The Nashville Predators’ early exit from the 2019 Playoffs showed that the team wasn’t built to be a winner like many thought it was. They lacked consistent goal scoring and suffered from an over-reliance on the top line to win games. The less-than-stellar result has created much speculation on how the team can get better over the offseason.
Addressing Scoring Woes
One move that nearly everyone believes the Predators should make is to add scoring, by way of bringing in a top-six forward. For many, this means dealing from a position of strength, their defense, to address an area of weakness, their offense.
The Predators have one of the league’s best defense corps, and with Dante Fabbro’s emergence, they have five quality blueliners, all of whom should be able to handle top-four minutes next season. Furthermore, with the Seattle Expansion Draft looming and Fabbro now needing protected, it’s becoming more clear that a defenseman is likely to be dealt.
Additionally, with Roman Josi eligible for an extension on July 1 and deserving a big raise over his current $4 million cap hit, the Predators are going to need as much cap space as they can get to address other issues in free agency. As a result, each of the team’s top-four defensemen have been involved in trade speculation. However, the one blueliner who’s been at the center of the trade talks is P.K. Subban, who seems to never be out of the spotlight. Let’s look at some of the rumors involving him and see which ones, if any, hold weight from a Predators’ perspective.
Subban Trade Rumors
While there have been many rumors over the years surrounding a possible trade of Subban, I’m going to focus on five intriguing ones, beginning with the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey Devils
The Pucks and Pitchforks blog is responsible for this trade idea. Writer Nick Villano brings up how Devils general manager Ray Shero has recent experience working with Predators GM David Poile, as the two came together on the Brian Boyle trade at the 2019 Trade Deadline. He first brings up Devils’ top prospect, and the league’s 20th-best, according to The Hockey News’ Future Watch issue, defenseman Ty Smith. Villano goes on to say that Smith would be too high a price to pay for Subban. He then suggests that an appropriate return would be Pavel Zacha and a first-round pick (not the number one selection). Let’s analyze this.
Related: Seven Things About P.K. Subban
Zacha is a 22-year-old forward and the Devils’ 2015 sixth-overall pick. He just completed his third NHL season and his point totals have been 24, 25, and 25. He has yet to live up to the expectations he created when he scored 28 goals and 64 points in 51 games his final season in the OHL. The Devils were clearly dissatisfied with his production in 2018-19 as they sent him to the AHL, where he had five assists in four games. He’s had poor five-on-five metrics throughout his career, never reaching a 50 percent shot or goal share.
Zacha also negatively impacted his linemates in 2018-19, dropping each’s shot share relative to playing with someone other than Zacha. He just played the final season of his entry-level contract (ELC), making him a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer. Assuming he would agree to a bridge deal, his acquisition would address the Predators’ salary cap concerns. However, that’s the only way this trade helps the Predators. Zacha isn’t valuable enough, even with his age and draft pedigree, for this trade to be worth it for the Predators.
New York Rangers
The next trade idea comes from Elite Sports New York, and wow, is it interesting. Writer Frank Curto starts off by saying that the Rangers need a top-pair defenseman. He says that Brady Skjei, Libor Hájek, Ryan Lindgren and Marc Staal should all be off-limits. So the first offer he crafts is Kevin Shattenkirk and Neal Pionk for Subban and a second-round pick. Thankfully, he comes to his senses and admits that it’s not enough value for the Predators. His second package is Shattenkirk and Chris Kreider for Subban and a second-round pick. Let’s unpack this.
First of all, a Predators/Rangers trade makes sense on the surface. The Rangers need a top-pair blueliner and they’ll have the cap space in 2019-20 to take on Subban’s $9 million cap hit. However, the trade packages Curto outlines are ludicrous. Pionk isn’t bad as a 23-year-old right-shot blueliner who had six goals and 26 points in 73 games in 2018-19. However, like Zacha, his metrics were terrible with only a 44 percent shot share and 40 percent goal share, although he actually improved the metrics of Staal, his most common defense partner. Pionk also just played the last season of his ELC and will be an RFA, which would help the Predators’ cap situation. That’s the good.
Even Kreider could benefit the Predators. In 2018-19, he tied a career-high with 28 goals and was one off his career-high with 52 points. He also actually had positive five-on-five metrics and has experience playing in the top-six. As a speedy winger who’s unafraid to use his 6-foot-3 frame to get physical, he would be a perfect fit for what the Predators should strive to be. Kreider has one more season with a $4.625 million cap hit, which would help the team’s cap situation, even if they extended him.
