The Nashville Predators are one of the most impressive teams in the Western Conference this season. Head coach John Hynes’ group started the new year with five consecutive wins before their recent struggles. The Predators hadn’t lost more than two consecutive games all season, but they have now gone 0-3-1 in their last four games and 5-3-2 in their last 10. Tough times have dropped them from first in the Central Division to third, while the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues have passed them. With the trade deadline still two months away, general manager David Poile may have no choice but to move quickly, and the Montreal Canadiens could be a perfect team to talk business.
After making the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens have followed up their Cinderella run with a season to forget. They are at the bottom of the NHL standings, and after hiring general manager Kent Hughes, he and executive vice president Jeff Gorton will be busy making calls between now and the trade deadline. The Habs have an 8-25-5 record, making them a prime target to be sellers, and the Predators could find great value with some of the big names on their roster.
The Predators could afford to add another left-handed defenseman to their group, which already includes Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Matt Borowiecki. However, unlike those three, Ben Chiarot can play both sides, making him a valuable asset for Nashville to covet. As an unrestricted free agent after this season, it’s a matter of time before he’s dealt. Poile should try to add him to the Preds’ blue line even though he’ll be a rental player.
Chiarot joined the Canadiens in the 2019-20 season and was instrumental in the team’s success. His consistency and physical play were a staple on the blue line, and he played an important role in their top-four along with Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson. As Montreal gets ready to rebuild, a lot of teams will be calling about Chiarot. He can log heavy minutes, play on both the power play and the penalty kill and can shut down plays with his physicality and gap control.
As Nashville’s third line of Colton Sissons, Tanner Jeannot, and Yakov Trenin continues to shine, the bottom line could use someone with a good mix of skill and effort, and Artturi Lehkonen fits the bill. Lehkonen signed a one-year contract worth $2.3 million after a strong performance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he’s set to become a restricted free agent again this offseason. In a bottom-six role with the Canadiens, Lehkonen has put up four goals and 12 points in 34 games this season and continues to be one of the most consistent players on the team in terms of effort.
The Predators’ penalty kill could use a player with Lehkonen’s defensive awareness, which is among the best on the Canadiens’ roster. What could make things difficult for Poile is the asking price. As a restricted free agent, Gorton and Hughes have Lehkonen’s rights for one more season, so they could ask for a first-round pick or a high-end prospect in return. The Predators’ have a first-round pick, but they’ll need to be selective with how they use it, should they be open to trading it.
In the 2020 Playoff bubble, the Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks in large part to the pairing of Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry. The duo effectively shut down Sidney Crosby and suffocated the Penguins’ offense. While Kulak may be further down the list of targets at the deadline, he still has a lot to offer the Predators. Like his Chiarot, Kulak is a left-handed defenseman who can play both the right and left sides. He can also fill in on the second pairing, although he is better suited to play on the bottom pairing consistently.
Kulak’s eight points in 33 games this season match his total from 2020-21 in 13 fewer games, but the Predators won’t be acquiring him for his offensive prowess. He would serve as a better alternative on the depth chart, which includes Ben Harpur and Philippe Myers, and he can complement a pairing with Borowiecki, Dante Fabbro, or Matt Benning. With COVID-19 protocols and injuries, Kulak could step in nicely, and he doesn’t put his team at a disadvantage.
The Predators’ recent struggles have expedited the need to fill the gaps in the lineup. As Ekholm returns from COVID-19 protocol and Fabbro from his upper-body injury, Nashville’s blue line should soon look like it did to start 2022. However, Poile has enough time to reach out to the general managers looking to sell to make his team better. The Preds have the pieces to work with, be it draft picks or viable prospects, but just how much tweaking can Poile do without disrupting team chemistry? The next few weeks should tell us.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)