With the trade deadline now just weeks away, we’re taking a closer look at each team. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs?
Many people, including everyone’s favorite PHR writer, considered the Nashville Predators to be a dark horse candidate to win the Stanley Cup in 2016-17. While we are still a few months out from seeing if that comes to fruition, at this point in time the team looks an awful lot like the same team it was last year. The addition of P.K. Subban and what many suspected would be the best puck-moving defense in the NHL has been hindered by long injury absences to both top pair defensemen. Ryan Johansen is performing well, but still not up to the level that he exhibited with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Scoring bumps by captain Mike Fisher, Viktor Arvidsson, and Colin Wilson have been counteracted by drop-offs from James Neal, Craig Smith, and Mattias Ekholm. Overall, the teams middling numbers in goals for and goals against are eerily similar to what they were in 2015-16.
If this team is, for all intents and purposes, the same team it was last year, that’s not a bad thing. The 2015-16 Predators clinched the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and upset the Pacific-winning Anaheim Ducks in the first round. They then lost to the eventual conference champion San Jose Sharks, but took them seven games, which is more than the St. Louis Blues could do in the championship round. It was the best postseason performance in franchise history. However, the current iteration of the Predators is sitting in the second wild card spot, trailing the Blues and trying to hold off the Los Angeles Kings, and is on pace to finish five points shy of last year’s mark. They got off to a slows start and have had to grind their way back into the conversation. Although the numbers are similar, this year’s team feels just a little off. After an impressive 2015-16 campaign, instead of shocking the league with a triumphant sequel, the Predators are not even guaranteed a playoff spot this year, despite playing nearly identical hockey.
As always, Nashville is lousy with salary cap space. GM David Poile is one of the best there is and has already shown a willingness to make moves with the recent acquisitions of Cody McLeod and Vernon Fiddler. If Poile believes that this team has what it takes to go farther than any Predators have gone before, expect him to put that space, a nearly-full collection of draft picks, and quite a bit of prospect capital to work as the Trade Deadline grows closer.
27-21-8, 4th in the Central Division, 8th in the Western Conference
Deadline Cap Space
Current Cap Space: $13,756,773
Deadline Cap Space: $18,571,644
45/50 contracts, via CapFriendly
2017: NSH 1st, NSH 2nd, NSH 3rd, NSH 5th, NSH 6th, NYR 6th, NSH 7th
2018: NSH 1st, NSH 2nd, NSH 3rd, NSH 4th, NSH 5th, NSH 6th, NSH 7th
Just like when the Predators shipped Seth Jones to Columbus for Johansen last year, expect Poile to dangle some young defenseman in front of teams this month. Nashville has Subban, Ekholm, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis locked up long term. Do they really need Anthony Bitetto? Petter Granberg? Trevor Murphy? They could even offer up promising young blue liners like Alexandre Carrier, Dante Fabbro, or Samuel Girard for the right return. On the flip side, all of this talented prospect depth on defense could also allow them to move an Ellis or Ekholm if presented with a big-ticket offer. Normally a contender wouldn’t consider such a major move in-season, but this where the upcoming Expansion Draft comes into play. If the Predators want to protect their four star defensemen, as one would imagine they do, they can then only protect four forwards as well, potentially leaving big names like Arvidsson, Smith, and Wilson exposed. It also limits who Nashville can bring in at the deadline, as any player with term remaining on their contract changes the protection formula. However, by trading one of the defenseman and just protecting the three others, the Predators could then protect seven forwards, removing their top six and any additional acquisitions from harm’s way.
Players To Watch
1) Scoring Forward – The Predators simply aren’t putting the puck in the net enough. They need a forward who can score goals himself, help to create goals for the struggling second and third lines, and help out on the 17th-ranked power play. The top name (reportedly) on the market is Matt Duchene, and with Nashville’s wealth of defensive talent, they may actually be able to meet the Colorado Avalanche’s high asking price. Adding another center would also allow the Predators to move Calle Jarnkrok to his natural wing positions. Whether it’s a center or wing or a sniper, speedster, or power forward, Nashville will likely be in on anyone who can help with production up front. A talented scoring forward is really need one, two, and three for this team if there are multiple rental guys out there who they can grab without paying too much.
2) Defensive defenseman – As good as Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber have unexpectedly been for the Preds this season, neither really inspires much confidence as a playoff starter. Nor does Brad Hunt, the next man up, who was picked up off of waivers from St. Louis last month, but has yet to play. What Nashville needs is a veteran shutdown defenseman to eat up some postseason minutes and play responsible defensive hockey. Poile has also shown through his recent moves that he feels the team needs more grit and toughness. If the Predators are still rolling come March 1st and feel good about their playoff chances, this need could turn into a big acquisition. Otherwise, a nice depth player who presents an upgrade over their current #5-#7 defenders would still be helpful albeit more affordable and reasonable.