Now onto Shattenkirk, where the problem lies. With a $6.65 million cap hit for the next two seasons, he is vastly overpaid considering he’s produced seven goals and 51 points the past two seasons combined. If the Predators are looking to free up some cap space to extend Josi and add a forward, Shattenkirk can’t be in the return.
Next up is an idea written by Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the article, Carchidi writes that there are ample reasons for the Flyers and Predators to be trade partners in a deal involving Subban. Specifically, it starts with the near-four decade relationship between Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher and Poile. Carchidi mentions:
They have known each other for 47 years, and Poile got his big break in 1972, when Fletcher’s father, Cliff, hired him as a 22-year-old administrative assistant with the expansion Atlanta Flames. Five years later, he made Poile an assistant general manager.
From “Trading Jake Voracek for P.K. Subban Makes Sense for Flyers,” Philadelphia Inquirer – 05/06/2019
Additionally, the two teams partnered in the Wayne Simmonds trade at the 2019 Trade Deadline, so there’s plenty of history here. As you can see from the article’s title, this trade involves swapping Jake Voracek and Subban one-for-one. This trade makes sense for both teams. Voracek turns 30 in August and has four years left on his contract with an $8.25 million cap hit. He’s actually paid less than his cap hit each of the final four years, which would benefit a small-market team like the Predators. Meanwhile, Subban turns 30 on May 13 and has three years left on his deal with a $9 million cap hit.
Voracek has been an under-the-radar great player for his career. He’s a six-time 20-goal scorer and a seven-time 50-point producer. He’s also eclipsed the 80-point mark twice, and in 2018-19 he had 20 goals and 66 points in 78 games. Only four of his goals and 18 of his points occurred on the man advantage. Meanwhile, Subban is a six-time 10-goal scorer and a five-time 40-point producer. In 2018-19, he had nine goals and 31 points in 63 games. Looking at the two players’ underlying stats further shows this trade working for both teams.
During Voracek’s tenure with the Flyers, he’s typically hovered around a 50 percent shot share. It was 49.5 percent in 2018-19. He’s also had up-and-down goal shares, from 59.3 percent in 2017-18 to 45.3 percent in 2018-19. However, that has little to do with him as the Flyers have consistently had low PDOs with Voracek deployed, including a .985 in 2018-19 thanks to a .902 on-ice save percentage. Now the negative aspect is that Voracek was a hindrance on his linemates in 2018-19.
On the other hand, Subban had positive metrics in all but control of high-danger chances. He still had a less-than-optimal PDO at .994, but that’s due to the team shooting 7.3 percent with him deployed. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, his most common defense partner, established one of the league’s better pairs in recent seasons. Together, they were excellent in 2018-19 with a 54.9 percent shot share and 55.1 percent goal share. They were separated down the stretch with Subban partnering with Josi and Ekholm pairing with Ryan Ellis, and neither pair succeeded.
This trade simply works. Voracek is the top-six left-shot winger the Predators need and he’d work well on the second line with Mikael Granlund. Subban would improve the Flyers’ top defense pair, partnering with Ivan Provorov. Subban’s style and how he plays over the edge at times would make him a fan favorite in Philadelphia. Plus, he’s already succeeded in Montreal, one of the league’s toughest markets, so Philadelphia’s notoriously tough fans shouldn’t be a concern. Lastly, the two players’ cap hits nearly even out, making the trade a win for both teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Another team that could be a solid trade partner for the Predators is the Toronto Maple Leafs. This suggestion comes from The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin in a blog post he wrote in which he raised five questions for the Maple Leafs’ offseason. One question was “Does (GM Kyle) Dubas finally find a right-shot defenseman for the top four?” In answering the question, Larkin brings up that Nikita Zaitsev is the team’s only top-four right-shot defenseman and that Ron Hainsey played out of position on the top pair in 2018-19. Finally, Larkin mentions how Dubas attempted to address the blue line by bringing in Jake Muzzin but that head coach Mike Babcock didn’t see it as the ideal scenario.
Larkin suggests that unless the Maple Leafs want to sign Tyler Myers, the only way they can get a top-four right-shot defenseman is by trading for one. He lists several targets: Jacob Trouba, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Subban. In order for the Maple Leafs to land such a player, Larkin thinks they’ll have to part with one of their young, impact forwards. It’d be a way for them to address cap concerns while also providing fair value in return. Larkin considers Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner as untouchable. That sounds about right. He lists Nazem Kadri, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander as likely trade candidates and that a one-for-one swap of Nylander for a defenseman makes a lot of sense. Let’s unpack that.
