In a recent article, I covered the top-five storylines for the Nashville Predators from the 2018 calendar year. So now that 2018 is wrapped up and we’re a week into 2019, I want to predict what I think will be the team’s biggest storylines this year.
Related: Predators’ 2018-19 Mid-Season Awards
That means not only looking at the remainder of the 2018-19 season, but also the 2019 offseason and the first half of the 2019-20 season. Some of the predicted storylines are what I actually think will happen given the team’s past and where the franchise currently sits while others are what I’d like to see happen.
Will Be Among Most Active Teams at Trade Deadline
David Poile, the Predators’ general manager, is one of the most active GMs in the league in terms of making trades. However, that activity does not include trade deadlines. At the 2018 Trade Deadline, he acquired Ryan Hartman and in 2017, he landed P.A. Parenteau. Going further back, he didn’t make any moves in 2016, 2015 or 2013. In 2014, he acquired Calle Järnkrok and Patrick Eaves, although the Predators were the seller in that deal and in 2012, he traded for Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn.
Poile has traditionally made his biggest trades either earlier in the season or in the offseason. He landed Kyle Turris in Nov. 2017, P.K. Subban in June 2016, Ryan Johansen in Jan. 2016 and James Neal in June 2014. Meanwhile, Filip Forsberg became a Predator in April 2013 while Mike Fisher was acquired in Feb. 2011 ahead of that season’s trade deadline.
I believe that will change this season. The team’s goaltending and defense have been, for the most part, fine with the second-fewest goals allowed. The top line of Viktor Arvidsson, Forsberg and Johansen has been dominant when healthy and the offense has depth, but little high-end, dependable scorers, an element they’ve lacked for several seasons.
At the 2019 Trade Deadline, I believe Poile will address that need. A few deadline targets I think he’ll ask about are Matt Duchene and Wayne Simmonds.
Matt Duchene – On the Predators’ Radar Again
Current Ottawa Senator Matt Duchene and the Predators have been linked to each other in trade rumors for several years. When Poile acquired Turris, it felt like he missed out on his original target, Duchene, a left-shot center who would have addressed the team’s lack of depth down the middle while giving them a handedness balance. It’s now been over a year since the trade and the results have been interesting.
The Predators are still one of the league’s best teams while the Senators would be in line for a likely top-five pick in this summer’s draft had they not parted with their first-round pick to acquire Duchene. Individually, the two players have gone in opposite directions. In 2018-19, Duchene has 18 goals and 42 points in 37 games while averaging 19:16 of ice time and winning 55.3 percent of faceoffs. Meanwhile, Turris has six goals and 18 points in 30 games while averaging 15:52 and winning 50.9 percent of draws.
Duchene was the better player at the time of the trade, and has been the more productive player since, despite playing on two bad Senators teams. Acquiring Duchene would give the Predators great center depth in the top-six when combined with Johansen. Turris could be moved to the wing to make room for Duchene or could be traded to recoup some assets as he’d no longer be needed.
With how poorly extension discussions have gone between Duchene and the Senators, Ottawa GM Pierre Dorian would be smart to deal the pending unrestricted free agent. The question is what will he look for in a trade. If he wants to recover the value he lost in acquiring Duchene, it won’t happen. However, if he’s interested in making a fair-value trade, there’s a deal to be made. Perhaps Poile offering a first-round pick and Kevin Fiala would be enough? Fiala, who is 22, would fit in well with the Senators’ young core.
Duchene would fit perfectly in Nashville as he’d break up the majority of right-shot forwards the team has. He does turn 28 on Jan. 16, but should age well. He’ll also need a new contract, given that his current $6 million contract expires at season’s end. However, the Predators would have plenty of cap space to get an extension done.
Wayne Simmonds – Skilled Net-Front Presence
There’s no guarantee that Simmonds will be available at the deadline, but the Philadelphia Flyers are currently last in their division and one point up on the Senators for last in the league. Under former GM Ron Hextall, extension talks didn’t get far. However, new GM Chuck Fletcher has entertained the idea of re-opening discussions with Simmonds. If he is available, the Predators need to try and land him as he’d be one of the most talented forwards shopped at the deadline.
He is having somewhat of a down season with 12 goals and 18 points in 41 games, but he does have four power play goals while shooting 12 percent in 16:39 of ice time. His production is down, but so is his time on ice and shooting percentage, and he remains a two-time 30-goal scorer. He is also dominant down low and one of the best in the league at providing a net-front presence, especially on the man advantage where the Predators have struggled.
At 30 years old, Simmonds is already on the backside of his prime and his style of play typically doesn’t age well. However, he may not require long-term for an extension to get done, just a significant raise over the $3.975 million cap hit he’s currently playing on. As far as an asking price, would Fiala or a first-round pick be enough? Hopefully, as he’d be a near-perfect fit for the Predators.
Another Early Playoff Exit
When the Predators lost the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, it marked the third straight season in which they advanced further than the previous season. So it only made sense to quietly expect them to win the Stanley Cup in 2018. That didn’t happen. In fact, they struggled in both rounds they played. The Colorado Avalanche took them to six games in the first round and they lost a thrilling seven-game series to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Predators’ postseason struggles was two-fold. One was that Pekka Rinne couldn’t make a save and the other was that their offense couldn’t match the Jets’. I think they are going to experience another early playoff exit in 2019 because the issues they had in 2018 remain.
Even if they acquire one of the players mentioned above, they’d still only have four players who have had a 30-goal season. While both Duchene and Simmonds have done so, the only current Predators to do so are Arvidsson, Forsberg and Johansen. Given what teams like the Calgary Flames and Jets in the Western Conference and the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference bring, I don’t see how the Predators can match those teams’ offenses.
