NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Prior to the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday, the Predators dealt their longest-tenured player — and holder of almost every offensive franchise record — to the Red Wings.
A native of suburban Detroit and Nashville’s first-ever draftee (1998 NHL Draft — No. 2 overall), David Legwand helped the Predators reach arguably the highest point in franchise history, scoring the series-deciding goal in a first-round victory over the Red Wings in 2012.
Predators general manager David Poile previously stated he didn’t have a set budget for next season. As a result, he could not engage in contract negotiations with Legwand, an unrestricted free agent this summer, whose current deal averaged $4.5 million per year.
Poile referenced 2012 when Nashville allowed All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter to hit unrestricted free agency (signing with Minnesota), without getting anything in return. On a similar note, the 33-year-old Legwand apparently wasn’t in Nashville’s future plans.
"David was certainly hoping at the end of the day that we could find a way to sign him," Poile said. "There was not a clear path to do that, so I really think we owe a lot to David and he’s performed for us, what he’s done for the franchise. He’s developed as a player and a person, and he’s helped develop a lot of our younger players."
Maybe it’s that Legwand has always been more of a playmaker than a scorer and Nashville needs scorers at forward (210 goals to 356 assists).
The move potentially signals the end for the Predators’ long-shot playoff run. Nashville entered Wednesday six points out of the final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, and Legwand (shared team high of 40 points) has arguably been the club’s best forward.
Poile was asked if the Predators roster had improved by trading Legwand.
"Matt Cullen, if he scored 15-18 goals, I think we’d be a playoff team. I think we can go through the roster. A lot of guys are down in their offensive scoring."
Prior to the trade, Predators coach Barry Trotz discussed what Legwand has meant to the team this season.
"He’s had a pretty solid year for us, in terms of points and on the power play," Trotz said. "He’s been a big part of the power play, which has done pretty well this year. He’s a veteran player who knows how to play the game."
Legwand will depart as the franchise’s leader in games played (956), goals (210), game-winning goals (41), assists (356) and points (566).
Poile had previously told FOXSportsTennessee.com that trading Legwand would no doubt weaken Nashville’s playoffs chances, if he were dealt for just draft picks or prospects. In return, the Predators received right wing Patrick Eaves, 29, a third-round pick and prospect Calle Jarnkrok.
Poile said Jarnkrok needs to get bigger and stronger and that he would probably remain in the minors for the season. At 6-foot, 187 pounds, Eaves has 74 goals and 72 assists in 439 career games. He has two goals and three assists in 25 games this season.
Jarnkrok, 22, a center, has 13 goals and 23 assists in 57 games and is plus-19 in the American Hockey League (Grand Rapids). Jarnkrok was the 51st pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Legwand, who declined requests by local media to speak following the Predators’ Wednesday practice, had to waive a no-trade clause to consummate the deal. Detroit (68 points) is currently fighting for a wild-card spot in the East (the franchise’s first year in the conference) and center/team captain Henrik Zetterberg remains out for five or six more weeks (back injury).
On the injury front, the Red Wings also shut down center Pavel Datsyuk for three weeks and center Darren Helm for the next few games.
Earlier this season, they traded defenseman Kevin Klein (turning 30 this year).
It’s been a decade since Nashville and Detroit — former West rivals — have executed a trade. The Predators’ last deal with the Red Wings came at the 2002 NHL Draft, when they shipped a third-round pick to Detroit, which was eventually used to select Valtteri Filppula.