Nylander is a right-shot forward capable of playing center or wing, and at only 23 years of age, he still hasn’t hit his prime. He has five years left on the much-publicized contract he signed in Dec. 2018 after a lengthy holdout. It resulted in him playing in 54 games and scoring seven goals and 27 points, not a great total, but a large portion of his points (13) occurred in his last 20 games.
He also won 55.2 percent of the 368 faceoffs he took, controlled at least 53.8 percent of five-on-five shots, goals, scoring chances and high-danger chances and the Maple Leafs were expected to control 57 percent of five-on-five goals when Nylander was deployed. So while he may not have had the counting stats that old-school hockey fans like to see, he was really good in 2018-19, and that doesn’t even include how he improved the shot shares of Kadri and Matthews, his two most-common linemates.
Now there is always the chance that with Nylander proving he can center his own line the Maple Leafs look to deal Kadri instead. It wouldn’t give them as much cap freedom and they wouldn’t get as much in return, but it would mean keeping the more talented player. If that’s the case, the Predators shouldn’t be interested. But if Nylander is on the table, Poile should call Dubas immediately.
A one-for-one trade of Nylander for Subban would address both teams’ needs. The Maple Leafs would get a first-pair right-shot blueliner (who’s from Toronto, by the way), while the Predators would get a top-six forward who could center the second line or play on the wing. He’d immediately be the team’s most talented forward and would be a near-perfect fit for what the Predators want to do.
Finally, we arrive at the last trade idea. This one was produced by The Canuck Way’s Alex Hoegler. This idea was pleasant to come across because Hoegler pays attention to both teams’ needs and doesn’t suggest that the Canucks pull a fast one on the Predators. His reasoning for the Canucks having interest in Subban is clear: they have a plethora of young talent with more on the way and nine picks in this year’s draft while their blue line is void of depth. He correctly points out that the Predators need to extend Josi and they don’t need four (and potentially five with Fabbro) top defensemen.
He goes on to discuss the Canucks’ untouchables: Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. That seems fair, and I would even add Adam Gaudette to that list. Instead, Hoegler thinks the Canucks would need to part with a 2020 first-round pick and a 2019 or 2020 second-rounder, plus prospect Olli Juolevi and one of Kole Lind, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin or Tyler Madden. Interestingly enough, I think this would be an overpay for a soon-to-be 30-year-old Subban who has three seasons left on his deal. Four assets, including a first-round pick is a large package to part with, and I’m sure the Predators would love to receive that much value in return.
The players to pay attention to here are the prospects: Juolevi, Lind and Madden. Juolevi was the Canucks’ 2016 fifth-overall pick. He was expected to be the anchor of the team’s blue line, but his development has been slow and fans have grown frustrated with him. He made progress in Finland’s Liiga in 2017-18 and had 13 points in 18 AHL games in 2018-19 before a knee injury ended his season in December.
Lind is a winger whom the Canucks took in the second round in 2017. He was better than a point-per-game player his final two seasons in the WHL and had 17 points in 51 games in his first full AHL season. He’s progressed at every level and is driven to learn and improve. He has good vision, a strong shot, and is the type of player who can thrive on the power play.
Finally, Madden, a center, just completed his freshman season at Northeastern University where he had 28 points in 36 games. He also contributed four points in seven games for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Not bad for the 2018 third-round pick.
From both teams’ perspectives, there’s so much to like here. The Canucks would get Subban to partner with Hughes, giving them a dynamic top defense pair. Meanwhile, the Predators would be getting a talented defense prospect they could groom into a second or third-pair guy, another intriguing prospect (I like Lind) and two draft picks. Unfortunately, I don’t think Canucks GM Jim Benning would ever part with that much value for Subban. I wouldn’t.
But what if the first-round pick is off the table? That’d still be a nice return for the Predators. However, the only problem with this proposal is that it doesn’t address the Predators’ need for a top-six forward in the present. Although it would give them plenty of cap space to sign one in free agency with all the prospects on ELCs.
Would Any of These Trades Be Ideal Moves?
Apart from the Flyers and Maple Leafs, none of these trade ideas really address what the Predators need: a top-six forward, preferably a center, or the freeing up of cap space so they can be buyers in free agency. Acquiring Nylander or Voracek addresses the need perfectly while the Canucks can give the Predators plenty of value even if no one player is the perfect return. The other two trade proposals are way off base. In a future article, I’ll make the case for trading Subban, and which teams would be ideal partners for the Predators.