PuckScene Roundtable: Which of the “Big 3″ is the least expendable?

Featuring Robby Stanley from Hockey Night in Nashville, Amanda DiPaolo from Inside Smashville, JR Lind from the Nashville Scene and Nashville Post, Dirk Hoag and Marc Torrence from On the Forecheck, Kris Martel from The Predatorial, Buddy Oakes from Preds on the Glass, Jeremy K. Gover from Section303.com, Ryan Porth from Smashville 24/7 and Mark Willoughby from The View from 111.

Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are all set to become free agents next season - which player is the least expendable? (Sarah Fuqua)

With Shea Weber’s $7.5 million arbitration ruling last week, all three of Nashville’s “Big 3″ – Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne – come up for free agency at the same time. Viewing team history, it begins to appear more and more unlikely that all three players will be in a Predators sweater in 2012-13. Thus, the question becomes, which of the “Big 3″ is the least expendable?

Instead of answering the question myself, I figured it was a good time to introduce a new feature to PuckScene.com – the PuckScene Roundtable. Thus, I called in several members of the Nashville blogging community to get their answers.

Which of the “Big 3″ is the least expendable?

Amanda DiPaolo, Inside Smashville

The question on which of the big 3 is most expendable may have become more complicated after Weber’s arbitration award. I keep reading fans blaming Poile for not locking the captain up long-term, but how can you blame a GM for not signing a player who just won’t sign? Poile needs to sit Weber down and ask him if he wants to remain in the Predators organization. If he doesn’t, then the question of who is most expendable answers itself. If his answer depends on re-signing Suter and Rinne to keep the Predators competitive, well that means none are expendable, that is, if you see Weber as the cornerstone of the franchise.

Jeremy K. Gover, Section303.com

Pekka Rinne is an elite goaltender. While he’s single-handedly kept the Nashville Predators in games ever since splitting starting duties with Dan Ellis back in 2008, his numbers since the Olympic break of 2010 prove that. Since then, Rinne has amassed a 45-27-10 record in 83 games, collecting 10 shutouts along the way. Even more impressive is his save percentage. During that span, the Kempele, Finland native has posted a god-like .930 in that category.

The numbers are great but what makes him the least expendable? The team in front of him. Nashville’s 219 goals last season were tied for the worst among Western Conference playoff clubs. Additionally, they’ve always struggled to find consistent goal scoring. Given those traits, they need a goaltender who can keep them in games and give them a chance to win a date on the schedule at any given time. Rinne does that for them.

Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are great defensemen and the loss of either of them would hurt this hockey club. But the loss of Rinne would set them back for years to come.

Do you really want to gamble that unproven netminders Anders Lindback, Jeremy Smith or Chet Pickard are going to be as good as Rinne? I don’t think so.

Dirk Hoag, On the Forecheck

Until a short while ago, I would have said Shea Weber, but this arbitration issue makes me question his commitment to the team and his fit as a captain, so I’ll switch my vote to Ryan Suter. He’s a rock-solid presence in his own zone and moves the puck from blueline to blueline as well as any defenseman in the league. He relishes soaking up big minutes against elite opponents, and is perhaps easier to sign long-term because he doesn’t put up the headlining goal totals that Weber does. I dig Pekka, but the margin between good and great goaltending is pretty small these days in the NHL, and if we learned anything since 2007, it’s that the Preds have the ability to plug that hole.

JR Lind, Nashville Scene Sports Columnist/Nashville Post Sports Business Reporter

It’s interesting the question was asked in this way. Maybe it says something about the psyche of the fanbase we’d be wondering who was least expendable rather than who was the most expendable. In any case, I’m using process of elimination at the risk of committing the Monarchian heresy.

First, Pekka Rinne is the most expendable. The franchise has shown an incredible ability to produce NHL-ready goalies. Suter is next. His primary virtue is responsibility and he’s among the league’s best in this role. But a prospect’s  inherent tendency to responsibility can be honed by good coaching.

That leaves Shea Weber as the least expendable. Ironic in that he has the highest return value and, thus, moving him could be the smart move for the franchise.

Kris Martel, The Predatorial

Ryan Suter could be the least discussed in this conversation, but is quite possibly the best player on the Nashville Predators. It’s hard to argue that any of the “Big 3″ are really expendable at all, because the loss of any one of them would be rough for the Predators. Yet, the loss of a Suter-type player on ANY team is almost the equivalent of losing a Nicklas Lidstrom, Bryan Leech, or a Denis Potvin (Losing him for 12 games this season was proof enough as the Predators went 4-7-1 in that span). Suter’s vision on the ice is uncanny and he has the ability to change a game with a flick of his wrist. Without Suter, Weber almost seems a shell of himself. Without Suter, Nashville’s blue-line would take a serious hit that could take years to recover from.

Buddy Oakes, Preds on the Glass

I would argue that Pekka Rinne is the least expendable of the big three. The expression that a top goalie will cover for many of a team’s lapses applies here. I think that last season we saw Rinne take another step toward being an elite goalie in the NHL and he was rewarded with a Vezina nomination. I think he still has more upside remaining than either Shea Weber or Ryan Suter.

The next least expendable would be Ryan Suter who plays much better without Weber than Weber does without Suter. That leaves Weber as the most expendable and also the most marketable to other teams should the Predators decide to trade him for a top offensive player to help balance the disparity between the Preds’ offensive and defensive abilities to take them further toward the goal of a parade with the Stanley Cup down lower Broad.

