Franchise player? Predators have 3 in latest run

Any team is happy to find one franchise player to build around.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock looks at the Nashville Predators and

sees three: goaltender Pekka Rinne, defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan


The trio reflects the Predators’ approach of building a team

from the net out. Rinne, Weber and Suter are a key reason Nashville

will be playing in the second round of the Western Conference

playoffs, with sights set on making a deep run this postseason.

”Your best players being the best is huge,” Nashville coach

Barry Trotz said. ”I talked to Mike a little bit after the game

and some of the Detroit people, and they said our depth was key.

But our top players were our top players.”

And all three came through the draft for Nashville, with general

manager David Poile building this former expansion franchise with

draft picks. He grabbed Suter with the seventh overall choice in

2003, the same draft he took defenseman Kevin Klein 30 picks later,

with Weber another second-round pick at No. 49 overall.

Poile found Rinne, this season’s NHL wins leader with 43, in

2004 in the eighth round at 258th overall. So the trio has been

together for a while.

”I’ve played with Webs for a long time, and Peks is playing

great for us,” Suter said. ”It’s always reassuring knowing he’s

back there.”

Rinne, signed to a seven-year, $49 million deal in November, was

the first goalie to four wins this postseason as Nashville needed

only five games to oust Detroit in the first round. The 6-foot-5

Finn used his glove to swallow up shot after shot, though he’s

flexible enough to slide across the crease to smother the puck.

”Pekka showed why I think he’s the best goalie in the league

last series,” center Mike Fisher said.

Rinne says he feels fortunate to play behind Suter and Weber,

the captain the past two seasons.

”It’s amazing how well they kind of compensate each other,”

Rinne said. ”They know themselves. They know each other so well,

and they always play against the top lines, too, and they’re still

able to create offense. That tells a lot about those guys for sure.

Best D pairing in the whole league for sure, that’s the backbone of

our team.”

Thanks to Weber and Suter, Nashville was the only team with two

defensemen in the top 11 in points this season.

Both defensemen played in the 2010 Olympics, Weber winning with

Canada over Suter and the Americans in the gold medal game. Weber

was a finalist for the Norris Trophy last year for the league’s

best defenseman, losing to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom. And both

defensemen went to the All-Star game this season.

Suter broke into the Nashville lineup first, and he has played

542 games with the Predators. He set career highs with 46 points

and 39 assists this season, with a plus-15 rating.

The 6-4, 232-pound Weber has 480 career games in Nashville, and

he set a career high with a plus-21 rating this season. He also

ranked among the league’s top 10 defensemen in points, goals,

power-play goals, power-play points, plus-minus rating and average

time on ice. No NHL defenseman has scored more goals since the

start of the 2008-09 season.

”They just complement each other very well,” Klein said

Monday. ”You know Webs being a physical, big shot, big presence,

and then you got Sutes who’s just so smooth. He’s just a great

passer and does all the little things right. When you’re talking

about putting two of the best D men in the world together, they’re

going to be a good pairing.”

So far these playoffs, Weber ranks sixth among defensemen

averaging 27 minutes, 44 seconds per game, just ahead of Suter’s

27:42. Weber said one key for working well as a pairing is spending

so much time together.

”We talk about it all the time,” Weber said. ”It’s like we

know what the other one’s going to do before we do it just because

of our body language.”

How much longer the defensive pairing stays together remains to

be seen.

Suter is an unrestricted free agent July 1, while Weber, already

playing under a $7.5 million arbitration award, will be a

restricted free agent again. Both would be top targets if they hit

the market, and Detroit is expected to make a big offer to Suter.

But the Predators have said they want to keep both, though a deep

postseason run could make the decisions easier all around.

The Predators certainly made plenty of moves before the trade

deadline, trying to prove their commitment to winning. Poile sent

this year’s first-round pick to Buffalo for forward Paul Gaustad

and acquired forward Andre Kostitsyn and defenseman Hal Gill from


For now, both defensemen are focused on winning.

Trotz said both Weber and Suter stopped by his office Sunday to

hear the coach’s plans for what could be a week between series

before playing either Phoenix or Chicago. Both defensemen want to

avoid a letdown that led to dropping the first game of their

second-round series with Vancouver in 2011, and Trotz said that’s

just leadership coming through.

Weber said the reason is simple.

”We’ve been through it, and we’re expecting a lot more,” Weber

said, ”and the ultimate goal is a Stanley Cup.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at