With Franson, Santorelli, Predators are deeper and going for it

Barring a major injury, David Poile can just sit back March 2 and let the rest of the trade deadline madness play out without his participation.

"I can just watch you guys on TV this year and enjoy it," the Nashville Predators veteran general manager chuckled Sunday after pulling off an impressive trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs that landed him Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli.

Not that the Maple Leafs didn't do well, too, because GM Dave Nonis deserves full marks for pulling a first-round pick his way as well as prospect Brendan Leipsic -- two good assets. Plus the Leafs can also flip Olli Jokinen for a draft pick before March 2.

But for the Central Division-leading Predators to add a top-four blueliner of Franson's ilk plus versatile top-nine forward Santorelli, suddenly you have to consider the possibility that the Preds aren't simply going to get stomped on by a team like the Blues or the Blackhawks in the second round.

What's apparent more than ever is the Preds have the talent and the depth to take a long playoff run of their own.

Franson was one of the most sought-after blueliners on the market, while Santorelli earned equal interest as a cap-friendly, two-way forward.

The thing about Poile, as he showed in previous deals over the years -- such as the one for Peter Forsberg -- is when he feels his team has a chance, he becomes aggressive in wanting to add a piece or two to help its run. He is not shy.

"We had all of our meetings and we looked at our team and we said if we could get a defenseman and if we could add a forward, based on what we have, without hopefully upsetting too much of our chemistry going forward, that would be good for getting us to the playoffs and hopefully helping us win in the playoffs," Poile told ESPN.com on Sunday. "That's what we did. It nice to be able to do it in one deal with the same team, to be able to acquire two players that we were very knowledgeable with because we drafted them both and know them pretty well. It's fair to say they're both better players today than when they left here."

Getting Franson back into the fold is especially redeeming for Poile, who was sickened when he was basically forced to trade him to Toronto for financial reasons in order to help the Preds unload Matthew Lombardi's contract in 2011. That was a deal that's always been unsettling for the veteran GM, so getting Franson back Sunday was a bonus on top of the obvious attraction: The Predators already had arguably the best-looking blue-line corps in the NHL, and now add another top-end guy.

"It's a cliche, but you can never have enough defensemen," said Poile. "This gives us eight defensemen, the proper amount of depth that we need when you go into the playoffs. He's also a very good defenseman, he's an upgrade, he's a very mature player that can play at a very high level. I really think the foundation in the playoffs is your goaltender and your defense. This is as strong as we've ever been in both of those positions."

In a league where teams are dying to add more right-handed blueliners, Nashville added another righty in Franson to a group already including superstar Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis.

"We talked about this before making the trade, the lefty-right thing," said Poile. "When we're healthy, somebody on the right side is going to have to go to the left side; I imagine that would be either or both, a combination of Ryan Ellis or Seth Jones. They're both very capable based on their skill set. Seth played about 20 games last year on the left side."

Santorelli was highly sought after. Sources confirmed that the Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins were among teams showing interest. The fact that he plays both wing and center is a really appealing trait.

"I think he'll probably start off at wing but one of the main ingredients is his versatility to play all three forward positions, and I also think to move up and down the lineup," said Poile.

What made this deal possible is that Nashville was willing to give Toronto the first-round pick that I don't think the Maple Leafs could have gotten had they dealt Franson and Santorelli in separate deals. They might have received a second-round pick plus a prospect, maybe, for Franson, and a second-round pick in a separate Santorelli deal, but highly doubtful a first-round pick would have been in the picture.

By combining the two rental players in one deal, Nonis was able to get his first-round pick.

"Great deal for both teams," said a rival Western Conference team executive via text message Sunday. "Nashville is having one of those seasons where you have to go for it. They bolstered both ends of their lineup with two players [on expiring deals] who are 'coming home' and will be highly motivated after having escaped the circus in Toronto. The Leafs, on the other hand, moved two players whom they couldn't sign for a first-round pick in a very deep draft and a skilled, gritty prospect who typifies the new small forward that can play in the modern game."

The deal was spawned when Nonis stayed behind in Nashville two weeks ago after the Leafs played the Predators.

"Dave stayed for the Anaheim game, we had some talks, we had lunch together, we had talked before then but that allowed us to spend some quality time talking all the parameters and names and possible scenarios," said Poile. "It certainly gave us the foundation to make a deal."

The Leafs aren't done, of course. Pending UFA winger Daniel Winnik, who, like Santorelli, impressed this year in Toronto, will be moved before March 2. As of Sunday, a Leafs source said they weren't close to moving Winnik yet. The pressure is off a bit after the Nashville trade, so Nonis can afford to wait and have the Winnik market heat up even more. The Leafs are believed to be looking for either a second- and third-round pick for Winnik or a second-round pick and a prospect.

Like Franson and Santorelli, the Leafs really aren't in a position to re-sign Winnik -- the organization is headed for a roster overhaul.

Whether Nashville tries to keep Franson or Santorelli past this season remains to be seen.

"I know the market, I know realistically what these guys are going to get paid," said Poile. "I think we just let it play out with both of them and see, let's see if the fit is what we believe it is, let's see some wins come along -- if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. We don't need to rush into anything. Usually both sides know if there's a fit. So we'll see where we are."

Where they are now: among the list of bona fide Stanley Cup contenders.