It’s been just over two weeks since NHL free agency opened up and the Nashville Predators have been quite active. General manager (GM) David Poile promised changes after the team was eliminated from the postseason by the Arizona Coyotes and changes have been made. Poile had roster spots to fill, and after trading Nick Bonino and buying out Kyle Turris, he also had cash to spend. For the most part, he achieved the goal of filling roster spots, but as for spending his available cap, Poile has been fairly conservative.
The Predators seemingly focused on toughness with their additions. All recently acquired players look to fit in the bottom-six of forwards or third-pairing defense. Poile has yet to address the lack of scoring beyond the first line, which either means he’s completely committed to solving that problem with prospect youth, such as Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino or he fell short of a snagging another big name like Taylor Hall.
There are still some notable names left up for grabs, so a lot can change in regards to the team’s dynamic. But for now, let’s grade the free agency offseason so far for the Nashville Predators.
The Predators were in need of some blueliners after the departures of Yannick Weber and Korbinian Holzer, as well as the retirement of Dan Hamhuis, and Mark Borowiecki was Poile’s first signing. The former Ottawa Senator was a fan favorite, even given the nickname “BoroCop” after he intervened a theft in progress while in Vancouver.
Ever since Jordin TooToo, Predators fans have always had a soft spot for players who possess a level of grit while laying everything out on the ice night in and night out. Borowiecki has all the characteristics that will endear him to the Smashville faithful. The 31-year-old defenseman had the second-most hits and blocked shots for the Senators last season.
But the Predators didn’t just acquire a defenseman who can throw the body around. Borowiecki had an NHL career-high 18 points during 53 games in 2019-20, notching seven goals and 11 assists. The Predators defense fizzled out after the top-four blueliners, so having a third pairing with a little more pop will be much welcomed.
At the time of the signing, the Predators GM explained to NHL.com that the former fifth-round pick from the 2008 NHL Draft fills a lot of needs.
“He has a level of grit and physicality that we need to get to back to playing to a new standard, if you will, in that area of physicality and grit,” Poile said. “In addition, it’s pretty obvious in watching him play and in having some conversations with him this past week that he’ll bring a lot of veteran leadership to our hockey club.”
Since 2014-15, Borowiecki has never played fewer than 52 games, which raises a question on how the Predators’ back end will look next season. Poile previously stated that he envisions Jarred Tinordi, Alexandre Carrier and Jeremy Davies receiving extended opportunities in the NHL next season. So, there will be a lot of candidates and only a few open spots.
Tinordi played extremely well for a third-pairing defenseman last season, registering the fourth-highest points per game among Predators defensemen. Coaches seemed happy with him, as Tinordi was a regular feature on the Predators’ game day roster down the stretch and in the playoffs. Obviously, nothing is guaranteed, especially considering how 2019-20 went for the Predators, but Tinordi should be a heavy favorite to earn a job with the NHL squad next season.
There will surely be difficult choices to be made when camp opens up. Based on who will be competing for a roster spot, it’s difficult to see where everyone will fit, particularly when factoring in the Predators’ desire to add youth to the mix with the prospects currently in the system. For those reasons it’s hard to grade this addition any higher than a B+.
Maybe considered as Austin Watson’s replacement, Nick Cousins plays a similar style of game. The forward split time between the Montreal Canadiens and the Vegas Golden Knights last season, registering 10 goals and 25 points.
Poile described Cousins as a “bit of an agitator, a bit of a disturber” to Brooks Bratton of nashvillepredators.com and explained that those are the characteristics that the team wants to bring back into the lineup.
Fans can expect to see Cousins fit in on the third or fourth line, playing alongside Rocco Grimaldi, Cale Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons and Yakov Trenin.
Like Borowiecki, don’t confuse Cousins as being one-dimensional based off the description of being an “in-your-face player.” The 27-year-old has got offensive talent. He explained that he can make plays and likes being around the net, priding himself on his ability to play at all three forward positions.
Among forwards who logged a minimum of 750 minutes last season, Cousins finished with the 23rd-best Corsi for percentage. The native of Belleville, Ontario knows his role and plays it well, but expect him to drive offense and create as many scoring opportunities as he can.
Watson – now a member of the Senators – had somewhat of a thankless job with the Predators. His efforts would’ve been immensely praised in the locker room, but outside may have been a little different. Blocked shots and sound defense don’t often make the SportsCenter Top-10. Cousins will most likely encompass a very similar position. However, with his offensive abilities, the former third-round pick should be a bit of an upgrade. Fans outside the state of Tennessee are more likely to know his name and the casual observer may appreciate his skill set a little more.
The Predators added a touch more offense while losing none of the grit with Cousins. Trading Watson was only made possible because of this signing. Cousins can bring the same value that Watson provided and possibly a little more, which is why this signing receives an A.
Another body to compete for a third-pairing spot will make for a well-rounded defensive corps. As mentioned, Tinordi, Borowiecki and Matt Benning would all fit nicely back there. Throw Carrier into the mix and for the first time in a few seasons the Predators blueliners will be well balanced from top to bottom. Any combination of those four players would make for a very strong third pairing.
