It’s been made clear — in word and deed — that the Nashville Predators are not going to shake up the roster between now and the start of the next season.
Most of the players who got the franchise back into the playoffs last season are already under contract for 2010-11. Plus, General Manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz both publicly stated their opposition to “blowing up” the team at a news conference several days after the first-round playoff loss to Chicago.
Like it or not, the roster the Predators had is the one they will have.
That does not mean the powers that be can’t make a major change. In fact, they should make the only truly significant move that is available to them right now.
The time has come for Shea Weber to replace Jason Arnott as team captain. Arnott has had the job for three seasons, and given the current state of things, that’s long enough.
There are plenty of reasons Weber should assume that role. For example, he’s one of the best players in the NHL.
Throughout the years, the organization has been loath to put too much responsibility on young players. It’s true that Weber is only 24 (he’ll be 25 by the start of next season), but he’s already played in an NHL All-Star game and was one of the top players for Canada’s gold-medal team at the Olympics in February.
His age is a virtue — there’s no reason to think his performance will start to decline anytime soon.
“Our strength in this hockey team is really in a lot of guys we developed from the ground up … those core young guys,” Trotz said. “That’s really our strength. That’s our identity.”
If that’s your strength, then play to it. Turn the team over to one of those young guys, make several others the alternate captains, and let their desire and enthusiasm dictate the team’s approach to every game.
If that’s your identity, don’t make a 35-year-old the face of the organization.
After all, it’s not as if Arnott is that good in the role. Trotz said as much in the end-of-season news conference he conducted with Poile.
“It probably wasn’t exactly something … that came naturally to [Arnott], but he’s grown in that area and worked hard at doing the right things more often,” the coach said. “The last two years, he’s done a decent job.”
Decent? In high school or college, that might get you a passing grade on a term paper. When it comes to policing a locker room and setting a standard for professionalism, “decent” ought to get you passed over in favor of someone else.
Perhaps most important is Weber’s contract situation.
There is one season remaining on his current deal. While he will be a restricted free agent next summer, he no doubt will be such a coveted commodity — if he gets to that point — that some team (Detroit, Toronto, the New York Rangers?) will make him an offer the Predators won’t have the wherewithal to match.
Putting the “C” on Weber now would be a clear expression of the franchise’s commitment to him and, therefore, a critical first step in negotiations to strike a new deal before the old one expires.
“Leadership, we look at it every year,” Trotz said. “… I’m re-evaluating everything on our hockey team.”
Leadership, it’s one area where he actually can make a change — and make a difference.