As it stands today, February 21st, 2020, the Nashville Predators are facing a weekend that could define the remainder of their season. At the end of the weekend the team will have played two more games and will be staring down the trade deadline on Monday. The Predators currently sit on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but holding games in hand on the three teams in front of them. To get back into the playoffs the Predators will have to leap the Coyotes and one of the Flames and Jets. With 23 games remaining on their schedule this is certainly not an impossible task but the inconsistencies that have plagued the team all season continue to hold them back from ascending the standings and staying there.
One positive going into the weekend is the imminent return of Ryan Ellis to the defensive corps after 7 weeks on injured reserve. It remains to be seen if he will see both games but just his presence with the team will be a significant boost.
From an on-ice perspective, the weekend’s action holds a back to back starting at the Chicago Blackhawks tonight then back home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night. These are two games that the Predators should win given the Blackhawks struggles this season and the unreal litany of injuries the Blue Jackets have faced. The four points would be crucial in keeping pace or gaining ground in the wild card race. Of the three teams the Predators are chasing, their weekends break down as follows:
Winnipeg: Saturday at PHI and Sunday at BUF
Calgary: Friday vs BOS and Sunday at DET
Arizona: No games (lost both ends of a back to back Weds and Thurs)
Looking at that schedule, Nashville uses two of their games in hand on Arizona but two wins would push them ahead of the Coyotes. Calgary likely takes at least one of two and Winnipeg is a total wild card (pun mildly intended) with a traveling road back to back. At the close of the weekend two wins could push the Predators as high as the first wild card slot while still maintaining multiple games in hand on each team they’re chasing. On the flip side, two losses could push a sizable distance between Nashville and the current wild card holders.
General Manager David Poile said this week during a radio appearance that he’s looking at this weekend’s games as a barometer for what to do with the February 24th trading deadline. Over the course of the season he has mentioned on multiple occasions that he may need to be a seller this season if the Predators aren’t in playoff position come deadline day.
Trading season began in earnest over the past week with seemingly every veteran defenseman being traded for some combination of 2nd and 3rd round picks. While there were a couple opportunities for David Poile to bring in added depth (Dylan DeMelo anyone?), none of the moves so far were obvious to make given the Predators tenuous playoff hopes.
If the Predators were to win their next two games and push back up to the edge of a playoff spot then there is some logic behind David Poile becoming a buyer of depth, especially on the defensive corps as the 3rd pairing has been a struggle throughout the season. Names like Mike Green and Sami Vatanen continue to swirl though none of the NHL insiders have yet linked them to Nashville directly. Forward does not appear to be much of a target with the depth in the NHL plus players like Yakov Trenin back in Milwaukee waiting for his next opportunity. There are a couple intriguing options like Andreas Athanasiou but the cost to acquire, plus having to re-sign may be more than David Poile is willing to pursue at this time.
If the on-ice performance swings in a negative direction it may be the push David Poile needs to embrace the selling mindset. In a year short on impact players, especially at forward, there are multiple Predators players that could attract a sizable return. Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund (UFA) as well as Nick Bonino (1 yr remaining) hitting the trade market would all be able to return younger players or picks that could enhance the depth of the Predators system. One item to consider is that if all three of those players were to be moved, it would be multiple top 9 forward roles that would need to be filled next season. For a roster core that still has Stanley Cup aspirations, that is a lot of productivity that would need to be replaced.
If I were David Poile in a selling scenario, I would be targeting younger forwards like Jesse Puljujarvi and Joshua Ho-Sang, who could compete for an NHL spot immediately with the existing prospects in the system.
Now… could the Predators win one of two, stay close enough to the playoff picture for David Poile to just stand pat and hold course through Monday? Sure, but what’s the fun in that? As I say every year at trade deadline time, I’m here for the chaos so bring me all of it. The outcomes of this weekend’s Predators games could certainly result in plenty of that. Enjoy the games, have a great weekend, and happy trade deadline day on Monday!
Standings, Schedules and Trade information courtesy of TSN.com and NHL.com