Ryan Porth, Smashville 24/7

Predators fans may not agree with me here… but Pekka Rinne is the least expendable.  As we speak, Rinne is an elite goaltender in this league and seems to get better with each passing year.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think last year’s Vezina-worthy season was a ‘fluke’, or ‘overachievement’, per se.  He is perfect for the Predators because he can shut down the opposition to one or two goals, and maybe steal a point or two, on nights that the offense doesn’t step up.  I understand the trend is to go cheap in goal and spend the money on defense, but Rinne is an exception.  Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn don’t call him ‘The Eraser’ for nothing.

Robby Stanley, Hockey Night in Nashville

 It’s really tough to even fathom an answer to this question. All three players are vital to the success of the franchise in the short-term and the long-term. If I had to pick one to stay, it would be Shea Weber.

Weber is the face of the Nashville Predators and is the best all-around defenseman in the world. He’s the first home-grown superstar the Predators have had, and he is the captain. Weber is the guy on all of the billboards around town, and most importantly, is the best player on the team and hasn’t hit the prime of his career yet.

Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter are both superstars in their own right. Both are phenomenal hockey players. Weber, Suter and Rinne are so good as a unit that it would be a shame to see them go their separate ways. However, it’s something that is a real possibility in the next year or two.

It pains me to even consider it, but Weber is the guy that I think is the least expendable out of the bunch.

Marc Torrence, On the Forecheck

Shea Weber. While there is no doubt that Weber’s defensive ability could be considered the best in the NHL, he is also the heart and soul of the Nashville Predators. Everything on this team runs through the captain and that much was evident through the end of the regular season and especially during the playoffs. Rinne and Suter are valuable but replaceable parts in David Poile’s well-oiled machine, but a player like Weber only comes a long every so often.

Mark Willoughby, The View From 111

 Captain Shea Weber has been locked up for one year with the Predators as a result of the massive arbitration award that was granted earlier this week. The good news for Predators fans is that Weber is with the team for another year.

The bad news?

He is with the team for one year only before the team tries to re-negotiate another, hopefully longer term deal.

The worse news?

Weber’s contract will expire at the same time as the contracts of netminder Pekka Rinne and defenseman Ryan Suter.

And this is where GM David Poile is going to have to be at his best to sign all three players, stalwarts that are arguably the core of the Predators franchise.

What if the unthinkable to Predators nation happens? What if the team cannot keep all three players?

Who is “expendable”?

Throughout their history, the Predators have taken the approach that they would build their team from the net out, and unless that philosophy has done a 180, the Predators will keep Rinne at all costs. The ability of Rinne to steal games for the Predators is well known. Also known is the Predators don’t score a lot of goals, averaging just over two goals per game last season. What is not known is if the current group of forwards can step up their scoring. Given these facts, it is hard to believe that this team would be a playoff contender without Rinne in net. His ability to keep the Predators in close games gives this team an opportunity to win every time the step on the ice. Without Rinne, this team would struggle mightily to make the playoffs, and for that reason, this makes him indispensable.

So that brings us to our two defensemen.

As a tandem, they are one of the best in the NHL. Both Weber and Suter play very complimentary styles- Weber the big, snarling, physical defenseman and Suter the smooth, intelligent, and positionally sound blue liner. Weber has the booming shot from the point; Suter is a deft puck handler that can carry the puck into the zone and quarterback the power play.

So how does one make a choice as to who to keep?

There is no doubt that Weber is a dominant physical presence and a great leader. If Weber were to depart the team, the void would be huge, both on the ice and in the locker room. The team does not have anyone at this time that can bring a shot like he does or provide the physical presence on the ice. In his first year as Captain, he provided steady leadership to the team in the locker room and was a calming presence on the ice.

Suter does not garner the attention that Weber does, but he is also an exceptional leader, steady in demeanor and a solid influence in the locker room as well as on the ice. Suter does not deliver the big hits that Weber does, but has quietly molded himself into a solid physical presence and one that is rarely caught out of position on the ice. His puck handling skills are exceptional, and he is a good quarterback for the power play.

So the decision comes down to the type of player the Predators most need on their blue line to win. A dominant physical force or an intelligent puck mover?

Who then becomes expendable?

In this hypothetical example, I would submit that the player that the Predators most need to continue their winning ways is Ryan Suter, thereby making Shea Weber expendable.

Now I know this sounds like sacrilege to those in Predator nation, but consider this: what type of defenseman has won a slew of Norris Trophies? A big hitter with a booming shot or a smooth skater that is intelligent and positionally sound.

If you answered that question by saying “Nik Lidstrom”, you have identified the type of defenseman that has the ability to lead a team to the promised land of the Stanley Cup. A defenseman that can lead a team by his solid play, calm demeanor, and hockey smarts.

Sounds a lot like Ryan Suter doesn’t it.

Could the Predators replace the shot and physical presence of Weber? Not immediately. They would be able to more readily replace his leadership with a player like Suter, but the team would certainly miss what a player like Weber brings to the ice. I think, however, that a player like Suter is so versatile and  has the type of game that is vital to this team continuing to win.

This exercise is not fun because I cannot imagine the Predators without any of these players. And for the record, I think the team will keep all three after next season.

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A native of Franklin, Tennessee, Patten Fuqua is the managing editor of PuckScene.com. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science from Belmont University in Journalism and Broadcasting.