This was supposed to be the year the Predators held firm at the trading deadline.
In this goofy, lockout-shortened, helter-skelter season, where the price for helpful additions sky-rocketed, dwindling playoff hopes meant it made good sense for general manager David Poile to do little at the deadline.
And indeed, as Tuesday's deadline day opened, it seemed Poile was content to do just that. Early on, he swapped aging vet defenseman Scott Hannan to San Jose for a seventh round pick. As the day wore on, teams notified their frazzled beat writers when they were done making transactions. The deadline passed at 2 p.m., yet the Predators had issued no such announcement.
The hockey world knew a trade was still pending — the Washington Capitals had scheduled a press conference to announce their final trade. But they said it was delayed, pending all the necessary notifications.
The Predators called their traditional deadline press conference for 3:30, but beat writers, bloggers and sportscasters found nothing but a locked door at 501 Broadway.
That's when details began to leak. The Caps' trade was with the Predators.
And that trade was for longtime Predators forward Martin Erat.
For 12 years, the talented Czech had honed his game to meld with Barry Trotz's system. He was second only to fellow career Predator David Legwand on nearly every team list.
And now he was gone. He had asked for the trade. In his early 30s, the newly minted assistant captain did not want, in his words, to be part of a rebuild. He did not want to wait for his chance for a Cup. He wanted out.
Poile obliged him, sending young grinder Michael Latta along in exchange for the Caps' talented No. 2 prospect, Swedish forward Filip Forsberg. And for the third time in 10 months, a member of the Predators leadership group sent shockwaves. Ryan Suter signed with Minnesota, Shea Weber signed an offer sheet — ultimately matched by Nashville — with Philadelphia. And now Erat.
It's troubling that three of the team's most talented players sought, at least superficially, to play elsewhere.
Poile deserves kudos for getting Forsberg in exchange. For a team that has struggled to draft talented offensive players, he was able to get one of the best available by swapping a forward on the wrong side of 30.
What little hope the Preds had at the postseason, however, grows fainter by the game. Thursday, a rash of injuries forced Barry Trotz to play 10 skaters who had spent time this season on the farm in Milwaukee.
For teams without a chance at a championship, the expanded rosters that come after the deadline can be an exciting time. Will Austin Watson show the scoring touch at the NHL level that he's shown in the minors? Will Chris Mueller emerge as the tough, lower-line minutes-eating face-off-winning center he's shown signs of becoming? Will young Forsberg play, even just a bit, in North America this year? How many puns can be made on Daniel Bang's name?
But for Predators fans, there was plenty of sobriety to go around in the Silly Season. Just one year ago, the Predators vanquished their benchmark by knocking Detroit out in five games in the playoffs and were considered a contender for the Stanley Cup. But they were eliminated by Phoenix in the second round. Alexander Radulov repatriated to Russia after his soirée in Scottsdale. Then Suter left. Then Weber signed that sheet. And the Predators will spend the late spring watching the playoffs instead of playing in them.
It's been a tough year. And now comes be a summer of tough questions.
Are the fans — the old who stuck through the trials of expansion and threats of relocation, and the new who hopped on the gold-plated bandwagon in the past two years — prepared for a steady build? Or does the team need to be splashy to survive and return to their now-usual position in the postseason?
For now, the fans — who have routinely packed Bridgestone Arena to support a mediocre hockey team whose owners helped perpetrate a foolish work stoppage — will have to be content watching the youngsters play alongside the survivors.
Whether that's enough to bring them back next season remains to be seen.