Three days into the 2011 NHL free agency period on July 3rd, Predator fans were anxiously awaiting a free agent signing, any signing. Marcel Goc, Steve Sullivan, and Joel Ward had already signed elsewhere. It was clear that Shane O’Brien was history. The Predators, with the smart money, were waiting for the prices to go down.
The last thing anyone expected on a holiday weekend Sunday was that the Predators would send shock waves throughout the NHL community with a major trade.
The Predators sent the concussed Matthew Lombardi (and his $7 million in guaranteed contracts) and Cody Franson, an offensive defenseman to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for the always maligned defenseman, Brett Lebda and forward Robert Slaney, who was described in the Globe and Mail as “a 22-year-old who spent most of last year playing for Reading in the ECHL.”
There was also fine print about draft picks but that just confuses the story here.
Franson was thrilled beyond words to go play for his family’s favorite team, Lebda was later bought out by the Preds, and now the Leafs claim that Lombardi may play again.
Good! I’m happy for Matthew as a person, because he didn’t look well the last time I saw him, and for the Preds who will get a higher pick if he does get to play.
The truth is that this was never a trade about talent. It was all about contracts and letting Toronto pay the $7 million on non-insurable salary that Lombardi was going to get from someone. It cost the Preds a rising player in Franson and the buyout money for Lebda.
All that said, the neglected player in the deal was Robert Slaney, a 203 pound, 6’2”, 22 year old, that hails from Upper Island Cove, Newfoundland He the only living, breathing asset that the Nashville Predators own from what most pundits think was one of the worst trades in the NHL in the past ten years.
I talked to Slaney over the weekend and he is a real guy, not just a name in a story about big time NHL players getting traded. He’s got spirit, a positive attitude, and is someone that Barry Trotz could love.
After a successful career at the junior level, he has bounced between the AHL and the ECHL in the Toronto system but did not seem to fit their mold. He’s a smart guy too and realized the situation. “I had hinted to the organization that I wanted to get traded and get a fresh start from the last year and they were quite accommodating. They said that they were happy with me and wanted to give me an opportunity somewhere else.”
So in an unlikely fashion he became Predator property. He was thrilled to be coming to Nashville. “It seems like the organization is going in a good direction. I love the way that their efforts go toward hard work and team play. I think that fits right into my game so I am excited to be here.”
He continued, “I feel like there is a bit more opportunity here. They develop their young guys here and I’m excited to get that chance. I plan to come in play my game, be hard working and energetic and hopefully that will land me a spot.”
So far he was saying all the right things, so I asked about his game. “I’m an energetic guy, big on the forecheck and the backcheck, a good two-way player. I’m not going to get a whole lot of points, 10-15 goals maybe 20 points, nothing too serious but I’ll definitely be an energy guy.”
Milwaukee coach Kirk Muller, who is leading the rookies, was complementary of Slaney too. “Typically, he likes to play a forechecking, hard game, aggressive and all that. That’s what we want. The thing for our forwards to know is that if you want to play here or in Milwaukee is that you’ve got to work and you’ve got to skate.”
Even further, Muller said, “To do it if one guy’s not in sync you are working and not accomplishing anything. You do it together when everyone understands the purpose of where you are going and you keep that ongoing pressure and he’s seems to be that type of player and that’s what we have to see if he can continue to do that then he is the type of player that we’re looking for here.”
I asked Slaney if he felt any additional pressure being the last remnant of the Predators’ summer trade.
“No, not at all. I’m looking at this as fresh start and a clean slate to come in and prove what I can do for the organization and take it as all positives.”
So with all this said, we discussed what has come to be known as “Predator Hockey” and he responded, “From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be a great fit for me.”
Welcome to Smashville, Robert Slaney!