Predators stand pat at deadline, put trust in youth for stretch run

Monday, February 28, 2011 at 6:29pm

David Poile said he had options.

Ultimately, though, the Nashville Predators general manager felt he had no choice but to face the final weeks of the regular season with more young and inexperienced players than in any of the previous seasons in franchise history.

Nashville did not make any trades Monday in advance of the National Hockey League’s trade deadline, which came at 2 p.m. (CST).

“We were pursuing,” Poile said. “If we could add a defenseman or a forward … there wasn’t a lot of what I would call quality players out there, with all due respect to the players who were traded. The prices, to me, were very inflated for what you got.”

A total of 16 deals were made, the lowest number since 1999-00 when there were 12, and included five teams (Anaheim, Calgary, Chicago, Minnesota and Los Angeles) in the thick of the battle — with Nashville — for the final five Western Conference playoff positions. Perhaps the most significant deal involved power forward Dustin Penner, who went from Edmonton to Los Angeles in exchange for Colten Teubert, who was a first-round draft pick (13th overall) in 2008, a first-round pick this June and a possible 2012 choice.

The number of players that changed teams was 35 and included former Predators Jason Arnott (New Jersey to Washington) and Scottie Upshall (Phoenix to Columbus).

“At this time of year, it’s all about experience,” Poile said. “Ninety-nine times out of 100 I’m going to go that direction. The experienced guys really weren’t out there that we felt would make a difference. They weren’t available to us or the price was too high.

“We’re really trusting in our young guys to be a part and to make a contribution — both offensively and defensively — down the stretch. That’s a lot to ask. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”

As it stands right now, 10 of the 21 players on the active roster are 25 or younger. That group includes defensemen Jonathon Blum and center Blake Geoffrion, both of whom made their NHL debuts last week, and the recently recalled Matt Halischuk, a 22-year-old forward with 34 NHL appearances.

Nineteen games remain on the schedule, including four straight on the road beginning Tuesday at Edmonton (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).

“It’s a show of confidence in our younger players,” Poile said. “It’s Jonathon Blum versus an older player, a veteran player and giving up a draft pick or a younger prospect. It’s Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk versus some wily veteran that’s maybe a fourth-line player that’s going to play his last year.

“Those are the kinds of trades I’ve made in the past to try and get some veteran strength to back up our team. This year we’re taking a leap of faith that the younger players are ready to do it. Knock on wood. Cross my fingers. They’re getting a great opportunity.”

At the time of the deadline, the Predators were 10th in the West, the last of five teams with 72 points apiece. They snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday with a 3-2 victory over Columbus but still went 5-6-2 in February.

The last time they were sub-.500 in February was 2005-06, when they were sub-.500 in that month. That season they added veteran defenseman Brendan Witt at the deadline and went 8-5-2 in March and 7-2-0 in April.

“I think our younger guys are good,” Poile said. “… Is it the norm? Is it the way I’ve done it before? The answer is ‘no.’ We’re going with our young kids. It’s a little bit of trust in that they’ve developed to the point that they’re ready to play coming from Milwaukee.

“… We have a lot of younger guys right now.”

And they’re not going anywhere.