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Friday, November 6, 2009
Predators must again find way to survive


Just about every NHL team has been hampered by injuries this season, with more than 100 players in the medical ward right now around the league. Amazing.

But when you're the Nashville Predators, with the 28th-ranked payroll in the NHL, injuries hammer away at your depth just a little more than they do the average team. The frugal Preds don't have the luxury of hiding expensive, one-way contracts in the AHL. They just can't afford it.

<>So when top center Jason Arnott misses six games or agitator Jordin Tootoo misses the opening month of the season, yeah, the Preds feel that. But they survived the opening month of the season, winning their last three games in October to get back to the .500 mark.

Somehow, the scrappy Preds are hanging in there.

"We're actually hanging in there quite well," Nashville coach Barry Trotz told ESPN.com this week. "We've learned to be really resilient. You can get it done, but it's got to be a group effort."

Having Trotz, one of the best coaches in the game, helps, too; year after year, his staff squeezes juice out of a rock. And veteran GM David Poile has a keen eye for talent and maximizes the pennies afforded to him.

"Could we be a team that was top level if we added an extra $12 million to our payroll? Yeah, absolutely," Trotz said. "We could add a brand-new lineup front. But that's not reality for us. We've got to do it by drafting and developing players, by finding the next Joel Ward or the next Dan Ellis or Chris Mason, those types of guys."

Arnott (arm/shoulder) and Tootoo (quadriceps) now are back in the lineup. But the good news on the injury front was short lived with word this week that Shea Weber will miss about 10 days with a foot injury. He suffered a bone bruise after blocking a shot this past Saturday night. Life without Weber began Thursday night with a 4-0 loss at Anaheim as the Preds opened a four-game road trip.

If there's one player this team really could not go without, it's Weber, the workhorse and minutes leader (an average of 24:09 per game). From special teams to the transition game, Weber is Nashville's engine. He's a near lock for Canada's 2010 Olympic team.

"Webs has been all-world the last five games. He'll be the toughest to replace, no doubt," Trotz said.

Weber, 24, had nine points (five goals, four assists) in 13 games before going down. Everyone knows about his heavy shot, but Trotz said that's not what the team will miss the most.

"He really helps us on the attack," Trotz said. "You just can't just attack with three guys anymore. It's got to be four guys up the ice. You need the fourth attacker; it is important to help break down coverage. And in Weber's case, he's got the big shot, but he can get up there in a hurry."

Rookie center Colin Wilson (groin), forward J.P. Dumont (upper body) and winger Martin Erat (lower body) sat out Thursday night.

This is where drafting and developing are key for a team like Nashville, because you know July 1 isn't the answer. The team called up 21-year-old winger Andreas Thuresson, who made his NHL debut last Saturday. He was a fifth-round pick, 144th overall, in the 2007 NHL draft. The late-round picks are the key to the team's survival.

"Our reality is that we need to find different people to get it done for us," Trotz said.

Do I think these guys will make the playoffs? No. But would I want to play them with my season on the line in late March? No way. They make you earn every inch of ice.