All that talk about not making too much of Matt Duchene’s property in Nashville? Forget about it, apparently. Pierre LeBrun writes for The Athletic that the Predators are expected to enter the bidding for the best center on the free agent market. The team would have to shed some salary to do so, but that appears to be a hurdle they are willing to take on to add a top offensive talent.
Not only does Duchene have connections to the city – as well as a love for country music – but Nashville GM David Poile tried to acquire Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche last year (he settled to be third team in on the doomed deal with the Ottawa Senators) and is likely to take another run in free agency. The only problem with the free agency route is that no salary will move out the other way. Duchene is expected to command a maximum-term contract worth upwards of $9MM per year. Currently, the Predators have only $7MM in available cap space with 21 players signed. That doesn’t even include anticipated extensions for RFA forwards Colton Sissons and Rocco Grimaldi, and Nashville must also consider the raise that No. 1 defenseman Roman Josi is owed on his next contract. It would be impossible for the Predators to sign Duchene without making other significant moves.
Fortunately, as LeBrun notes, Poile has built a roster that is completely free of any trade restrictions. Any Nashville player could be on the move this summer, whether that’s dynamic, but expensive defenseman P.K. Subban, disappointing recent extension Kyle Turris, or underwhelming deadline addition Mikael Granlund. The Predators have long been searching for a surefire second line center and Duchene behind Ryan Johansen would give Nashville an elite one-two punch. If it costs them any of the aforementioned players, or even a combination of depth players like Craig Smith, Nick Bonino, or Calle Jarnkrok, it would likely be worth it. The real question is whether Poile can get the requisite deals done, or at least in place, by July 1st so that he can approach talks with Duchene with the confidence of knowing he’s not putting his team in an impossible cap position.
It is still a stretch to consider Nashville the likely landing spot for Duchene. It would take considerable effort and roster re-organization to make the star center a fit for the Predators, whereas many other teams in need of a top pivot also have the cap space to do so easily. Yet, if Nashville truly has interest in making it work, combined with Duchene’s own interests in the city, there is certainly a potential fit that could shift the balance of power in the Western Conference.