Through 248 career NHL games, Benning owns a plus-32 rating. Plus/minus is not everyone’s favorite metric and has received criticism. But it does give some indication that the 26-year-old is very reliable.
Despite being brought in to possibly round out the Predators’ defense, Poile believes that the former Edmonton Oiler has the skill set to play against star players.
“He has the ability to play against the opposition’s top lines, in addition to getting involved in the offense.”
Benning has an offensive touch to his game. He has tallied at least 15 points in three of his four NHL seasons, which includes a career-high 21 points in 2017-18. The rotating bodies that were the Predators’ third pairing the past few seasons has really struggled to chip in offensively. Outside of the team’s “big four” (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro), no defenseman recorded more than eight points last season. Benning should be able to inject some offensive life into the defensive depth and it only cost the Predators an average annual value of $1 million, so for that, this signing is an A.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it should. Had Game 4 of the NHL’s qualifying series between the Predators and Arizona Coyotes taken place in Nashville, Brad Richardson would have had to sneak out the back and get to the airport as quickly as possible because he was responsible for the overtime goal that bounced the Predators from the bubble.
The veteran signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Predators, which is really a no harm-no foul type contract if Richardson’s age shows during his 16th season.
Richardson comes to the Predators at 35 years old, which doesn’t exactly do wonders for the team’s average age. Poile is hoping that his presence can be something that will help the Predators reach their ultimate goals.
“We signed a veteran presence, and a guy that’s won a Stanley Cup,” the GM said of the acquisition. “He’s played more than 800 games, he’s worn a letter in Arizona… and our penalty killing hasn’t been as good as we want, and Brad Richardson is an excellent penalty-killer.”
The native of Belleville, Ontario won the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings back in 2012. The hope is always that experience from a cup winner can shine through, guiding the younger players through the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, those hopes should be managed a little. Bringing in a guy like Richardson screams of the Predators’ Hal Gill signing back in 2012. Poile had all the best intention, but the veteran leadership did little for the Predators’ postseason success.
Now, obviously Poile isn’t signing aging Cup winners expecting that they’re the missing link. But the signing will probably do more for their penalty killing – as it couldn’t get much worse, finishing 29th last season – than it will for the Predators postseason leadership. The core of this team went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. They came up short, but they know what it takes to win the grand prize. They witnessed it firsthand. Of all the Predators signings so far, this may be the most confusing and scores a C+.
Mike Hoffman To Nashville?
According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Predators are one of a handful of teams interested in the services of Mike Hoffman. The 30-year-old winger is coming off a 29-goal and 59-point campaign with the Florida Panthers last season. He is a consistent goal scorer, recording at least 25 goals in five of the previous six seasons.
This would make a lot of sense for the Predators and may explain why Poile opened up so much of the team’s cap space. Some believe that teams who failed on signing Taylor Hall may be after Hoffman as a replacement, and the Predators could be one of those teams.
Signing Hoffman would help address the scoring depth the Predators lack. As mentioned, Hoffman scored 29 goals last season, but he was on pace for 34 had it not been for the abrupt suspension of league play. In 2018-19 Hoffman tallied 36 goals. These are all totals that Predators players have seemingly struggled to reach recently.
The native of Kitchener, Ontario could be a nice addition to Matt Duchene’s line. Duchene likes to make plays and pass the puck, clearly Hoffman likes to shoot the puck and he’s good at it.
Then there’s the power play help. It’s no secret that the Predators struggled with their special teams last season. Their man-advantage finished 25th league-wide. Well, Hoffman has notched the fourth-most power play goals over the past four seasons, just behind perennial goal scorers, Alexander Ovechkin, David Pastrnak and Patrik Laine.
Hoffman’s agent, Robert Hooper, told Adam Vingan of The Athletic that the winger wouldn’t be averse to signing a one-year deal. While Seravalli explained that a one-year contract is likely going to cost teams somewhere between $5.5 million and $6.5 million. (from ‘Agent: Mike Hoffman has ‘no issues’ with signing one-year deal,’ The Athletic, 10/20/2020)
Except for recently acquired Luke Kunin, who is a restricted free agent, the Predators have no other players they need to assign a portion of their near $13 million cap space to. Nashville has the room, it’s just a matter of agreeing on terms and convincing Hoffman the Predators are the best fit for him.
The Predators have become tougher this offseason with the additions that they’ve made. They’ve added sandpaper but haven’t addressed scoring depth… yet. With the uncertainty of when next season will begin, it’s hard to say how long this offseason will last, giving the Predators plenty of time to address any areas that need tweaking.
Their defense got an upgrade, but as of right now it’s hard to say they improved greatly, if at all at forward. They replaced Watson with a player extremely similar in Cousins and they added a 35-year-old veteran in Richardson. Not to mention they lost Craig Smith who was always good for 20 goals per season. Again, the offseason isn’t over and there could still be big plans in the works, but for now, overall, the Predators’ offseason scores a B.