After winning its arbitration case with Denny Lambert earlier this month, Nashville opted to avoid any morale problems with the veteran forward by trading him to the Atlanta Thrashers for 23 year-old prospect Randy Robitaille. Lambert sought a one-year deal worth $700,000, but was awarded only $465,000 by an arbitrator. The disparity between Lambert’s asking price and the final value of the contract was a definite factor in general manager Dave Poile’s decision to make the trade. But the deal was also an effort to address Nashville’s need for scoring.
Robitaille has proven that he can score at the professional level, compiling 43 goals and 103 assists during the past two seasons with Providence of the American Hockey League. He was originally signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins in the spring of 1997, after completing his sophomore year at Miami University in Ohio. Robitaille earned CCHA All-Rookie honors during his freshman year, when he posted 14 goals, 31 assists and 45 points in 36 games. As a sophomore, he increased his output to 27 goals, 34 assists and 61 points in 39 games. His performance earned him CCHA All-Star first team honors and selection to the NCAA All-American West first team.
On the day he was signed by Boston, he played his first NHL game, but injured his shoulder and missed the final month of the regular season. His play was also limited during his first season with Providence in 1997-98, but he was still impressive and compiled 15 goals, 29 assists and 44 points in 48 games. He continued to develop in Providence last season and led the Calder Cup champion Bruins with 28 goals, 74 assists and 102 points in 74 games. His point total was good for second-best in the AHL.
Despite his rapid development in the AHL, the Bruins chose to trade Robitaille to the Thrashers in the wake of the 1999 NHL Expansion Draft. Robitaille was sent to Atlanta in exchange for forward Peter Ferraro, who was left unprotected and was selected by the Thrashers. Boston was forced to make the deal and keep Ferraro, since the team expected to lose checking line center Tim Taylor, who later signed with the New York Rangers. Ferraro has NHL experience and is a much better defenseive player so the Bruins chose him over Robitaille.
It’s hard to understand why Atlanta would then trade Robitaille for Lambert, who is mostly an enforcer and will bring nothing to the Thrashers offensively. But Atlanta GM Don Waddell seems more interested in having character players in the dressing room than actually being competitive. His misguided approach was Nashville’s gain, as long as Robitaille is productive at the NHL level. And it’s hard to imagine him being less productive than Lambert. If he can make the transition to the NHL as well as he made he jump from the college ranks to the AHL, Robitaille could be an unexpected surprise.
At 5’11 and 190 pounds, he is a bit undersized for the NHL, but he is an excellent playmaker. His goal totals have been solid, but they don’t reflect his ability to finish his chances, which is sometimes lacking. But the Predators could use any kind of offense, whether it comes from goal scoring or creating chances for teammates. Expect Robitaille to make a serious run to earn a roster spot out of training camp, but he will have a tought time winning a position at center, where the Predators have good depth.