With the NHL trade deadline less than two months away, the contending teams will be looking for ways to improve their club and targeting some of the bottom-feeding clubs. The Nashville Predators currently sit in second place in the Central Division, just one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues and five points in front of the Minnesota Wild, the first wild card team in the Western Conference. While not in a comfortable spot just yet, the Predators have been enjoying a mostly-positive season, one that wasn’t expected but is surely appreciated thus far. They could be potential buyers at the deadline but how much they’ll be willing to spend is still up for debate.
Enter the Seattle Kraken, a team in their inaugural season and going through the growing pains that the Vegas Golden Knights happily avoided when they made their debut in the league just five years prior. Although their season has been a failure, the Kraken management team has ample salary cap in their near future to improve their team while also having a low amount of players signed to contracts beyond this current season. While they have six forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders signed to deals after this year, leaving them with several pending restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with, making them possibly one of the most active teams at this year’s deadline. Let’s have a look at three names that could help improve the Predators’ chances at a deep playoff run.
Stanley Cup experience is a valuable commodity to have, and one player that certainly brings that to the table is forward Calle Jarnkrok. The 30-year-old Swede spent the first eight years of his career in Nashville, instantly becoming a fan favorite for his versatility and consistent effort on each shift. He appeared in 63 playoff games with the Predators as well and his ability to play all situations, both the power play and penalty kill are undeniably important to a Nashville team looking to go on a deep run.
At only $2 million and on an expiring deal, Jarnkrok’s value at the trade deadline should be one of high prestige, certainly making him a target for many teams looking to add. While his season with Seattle got off to a slow start, going without a point in his first ten games, he’s picked it up at the beginning of the second half of the season. Since December, he has amassed six goals and seven assists in 18 games, making him one of the better offensive players on the Kraken. He’s served the team in a top-six role and played on their first wave of the power play, so continuing to heat up should only make his value rise by March.
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Nashville would welcome back a familiar face who had great chemistry with the team, and his spot on the lineup could be interchangeable based on team need and opposition assignments. While he could fill in on the team’s fourth line and play either wing or centre, one could also suggest he swaps in for Nick Cousins on the team’s second line and plays with Ryan Johansen and Luke Kunin, bumping Cousins down to the fourth line instead. There are many possibilities that only grow as Eeli Tolvanen eventually returns off Covid-19 protocol, creating a deeper and more enriched four-line system for head coach John Hynes.
Another former Nashville forward to consider is Colin Blackwell, who served the Predators organization in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He eventually moved on to the New York Rangers, signing a two-year contract with the club, and had instant success with a team in need of secondary scoring and some physical play. Blackwell posted career-high numbers in all offensive statistics, doubling his totals with Nashville during his two-year run, in just 47 games. In the same year, he played for Team USA at the World Championship, scoring four goals in 10 games.
Playing in his 100th career game on Jan 27, Blackwell fits a role similar to Jarnkrok, playing on the bottom six of a good team. He can play both centre and wing, although he’s better suited on the wing of a centre who can win draws. Blackwell is a capable and dependable player, he’s only 27, and he’s familiar with the Predators organization that still boasts many of the players he’s shared a locker room with. Considering he makes just $725,000 and his contract expires after this year, he is an acceptable backup plan if the Predators wish to ice a deeper bottom six.
It shouldn’t cost Nashville much in terms of return, and he can easily slot into the team’s fourth line and have an instant effect on the team’s overall play. The only knock against him is that he doesn’t have any playoff experience but if things don’t work out, he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and general manager David Poile can let the forward walk as a free agent in the summer.
One thing we learned this season, from injuries and Covid-19 protocol, is that defensive depth can make or break this Nashville team. If one or two of Nashville’s top six defenseman are side-lined, a player like Jérémy Lauzon could be of great value. Having been a second-round pick by the Boston Bruins back in 2015, he suited up with the black and yellow for the 2020-21 season and recorded eight points in 41 games. While not known for his offensive instincts, Lauzon brings a physicality level that any team would welcome in the playoffs.
In 34 games this season, Lauzon leads the team in hits with 122, is second among Kraken defensemen in averaged time on ice while on the penalty kill, and he also leads the team in penalties taken with 17. On a Predators team that takes the most penalties in the league, this could be a concern but if Lauzon is to play on the bottom pair with Matt Borowiecki, his ice time and utilization would be decreased compared to his time in Seattle, therefore, limiting the risk. Less ice time could bode well for him, shifting his duties to fit his strengths in a defensive role and to kill penalties.
Providing some sandpaper on a pairing with Borowiecki could spell disaster for the opposition, giving the Predators a top-six rotation that can both burn you offensively and physically wear you down. For that reason, and the fact that Lauzon is on a dirt-cheap contract that expires after this season, he makes a wonderful addition to Nashville’s depth and gives them a few options to work with should anything happen between now and the end of the season.
Seattle could be a match for the Predators at the trade deadline, as general manager Ron Francis certainly has his eye set on the future and acquiring assets for pending free agents. Poile isn’t shy to make some minor acquisitions and send some trade picks the other way, making the two teams interesting dance partners. Whether it’s depth at the forward or defense positions, Seattle should be on Nashville’s radar when the deadline arrives.