The Nashville Predators cleared a whole ton of cap space over the weekend, sending star defenseman P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils without taking any notable salaries back. That sets them up to be players in free agency once again, and most expect them to focus on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Duchene. Duchene has long been a target of Predators GM David Poile, and Chris Johnston of Sportsnet has faith that the team will eventually get a deal done. Speaking on the 31 Thoughts podcast, Johnston nearly guaranteed that Duchene will go to Nashville in free agency:
100%. I will admit that I’m putting myself out there a bit because it would be foolish to say that he might not hear something in free agency that could change his mind, that someone might call him or his agents at CAA and offer an amount of money that obviously I don’t think Nashville is willing to give him. But this has been such a long dance between him and the Predators. No secret of his love of country music, of that city itself where he owns a home I believe. The Preds have had their eye on him and were involved in the trade discussions with Colorado going back a couple of years when he ended up in Ottawa. To me, I really don’t see this playing out any other way–but there is the occasional surprise in our business.
Duchene, 28, can now speak with any team during the unrestricted free agent interview period and assess his market for this summer. The veteran center is coming off a career-high 31 goals and 70 points in 2018-19 despite splitting that time between the Ottawa Senators and Blue Jackets. His performance in the playoffs for Columbus was exceptional, laying to rest some of the doubt that has followed him throughout his career. Despite playing in 727 regular season games over ten seasons, Duchene has now suited up just 18 times in the NHL playoffs.
With Kevin Hayes setting the UFA market at center with a seven-year, $50MM earlier this month, Duchene can look forward to a huge payday wherever he signs. Though he is almost a year older, Duchene represents such a huge upgrade on the offensive side of the puck that he very well could be looking at a deal worth millions more per season. That kind of deal was impossible for the Predators before moving Subban, and still may require them to move out another contract or two at some point down the road. Kyle Turris is the obvious candidate to go, especially if the team is bringing in Duchene to take over that second-line center role.