It has been a busy week and a half for the Nashville Predators as the offseason ramps up leading to the draft October 6 & 7. Roman Josi was crowned as the best defenseman with the Norris Trophy, Michael McCarron and Yakov Trenin were re-signed and the Predators front office held their annual offseason press conference.
In that session, general manager David Poile re-confirmed his end of season comments that change was coming and the young players in the pipeline would be expected to claim regular roster spots. In a related comment, Poile confirmed that forwards Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith as well as defensemen Yannick Weber and Korbinian Holzer would enter free agency and likely not return to the team.
With the collective heads of the Predators fanbase spinning, out came today’s report from Frank Seravalli of TSN that multiple notable roster players, all of them centers, were being floated as trade targets. Part of the rationale to the report is that this year’s free agent class is short on centers so there is an increased focus on the trade market for teams looking to bolster their roster down the middle.
Servalli names Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino as being available for trades. While Turris has been in near-constant rumors of leaving the Predators organization the inclusion of Johansen, Duchene and Bonino are surprises. Three of the four centers named also experienced struggles throughout their seasons. Johansen and Turris each produced some of the lowest outputs of their respective careers. While Duchene was closer to his career averages in terms of points per game, his production was very streaky and he only managed 13 goals on the season. The exception is Nick Bonino, who experienced a strong season scoring 18 goals centering Rocco Grimaldi and Craig Smith. Seeing the top three centers all listed on the TSN Trade Bait board signifies a possible wholesale change in direction from the Predators and raises three key questions.
Has the core of the Predators roster peaked?
Since the run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2017, the Nashville Predators have experienced their season end earlier with each passing year capped off with losing to the Arizona Coyotes in this year’s playoff qualifying round. It is reasonable to look at the scope of results and determine that the roster as constructed simply isn’t working. The Predators have already taken strides in reshaping the roster with the free agent decisions mentioned above but if bigger changes are in mind the center corps is a reasonable target. With free agent departures the lineup is already short on wingers and the top of the defensive lineup is unlikely to be touched. So if David Poile believes the team as currently constructed has peaked and is looking at broadly reshaping the makeup of the Predators roster, the center corps is the most likely target.
What is the plan for expansion?
As has been noted on multiple occasions, the Predators roster is, on average, one of the oldest in the league. The organization also has eight contracts extending beyond the Seattle expansion draft, six of which are among the forwards. While only Roman Josi owns a movement clause that would be in effect at the time of expansion (Duchene’s modified no-trade only applies to the final three years of his contract) those long term contracts are almost all related to core roster players who would be unlikely to be exposed. The number of players that ‘need’ to be protected reduces the flexibility of the team to manage expansion. Removing one or more of the centers who hold those long term contracts in favor of draft picks or prospects who would not be expansion eligible would create more room for flexibility in planning.
Can Poile take advantage of a market shortage?
As stated above, the 2020 free agent market is short on centers. The highest point totals among UFA’s who primarily played center belong to Carl Soderberg, Joe Thornton and Derek Grant. Teams looking to enhance their center corps will have to look to the trade market if they want higher producing players. While the Predators centers, again with exception of Nick Bonino, all experienced down seasons they all have historical production much higher than any players available as free agents. The one hindrance in this area is that with a flat salary cap for the upcoming season it may be difficult for teams to take on the larger salaries with Johansen, Duchene and Turris.
What it all means…
Anyone who has spent time following trade lists, trade rumors, etc will know that there is often a lot of smoke but not much fire to these types of reports. Also, Nashville is historically tight lipped when it comes to potential roster moves. So take the idea that one or multiple of the Predators’ centers named could be moved with a pretty significant grain of salt. That being said, if a reporter from TSN like Frank Seravalli is willing to put his name on it then it means he is hearing it from somewhere. Taking the report and looking at the possible rationales, it can be deduced that David Poile is considering some major moves to reshape the Nashville Predators roster. I’ll leave it with this thought… if David Poile is trying to clear off significant long term salary then perhaps he’s looking to utilize it on someone else like, say, Taylor Hall. So buckle up, it could be a pretty wild ride.
Statistics and contract details courtesy of Elite Prospects and CapFriendly