designated Tough Guy fights Other Designated Tough Guy for something that neither of them actually had anything to do with?

  4. Not a fan of this trade. Felix is a young player with good upside. He was an important asset in the face off circle and that will be missed .
    Certainly not the worst trade in recent years, but it will negatively impact Milwaukee and will likely have no effect in Nashville.
    Felix will be missed. Thanks for your time here and good luck with the future.

  5. To Fan in the Falls. We get the whole farm team aspect. What we try to make “Nashville” understand is, we want them to tey to always make smart choices because when they’re bad, it affects us more than them, or so it feels. And when the affect is good, they tend to reap the benefits more than we do, or so it feels. Some Admirals fans feel that the Nashville organization has a history of not really developing a player…as soon as he gets hot, he’s up whether he’s really ready for the NHL or not. Then if he’s not, they scratch him for a few games and then once he’s cooled, send him back to Milwaukee and he does us no good. Then comes the fun at the end of the season when we get all of the college and juniors guys added to our roster to “see how they play.” This usually falls as we’re fighting for a playoff spot. By now, the Admirals have some kind of flow that is disrupted by line changes that have to be made so Nashville can check some guy out. We try to take it in stride, but when you pay money to see your team win and compete and they don’t do either because yet again the parent club has made decisions that end up not really benefiting either team, one can easily become frustrated.

    Just last night after the loss to Grand Rapids, I overheard a spectator state that that game was a waste of time and money. We looked like an ECHL team competing against an AHL team. These types of games, that look to be what we’re going to experience for a while now, and leave that kind of impression on a casual fan, that even a season ticket holder can begrudgingly agree with, doesn’t do the Admirals any favors in the long run. Who knows if other fans who felt the same way will return any time soon. We will support this club, we just want Nashville to “get it together” so it works for everyone: teams, fans, players.

  6. K: You could fight the Blidh’s of the game in the moment, sure, but if he is an unwilling combatant that creates more of a toxic and unnecessary evil than the hit he delivered in the first place. That’s where certain guys answer the bell for their teammates when they do something stupid. And it is an area of the game when the players actually get to police what’s right and wrong – which I like. The game has certainly trended away from having guys who really just fight (e.g. Derek Boogaard). It’s far more about having a polished two-way game across every position. Yet, the game can still dictate having the need for players to police a bit. So, fighting is still a thing.. the fighters we now see are just different and not always the ones you’d prefer to do it. Cody McLeod? He’s trending more down to an old school enforcer.

  7. Daniel: Of course I didn’t mean to imply that anyone should be trying to fight people who aren’t willing, and I’m sorry if it sounded like that–you’re absolutely right that that would be worse than hits made in the course of gameplay. The thing that bothers me isn’t Grant (or Watson or Fisher or whoever) not fighting an unwilling Blidh Thursday night, it’s Grant agreeing to fight McQuaid instead. McQuaid had nothing to do with the original hit, I can’t imagine that even if Grant had won the fight it would have influenced Blidh in any way, and so the only reason I can see for anyone to have fought McQuaid at all is to appease someone’s generalized bloodlust. Poile going out the next day and trading for someone who can fight the McQuaids of the NHL when they hadn’t actually done anything wrong seems to send the message of “if your guys hurt our guys, then our tough guy will go punch your tough guy”–it seems like a huge step back and away from the direction the NHL has been trending, and it’s incredibly disappointing. I’ve got no objection to players policing the game, but that kind of choreographed matchup between heavyweights doesn’t feel like it will change anything.

    Thank you again for your time, and apologies for crashing in here looking at the trade primarily from the perspective of how it affects the Preds. Best of luck to the Admirals without Girard and to Girard himself in San Antonio.

    (Also, to whoever else: a quick note about the Admirals’ season/locker room–it seems pretty obvious to me, though I could be wrong, that having a stable and supportive work environment with the potential for success would be important for young, developing prospects. First example that comes to mind is that one of the things that came up a lot in discussion of the Penguins’ successful cup run last season was the confidence that all the prospects they had to call up along the way had in each other and in themselves. Wheresoever possible I think it benefits any NHL team to give its affiliated AHL team every advantage it can, because that contributes to player development as well as providing a more entertaining/enjoyable product at the AHL level. There’s also a difference between the Admirals losing key players to yet another injury up in Nashville and the Admirals losing key players as part of a trade to acquire a relatively replaceable skillset for the Predators. Injury callups hurt the farm team and help the parent team. Anything else that hurts the farm team is not likely to help the parent team either, even if it’s not immediately obvious.)

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