Trade Rumor Tracker: Sorry NHL, Ryan Suter is going nowhere
How good is Nashville Predators’ defenseman Ryan Suter?
Many hockey fans and media pundits may not know — Nashville is not exactly a marquee NHL market. Though offensively he has averaged 40+ points a season over the past three NHL campaigns, his foremost strength is not lighting up the scoresheet. Still, when juxtaposing Suter’s offensive consistency with his shut-down defensive ability he is a rare commodity — a top-pairing defenseman with virtually no weakness in his game. Suter can skate, shoot, pass, hit, block shots. He is nearly impossible to beat one-on-one in his own zone, is positionally flawless, and is brilliant at head-manning the offensive rush with a deft outlet pass. He is comparable to the New York Rangers’ all-star Dan Girardi and the Chicago Black Hawks’ cup-winner Brent Seabrook. Quite simply, Suter is the rare defenseman who is an extreme asset in any situation — on the power play or short-handed, on the ice in the final minute of a game either ahead or behind by one goal.
With his $3.5 million per year contract running out at the conclusion of this year, Suter will be an unrestricted free agent, due for a hefty raise in salary. Though he has been extremely diplomatic towards a possible future in Nashville when asked about it by the hockey media, he is not negotiating with the club for a future deal until after the season ends and has remained mostly noncommittal concerning his future plans. The small-market Predators have recently re-upped goaltender Pekka Rinne to a multi-year deal and also have to worry about re-inking Suter’s defense partner, perennial Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber, a restricted free agent following the season.
This has led to a great deal of speculation in the hockey media that Ryan Suter will become available to the highest bidder prior to the February 27 trade deadline. Fans and beat-writers of teams seeking blueline help, primarily the Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche have written at length concerning what it might take to land the stud, 27 year-old rearguard.
Before being carried away by this current of histrionic hyperbole, it might be wise to anchor ourselves to a few havens of fact:
1)The Nashville Predators are actually trying to win the Stanley Cup
At the time of the writing of this column, the Preds had 66 points, tied for the third-highest total in the entire NHL, and were riding an NHL-high five-game winning streak. Trading your second-best skater (Weber is first) for future or even current assets is far from the most clear-cut way for a hockey team to continue an ascent in the standings, much less galvanize the locker room.
2)Ryan Suter has never failed a lie-detector test
Always considered a class act and positive locker-room influence, Suter has claimed repeatedly that he likes playing in Nashville. In a recent USA Today interview, he stated that the primary reason he does not wish to negotiate a contract now is he does not want to become a distraction to his team, currently the hottest in the entire NHL. Who are the people in the hockey media to assume he secretly harbors a pressing desire to play hockey and/or eat pretzels with mustard in Philadelphia?
3)Predators’ GM David Poile has also never failed a lie-detector test
In a recent interview with The Tennessean, Poile complimented how well Suter was handling his impending free agency and the ensuing trade rumors, stating: “Everything is being said the way you want a player to say it.” Poile went on to humorously put things in layman’s terms: “It’s almost like we’re having a good time together, we just haven’t decided to get married yet.”
4)The last time Nashville was this good, they were buyers at the deadline
At the trade deadline in 2007, Poile rolled the dice on superstar forward Peter Forsberg, sending two highly-regarded young players (RW Scottie Upshall and D Ryan Parent — both of whom, incidentally, never reached expectations) along with a first and third-round draft pick to the Flyers in order to improve his team. With an all-star goaltender and one of the top defensive units in the league led by Suter and Weber, Nashville might just be a top-scorer away from an extended playoff run. Expect Poile to dangle coveted young goaltender Anders Lindback and perhaps one of his two blue-chip young defensemen, Jonathon Blum and Ryan Ellis, if a top-line scorer who fits into Nashville’s responsible system becomes available at the deadline. If the Predators show Suter and Weber they are committed to winning the Stanley Cup, it only improves their chances of re-signing the stellar pair.
5)If unable to re-sign Suter, the Predators are not afraid to trade a player’s exclusive negotiating rights
Following the same 2007 season in which Poile acquired Forsberg, he realized that the Predators would be unable to re-sign UFAs Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen. Instead of losing them for nothing, he dealt their negotiating rights to Philadelphia for a first-round draft pick. This was a ground-breaking deal, the first of its kind in the NHL. After this season is over, Poile will undoubtedly attempt to lock up Suter long term. If he is unable to, expect his negotiating rights to be swapped for a first-round pick in the deep 2012 NHL entry draft. Though this would mean losing Suter for far less than his value, the Predators would have more money to throw at Weber, and, as mentioned earlier, their prospect pipeline is loaded with young blueliners, not just blue-chippers Ellis and Blum but also young and solid mid-pairing rearguards Kevin Klein and Roman Josi.
I am not Nostradamus. Heck, I am not even Dionne Warwick. I cannot predict the future. What I am able to accomplish is the analysis of situations in sports based on the study of precedent. In contemplating the precedent set by the Nashville Predators under general manager David Poile and the words and attitude of Ryan Suter himself, it seems clear that the many teams coveting him (and the hockey writers and bloggers coveting something to gossip at length about) will need to wait until the off-season, if even that, to witness the possibility of Suter moving to another National Hockey League franchise.