A quiet NHL trade deadline for Predators, for whom good is still the enemy of great| Estes
I’m not much for well-worn sports adages, but I’ll confess that one came to mind as the minutes ticked down to 2 p.m. Monday without the Nashville Predators making noise:
Good is the enemy of great.
General manager David Poile has gone through a second consecutive NHL trade deadline without budging much either way. He wasn’t selling. His team – as of recently – wasn’t bad enough to be a lost cause. But he wasn’t buying big, either, because his team wasn’t good enough.
It’s exactly where Poile was at the last season’s deadline: wait-and-see mode.
Waiting to see a long-term path. Waiting to see, for now, if the Preds can slip into the playoffs and pretty good can turn into great on its own, a la the Stanley Cup Finals run of 2017.
Waiting to see if this roster is capable of that, when most signs suggested otherwise, at least until the past couple of weeks.
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The overhaul didn't happen, though, a sign that hope can be seductively powerful. It’ll prompt you to put off the unpleasant work a while longer because … well … you just never know.
"It's good. I'm glad we were a buyer today (adding a role player in Erik Gudbranson) versus a seller," Poile said. "That's always a good sign for your franchise, in terms of your belief. I think that clearly shows that you believe in the players. I think it's a reward for the players, the coaches, the fans that you didn't trade anybody away and that you actually added to your team."
Poile said he had "made up my mind a little while ago" that it would take a special offer for him to break up this team. "It just makes more sense to me to keep the team together versus what I could have gotten – a couple of draft choices or what have you."
Fair enough. What did – or rather, did not – happen by Monday’s deadline, I don’t happen to think is best for the Predators’ future fortunes.
But I understood.
After the remarkable heroics from the Predators in recent weeks, it would have seemed downright villainous for Poile to deal a Mattias Ekholm or Mikael Granlund and pull the rug out from under his players and coaches. They never quit on this season. How could Poile do that and be able to look them in the eyes?
By winning 12 of their past 15 games, the Predators basically forced Poile’s inaction. And the run has truly been remarkable, against the odds in so many ways.
With a revolving door of key injuries and no-name replacements on a team that still struggles to score. With half of those 12 victories by only one goal. With four of them in overtime, during which the Predators are an astounding 8-of-9 this season.
They’ve also done it in the face of unending in-house pressure. For a while, it has felt like each goal conceded or scored had the potential to swing the direction of the entire franchise for years. Poile himself exacerbated that, remaining publicly non-committal leading up to Monday’s deadline.
While it’s easy to say the Predators’ turnaround has come in spite of such an atmosphere, I’ve started to think it actually has been in large part because of it.
Credit great goaltending, yes, and the surprisingly effective contributions of young fill-in players. But the threat of a roster overhaul, I believe, forced this team to find an edge and an identity that was lacking.
These Predators are best with their backs against the wall. Even in the dark days earlier this season, they routinely played harder and better when trailing in the third period. Stands to reason that the consequences of the approaching trade deadline got them going when little else could.
So what now that the deadline has passed?
All the speculation about trades has made 2 p.m. Monday feel like a finish line for the Predators – and it’s not. While the pressure of a looming rebuild eases for now, it’ll be replaced by the mounting pressure of a playoff race for one available spot.
These Predators can’t ease up and hope to get there. They’re not good enough – offensively or otherwise.
And that’s kind of the point.
"I'm not talking Stanley Cup right now," Poile said, "because that's not on the radar right now. The only thing is we have 13 games to go to play the best to get in the playoffs. That may happen. I think it's going to happen, but it may not happen."
Just good enough to not blow it up might bide more time. But that shouldn't be confused with progress.
Poile continues to gamble with a relatively weak hand.
"When you're playing poker, I like to be all-in," he said. "That's a much better position than just sitting on the sidelines. So I like where we are."
Doesn’t mean he can’t win, but it does mean he’s planning to play those same cards for a while longer. Perhaps they'll look better the longer we stare at them.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.