Not to mention Rinne’s postseason performance will forever be a question mark until he pushes through it and plays up to his regular-season standards. And because of that, I think Poile will be forced to make a major offseason trade to further address the offense.
Will Deal Defenseman to Add Scorer at the Draft
After a second consecutive early postseason exit, fans will be clamoring for Poile to make a move as they’d be encroaching on Washington Capitals’ territory at that point. The Predators have been one of the league’s better teams the past few seasons, and while their core isn’t old, it’s also not young and they don’t have a lot of talent coming through the farm system.
They need to take advantage of what they have and make a serious run at a Stanley Cup and it’s based on that assertion that I think Poile will make a sizable trade this offseason. This means dealing from a position of strength to address an area of weakness. For the Predators, the defense is their strength and their top-six is where they are weak. Specifically, I think this means moving either Roman Josi or Subban.
Both players have ample value and would yield the Predators what they need. Subban is a 29-year-old right-shot blueliner with three years left on his contract (after 2018-19) with a $9 million cap hit. Meanwhile, Josi is 28 years old, a left shot defenseman and has one year left with a $4 million cap hit. Given that puck-moving defensemen have great value in today’s NHL, both are equal to a top-six forward. Potential trade fits I see are the Pittsburgh Penguins, Maple Leafs and Senators.
The Maple Leafs, thought to be looking for a top-four defenseman, especially on the right side, would be a good trade partner for the Predators. Subban is a right shot and is from the Toronto area, but has a high cap hit. Josi is a left shot on a cheaper contract, but will be looking for a raise on his next deal. The Maple Leafs are likely to be up against the cap ceiling in coming seasons and fitting either player on their books would be tough, yet top-four puck-moving defensemen aren’t cheap, neither in cap hit nor asking price in a trade. That’s why in return, the Predators could ask for William Nylander or Kasperi Kapanen, both forwards with immense upsides.
In addition to potentially acquiring Duchene, there is another deal to be made with Ottawa, this time for Mark Stone. He is a pending unrestricted free agent with a $7.35 million cap hit and would likely require a sign-and-trade to make the deal work. Stone may not be a premier goal scorer, but he is one of the league’s most talented playmakers and is currently experiencing a career season with 47 points in 43 games.
The Senators, currently in a rebuild, would likely be interested in the younger Josi to structure their blue line around. Re-signing Stone wouldn’t be cheap for the Predators, but he is only 26 years old, and a long-term contract and no state income tax could help lower the average annual value.
The Penguins are a potential trade partner I’ve introduced before. The two teams have a history with each other following the trade that sent Patric Hornqvist to Pittsburgh and Neal to Nashville. In this deal, I think the Penguins would have interest in Josi, who could complement Kris Letang, while the Predators would have interest in the recently-extended Jake Guentzel. The Predators would have cost certainty and Guentzel would improve their offense while Josi would address the Penguins’ defensive woes.
Craig Smith Will Be Traded over the Offseason
But acquiring another top-six forward, especially a winger, wouldn’t be without repercussions as it’d give the Predators an excess at the NHL level, and that doesn’t include Eeli Tolvanen. I think the odd-man out in this scenario is veteran Craig Smith, a consistent producer with at least 20 goals in four of the past five seasons, but someone who has never scored more than 25 in a season.
In 43 games in 2018-19, he has 14 goals and 24 points, including five on the power play, while shooting 11 percent and averaging 15:35 of ice time. His .33 goals-per-game rate is a career high while his .56 points-per-game average is down from last season. His production levels may seem like the team should move a different player, but Smith turns 30 in September and only has one year left on a contract that has a $4.25 million cap hit and is at an age when giving an extension can be risky.
So, as I mentioned, if the Predators acquire a top-six winger at the trade deadline, the draft or both, they’ll have too many players for too few spots. They’ll also have top prospect Tolvanen pushing for NHL ice time and his talent warrants a top-six role. Smith is, and will be, the oldest member of Nashville’s forward core and the only one not signed long-term or under team control. Moving him wouldn’t yield a great deal of value, perhaps a first-round pick or mid-tier prospect, but any package of picks and prospects would strengthen what has become a depleted farm system.
Dante Fabbro Will Be an NHL Regular Next Season
But, once again, the moves listed above will lead to additional moves, this one involving the opening of a top-four blue line role following the trade of Josi or Subban. The team’s response to that void? Dante Fabbro, the team’s top defense prospect and currently a junior at Boston University, where he captains the Terriers. Already in his third year of college hockey, he has accomplished pretty much everything possible in a junior career.
He won gold medals at the 2016 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the 2018 World Junior Championship and silvers at the 2018 Spengler Cup and the 2017 World Junior Championship. He has a Hockey East championship and was named to the conference’s second all-star team following the 2017-18 season. Essentially the only thing missing from his resume is an NCAA Championship, but the Terriers may not compete for one until after Fabbro’s graduation given that 14 of the team’s 33 players are underclassmen.
Fabbro’s development at the college level has likely topped out and few players stay all four years before turning pro. I’m sure that the Predators would prefer him to play at least part of a season in the AHL before jumping to the NHL, but circumstances may fast-forward his development. Regardless, he has proven that he is capable of succeeding against older competition and because of that, it’s time for the next wave of elite Predators defensemen to reach the NHL.
What do you think will be the biggest Predators’ storylines in 2019? Let me know your predictions and any questions you have in the comments below. Thanks for reading.
*All stats came from Hockey-Reference and Elite Prospects