With the recent hot-streak, the Nashville Predators are now firmly back in the playoff picture, and they have a lot of options as the trade deadline approaches. The injuries that the team is dealing with could have knocked them down, but with a “next man up” mentality, the strong show of depth has provided some opportunities. In their current situation, the Predators have a rare opportunity to make multiple deals that could help them make a playoff run this season, as well as improve the team in the future. With a handful of pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs), there is a bit of pressure on the situation as well.
The next wave is showing well right now, with players like Juuse Saros and Eeli Tolvanen displaying exactly why David Poile views them as key pieces of the future of the team. Other home-grown talent such as Jeremy Davies and Alexander Carrier are showing well, and the Predators may be best served by making sure there are a few spots open for those players. Rocco Grimaldi was also a healthy scratch earlier in the season, but is now chipping in with timely goals and his usual high-effort play.
The Players to Ship Out
I have already gone through why each of the UFAs could and should be moved, but there are a few pieces that are specifically worth moving. Mattias Ekholm is the main name that everyone was expecting to be moved, but the string of wins has changed that. His value is now greater to the Predators for the playoff run, and as a trade chip, Ekholm can still command a large return after the expansion draft. Despite Ekholm likely being pulled off the market, there are still options for the Predators to move. Additionally, with the tough competition in the Discover Central Division this year, the smart move would be to work on growing the team for prolonged success in the future. Moving a few of these names won’t kill their chances, but it will help with the retool.
Mikail Granlund (C/RW) – 2021 UFA with a $3.75 million cap hit
Mikail Granlund has rebuild his value a bit this year after last season’s disastrous showing. His cap hit is reasonable for contenders, and he is flexible enough to fit into almost any role. His offence thrives on a rush off of a rush system, so finding him some speedy linemates would fit well.
However, with the emergence of Calle Jarnkrok and Tolvanen, the Predators already have a full top-six set of forwards, and Granlund becomes expendable.
Erik Haula (C/LW) – 2021 UFA with a $1.75 million cap hit
Erik Haula would be a fit with with any team in need of centre help, and he can play left wing as well. The best fit for a trading partner is actually in their division this year. We do see teams trade a player through another team out of stubbornness just to not move a player to a division rival. Don’t rule out Florida, but the other fit that always seems to make an addition and doesn’t have a strong set of depth at centre is the Vegas Golden Knights.
Mark Borowiecki (D) – 2022 UFA with a $2.0 million cap hit
The injured Borowiecki was initially labelled as week-to-week when he was injured March 11. It is uncommon for injured players to be traded, but teams are always looking for depth defencemen in the playoffs, and Borowiecki fits the bill. He is eligible to be taken off of injured reserve now, and though the rugged rearguard wouldn’t be a top-four defenceman on any playoff team (if he was then the team wouldn’t have won enough to be in the playoffs), he would fit well on a team missing a bit of a physical element on the back end and needing to add a bit of depth. His extra year of team control could also be a selling point through the expansion draft.
The Ideal Trade Scenarios
There has been rumoured interest in Granlund by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they are up against the cap and would need to send money back. Unless there is a third party to broker the finances, then the Predators would need to make sure that any contracts sent back in a Granlund deal (or any deadline deal for that matter) are worth their cost to acquire. In the case of the Maple Leafs, the target there would be Alexander Kerfoot. The 26-year-old would be a candidate to be selected from the Maple Leafs in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, and with the Predators likely to lose a forward, Kerfoot would either be the bait, or would help fill a void left by another departure.
He was a developing scorer in the Avalanche system, and has become a bit more well-rounded, albeit pushed down the lineup, with the Maple Leafs. The Predators have been searching for consistency from their second-line wingers all season, and Kerfoot could fit in well there, with an extra year on his contract, while Granlund would likely be lost to free agency this summer.
Haula had a career season with the Golden Knights three years ago, and with a team that can run out three scoring lines but doesn’t have three scoring-line centres, Haula could fit in seamlessly. With the Predators having the cap space to retain half of his cap hit for the rest of the year, the Golden Knights may be willing to part with one of their two second-round picks for a player that would be expendable on the Predators as their forward group gets healthy again.
The Colorado Avalanche’s needs fit the Borowiecki option to a tee. They traded Ian Cole and have lost a lot of man games to injury on defence. They have started five different rookie defencemen this year, and Erik Johnson doesn’t seem close to returning. Borowiecki would be able to cycle in on that bottom pairing, and could keep the grind line of Vegas in check for what seems like an inevitable playoff meeting between the two powerhouses. In return, the Predators could look at one of those rookie defencemen that Colorado has an excess of, likely with the addition of a late pick.
The extra year that Borowiecki is signed for would make the expansion draft process a lot smoother for the Avalanche who could use him to fulfill their unprotected requirements, and have him as insurance if they were to lose a better defenceman to the Seattle Kraken.
The End Result
An optimal and healthy lineup after this ideal trade deadline would look something like this:
Filip Forsberg – Matt Duchene – Eeli Tolvanen
Victor Arvidsson – Ryan Johansen – Calle Jarnkrok
Luke Kunin – Colton Sissons – Alexander Kerfoot
Nick Cousins – Rem Pitlick – Yakov Trenin
Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – Dante Fabbro
Jeremy Davies – Matt Benning (Alexandre Carrier)
This team also has the depth to then either trade Mattias Ekholm before the Seattle Draft, or, more likely, withstand the loss of one of the middle-six forwards. If the Predators are to make a run this season, then it will have to be on the back of some spectacular goaltending by Saros, and none of the UFAs will likely make a big difference. The Predators have a chance to play the underdog here, while growing their chances for successive years. Hopefully David Poile can thread the needle here and find a few deals where the present isn’t sacrificed for the future, or vice versa.