Listening to David Poile and Barry Trotz talk about the Nashville Predators’ free agent acquisitions for the past week, one image repeatedly comes to mind.
To be certain, it’s not a pretty sight. And that is not intended as any sort of commentary on the actor’s looks.
Hill, the star of such comedy films as Superbad, 21 Jump Street and Get Him to the Greek, took a more straightforward turn when he played Peter Brand in Moneyball. It was in that role that his character spelled out what he considered “the epidemic failure within the game to understand what’s really happening.”
Brand’s theory was that “people who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”
The game, in that case, was baseball. Moneyball was adapted from the Michael Lewis book about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, which showed how that franchise remains competitive despite significant financial limitations thanks to Brand’s way of thinking.
It is not much of a stretch to say the Predators are an NHL version of the A’s. Even with a league-wide salary cap, they operate at a distinct financial disadvantage relative to the likes of the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and others.
The big difference is that in order to buy wins, the Predators need to buy goals not runs. The common truth is that in order to win, one team must score more than the other.
On the opening day of the NHL’s current free agent signing period, Nashville bought players, five of them, to be exact, including four forwards. Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks all got multi-year deals. The combined value of their contracts is $36.4 million, including $9.35 million for the coming season.
Between them those four scored 28 goals last season. Translated to a regular, 82-game schedule that would be 47.83, barely more than half a goal per game.
Is that enough to make the Predators a playoff team again? Possibly. After all, they never have needed to be the highest-scoring team in the league to carve out a place among the top eight in their conference.
Is it enough, though, to make them contenders for a championship? Doubtful.
The Predators, as usual, will go as far as their defense takes them, and typically that’s not very far down the postseason path.
And, yes, everyone knows that defense wins championships … but usually not all by itself. Defense is not the only ingredient in a title run.
This year’s Stanley Cup finalists, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, were among the NHL’s top three defensive teams during the regular season. The Blackhawks, who won the series in six games, also were the league’s highest-scoring team, and the Bruins were among the top half.
Recall that Nashville was the Western Conference’s lowest scoring team, which had a lot to do with the fact that it finished 14th in the conference standings. From there, it’s probably more than half a goal a game to get back to respectability.
To be fair, no one associated with the Predators has claimed that their recent roundup of forwards has suddenly transformed them into an offensive juggernaut.
The expressed goal (no pun intended) was to become a team that’s much harder to play against than last season’s version. In that regard, they say, it was mission accomplished.
Still, one can’t help but wonder how difficult it will be to play goalie against them.