It’s time. The Nashville Predators have had their chances and have not been able to take advantage. A team that objectively should have improved from last season has instead regressed across the lineup with a mind-numbing level of inconsistency. The Predators have had repeated opportunities to lay claim to a spot among the playoff hopefuls. Still, a potentially final failure was seen in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota where the closing seconds showed both resolve and inevitability. With 28 games remaining in the ‘22-23 season, the Predators find themselves seven points out of the final wildcard spot and the realization that the time for this core has passed.
Over the past week, numerous reports from NHL insiders Elliotte Friedman, Pierre LeBrun, Chris Johnston and even Predators general manager David Poile himself have suggested that if Nashville did not build significant momentum then the Predators would likely be sellers at the trade deadline. While the disappointment is palpable, a retooling of the roster underpinned by some of the best prospect talent Nashville has ever had might be what the franchise needs to chart a new path toward Stanley Cup contention and reinvigorate a frustrated fanbase.
From a high level, the Nashville Predators being sellers does not mean they are in the hunt for Conor Bedard outside of a draft lottery miracle. They are too far up in the standings and don’t have the trade assets to really strip down the roster where coaches and players who are still trying (and they should be) will lose consistently. So that makes the ‘22-23 trade deadline more of an incremental retooling to open up both roster spots and salary cap flexibility as well as adding assets into the pool of futures.
With the complexity of longer contracts with veteran players, David Poile will need to be creative and potentially use a tool he has almost exclusively avoided: retaining salary. There are a few veteran players whose contracts could be more palatable with a couple of million taken off the top. So while the options are not as obvious as with a team like St. Louis which has (well, had) multiple pending unrestricted free agents the Predators can use a little creativity to build a solid trade deadline return. While anything not nailed down (Josi and Forsberg are nailed down, Duchene and Johansen are too heavy to lift) should be available for trade, across the roster there are six players who have a reasonable chance of being traded.
I’ve highlighted them in the table below with further analysis of a few interesting options.
|Nino Niederreiter||Dante Fabbro||Kevin Lankinen|
|Mikael Granlund||Mattias Ekholm|
The easiest choice is defenseman Dante Fabbro. Fabbro is still young, a pending RFA with a reasonable qualifying offer and plays a position that always carries a premium at the trade deadline. While normally that would be reason enough to keep a player it may be time for Fabbro to have a fresh start. He has fallen to a 3rd pair role and using $2.5M for a player in that role is too much for a team that is already close to the cap. I still believe Fabbro makes a ton of sense for Vancouver as the starting point of a deal including forward Brock Boeser.
Next on my list is also the first potential salary retention move and that is Mikael Granlund. Granlund had a very strong ‘21-22 season but has really fought the puck all season in ‘22-23. At the surface, 30 points in 54 games (0.55 pts/game) isn’t terrible but more is expected of a forward making $5M per season playing exclusively top 6 and top power play minutes. With two years remaining on his contract after this one, contending teams aren’t likely to have the space to absorb the full cap hit but if the Predators were to retain $2M (40%) of his salary then Granlund is a pretty attractive player at $3M per season. I wonder if Calgary, who will have enough cap room this season plus Milan Lucic coming off the books, makes sense as a landing spot for Granlund.
Mattias Ekholm holds the honor of being the longest rumored Predators player to be available for trade. Reports came out early in 2023 that David Poile had put out notice that Ekholm was available. The Predators’ improved play for the few weeks following quieted the noise but any talk among NHL insiders of Nashville becoming a seller has started with Mattias Ekholm. Now, trading Ekholm would be difficult as his contract has 3 more seasons at almost $19M remaining. However, of this group, he probably also has the most value to a contending team. I look at Edmonton as a possibility if they can’t work out an Erik Karlsson trade. If the Predators bring back Tyson Barrie and Jesse Puljujarvi the salaries balance then it’s just what other picks or prospects the Oilers would need to include. For what it’s worth, I do not believe David Poile wants to trade Ekholm and I doubt he would do so without Ekholm’s approval (even though there is no contractual trade protection) but moving him would bring back significant assets plus open a lot of cap space.
- With Horvat, Tarasenko and O’Reilly off the market, I wonder if the Canes would look to bring back Niederreiter if they lose out on Timo Meier.
- There’s a lot of discourse around trading goaltender Juuse Saros. Unquestionably he would garner a huge trade return and I do think trading him is inevitable. However, I think that’s a summer move around the draft when more of a bidding war could be generated.
- Unless a team is willing to overpay for Tanner Jeannot’s physicality I don’t think trading him now makes much sense. He will still be cheap next season so give him an offseason to find his offensive game, potentially with a new coach.
- Kevin Lankinen might be a sneaky trade asset if a contending team gets an injury among their goalies. Lankinen has been very good this year and if nothing else could garner an extra decent pick or two.
With just under two weeks to go until the deadline, it will be fascinating to see just how committed the Predators front office is to changing the course of the franchise. Looking at it from the fanbase’s perspective there is a strong desire just to see a clear plan being laid out that isn’t grounded in the ghosts of 2017. With a promising prospect group on the rise, there is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a revamped roster that opens a new window of contention. If nothing else, get on the boat and enjoy the ride!