Predators: Delmore deal opens up blueline

By Brian Roe

The Nashville Predators traded defensemen Andy Delmore to the Buffalo Sabres Friday for a third round selection in the 2004 Entry draft.

The 26-year-old was effective offensively, especially on the power play, registering 72 points over the two seasons he spent in Nashville. However, the Predators were displeased with his defensive mishaps during the two seasons he spent in Nashville.

The trade emphasizes Nashville’s seriousness in rebuilding its blueline. The first sign came last weekend at the Entry draft when the Predators used six of their draft picks to select defensemen.

The likely third sign will come next week when the Predators do not offer contracts to defensemen Cale Hulse and Bill Houlder.

All told, half of Nashville¡¦s blueline will have a different look for the 2003-2004 season. So who are the new players going to be?

Tomas Kloucek, who was acquired from the New York Rangers in the Mike Dunham trade, is the top candidate for the latest vacancy in the Predators defensive unit. Barring injury, Kloucek will be one of the top six defensemen for the Predators come October.

The 23-year-old Kloucek signed a one year contract with Nashville last week, the key clause being that it was a one-way contract, meaning whether he plays with the affiliate Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL or with the Predators he will be paid the same. Kloucek, 6’3″, has played in 98 NHL games, including three last season with the Predators.

The door is also now wide open for Nashville prospects Robert Schnabel, Andrew Hutchinson, Dan Hamhuis, and possibly others.

Schnabel, 24, played 62 games with Milwaukee last season racking up 178 penalty minutes. The 6-5 defenseman has skated in two games with Nashville over the last two seasons and plays the physical style the Predators would like to move toward.

Hutchinson, 23, is another big defenseman (6-2, 198) the Predators will give an opportunity to crack the line-up. The former Michigan State Spartan led Milwaukee defensemen last season, netting nine goals. Hutchinson will likely make his NHL debut this season for Nashville.

Hamhuis, 20, is another player who will be given every chance to play next season. The 2001 first-round draft choice led the Admirals blueline in scoring last season racking up 27 points in his first professional season. Hamhuis is the future of the Nashville defense and the Predators will not rush him in order to fill a need.

Other dark horses that have a shot at cracking the line-up next season may include: Alexander Riazantsev, acquired at the trade deadline from the Avalanche; Curtis Murphy, acquired from the Wild last week; and Marek Zidlicky, acquired from the Rangers in the Dunham deal.

Finally, the last ingredient to the Predators blueline next season could be Ryan Suter. If the first-round pick can prove to Nashville that he is NHL-ready at the tender age of 18 then he will be brought in.

Regardless of who makes the team next season for the Predators, the point remains that the team will be infused with youth on defense, and that may serve well for the future of the Nashville Predators.

Predators News and Notes

Oliver Setzinger, 19, is making quite an impression on the Predators hierarchy during rookie camp. The 6-0 center arguably has the most upside of any other European prospect in the Nashville system. The 2001 third round draft pick is yet another young prospect making the Predators future seem bright.

Another young defensemen, Mark Eaton, also re-signed with the Predators after playing 50 games with the team last season. The 6-2 defensemen earned his props last season by posting two goals, seven assists and a plus/minus rating of +1. Eaton, Kimo Timonen, Jason York and Karlis Skrastins are the four defensemen who have all earned spots on next year¡¦s team.

Libor Pivko signed a two-year deal with Nashville last week. Pivko is a 6-2, 195 pound forwards who plays a solid game on both ends. The 23-year-old scored 25 points in 52 games in the Czech elite league last year. Pivko will likely start the season in Milwaukee.