Get a behind-the-scenes look at the James Neal trade from David Poile’s perspective

Rory Boylen
David Poile

It’s always fun to be taken behind the scenes of an NHL team’s operations. And when the Nashville Predators put a mic on GM David Poile during the draft, we caught a glimpse of the thought process behind the James Neal trade.

What’s always a little funny when you watch something like this, is how similar the negotiations can be to your own fantasy league. Asking for a second, or even third, opinion. Trying to come up with a way to get the player you want, without giving up a certain piece you’d rather keep. And casually talking with the other GM, trying to get in his head space and wiggle some negotiating room.

This video leading up to the Hornqvist-Neal trade (and Nashville’s pick) is a neat over-the-shoulder look at how the blockbuster went down:

A few takeaways:

1. The Preds really, really like Kevin Fiala, who they plucked 11th overall. And that kept the Neal deal from being a little bigger. Poile talks about how Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was willing to trade two first-rounders for Nashville’s 11th pick, but the Preds wanted to draft the quality player instead of increasing their quantity of first round prospects.

“The guy we want to get, you got me thinking that this was going to be our next star player or something. I don’t want to trade out of this,” Poile says to his scouts.

Poile goes on to say the Swiss-born Fiala was on Nashville’s radar very early in the season. And when he goes back to talk to Rutherford, the Pens GM asks Poile about the trade without the picks, to which Poile replies “if you do it, I’ll do it.” And there you have it, a trade is born.

2. Who would Nashville have picked if they did swap picks with Pittsburgh? The Pens snapped up Kasperi Kapanen – Sami’s son – but never did make that trade with Colorado to get No. 23. The Avs took Conner Bleackley, who scored 68 points in 71 games with the Red Deer Rebels last season.

This doesn’t mean Nashville would have taken the same two players, but Jared McCann, David Pastrnak, Nikita Scherback, Nikolay Goldobin and Josh Ho-Sang were the next five picks. In a draft where the talent was so spread out, it’ll be interesting to see how the bottom of the first round develops compared to the middle of it. Since Nashville is so focused on adding offense these days, would Josh Ho-Sang and his very intriguing natural ability have been one of these picks? When you have two, you’re a little more open to taking a minor risk.

3. What was the deal Rutherford had lined up with the Avs? Poile said Rutherford could get Colorado’s pick, which he would trade to Nashville for No. 11. We may never know what Pittsburgh was going to send the other way. Before the draft, Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Tribune “I’m not going to move a player out of the organization who can help us right now just to get more picks,” so we’re probably not talking about a roster player. Unless P-A Parenteau was involved somehow. He was traded to Montreal a couple days later…

4. Now this may mean nothing, since it’s not uncommon for owners to approve trades involving big players like Neal, but after Poile returns to the draft table, seemingly ready to pull the trigger, he’s waiting for Rutherford to get the go-ahead.

“He’s calling Mario (Lemieux). If Mario says yes, we’ll do the deal.”

After the surprising Ray Shero firing and the bungling of the Dan Bylsma situation, Pittsburgh’s ownership has fairly come under fire this summer. With Shero out of the way and maybe Rutherford in for only a few years, is ownership going to meddle in team operations more than it used to? Again, it’s not unusual at all for an owner to give the go-ahead for such a big trade, but the Penguins transition is worth monitoring. Who’s really in control of roster decisions?

5. Neal’s lack of discipline was not discussed in this video, but it must have come up at some point during deliberations. What Neal can add in goals he can also subtract in mindless penalties. The Preds had the 25th-ranked PK last season at an 80.2 percent kill rate and dealt one of their killers in the trade (Spaling). But this just goes to show how the Predators’ priorities have changed since Peter Laviolette was hired. They’ve put a lot of effort into acquiring offense this off-season (they went hard for Jason Spezza), which is a refreshing turn for the organization. Sure Neal brings some discipline risks, but he’s the best, most natural goal scorer in the Preds’ lineup.

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