As we stand four weeks out from the trade deadline, the Nashville Predators face a conundrum. The Predators find themselves in the fourth spot of the Central Division battling Minnesota, St Louis and Dallas for division and wild card playoff spots. Certainly, they have significantly exceeded all expectations set for them externally but given the veteran talent on the roster the results are actually closer to what this team should be. Also, while the Predators have scored at a high rate so far, they are distinctly middle of the pack in generating chances offensively. That hole would speak to a solution of finding a winger to play with Ryan Johansen and Luke Kunin. So why is that a conundrum? Well, the Predators don’t have an obvious solution for approaching the rest of this season. Based on what any given person thinks this season means, the trade deadline answer would look very different. So let’s dive in and assess the different approaches the Predators could take. I won’t get too much into player evaluation/fit for this one. I’ll save that until closer to the deadline and we have a better idea of what the Predators might do. Without further ado, let’s dig in!
Option 1: Go All In with a Rental Top 6
Rationale – The Predators are buoyed by scoring from their veteran stars, an elite defense and all-world goaltending. To make a run the Predators will need another forward who can generate offense. Take the chance and go for a Cup.
Pros – Injury protection for playoffs, shows Forsberg a commitment to winning a Cup, enhanced offensive potential, national attention from a big move
Cons – Asset cost for top-six a player will be high, no guarantees added player will fit identity/system
Potential Names – Claude Giroux, Tomas Hertl, Phil Kessel
Option 2: Trade for Long Term
Rationale – Despite the success of this season, the Predators are not likely to be contenders. Continue building the roster talent beyond this season by acquiring younger NHL talent with term in case Forsberg leaves and/or the veteran production falls off
Pros – Helps roster now and in future, roster protection in case Forsberg leaves, Takes pressure off prospects to produce
Cons – Asset cost for young talent is very high
Potential Names – Patrik Laine, Clayton Keller, Jake DeBrusk
Option 3: Use the Cap Space to Acquire Picks/Prospects
Rationale – Predators have the 6th most cap space in the NHL. Other contenders trying to make trades will need cap room to facilitate larger deals. Help facilitate trades by taking on salary along with picks or prospects.
Pros – Build the pipeline and/or acquire more trade capital
Cons – High salary vet could upset the identity and vibe of the locker room, may not move the needle convincing Forsberg to re-sign
Potential Teams – Toronto, Washington, Carolina
Option 4: Stand Pat
Rationale – the Predators are unlikely to be true Cup contenders this season despite the regular-season success so no reason to buy. The team will make the playoffs and the prospect pipeline is strong so no need to sell. Just enjoy the ride as far as it goes.
Pros – No asset cost in an uncertain year, doesn’t introduce new elements to a strong locker room
Cons – Relies on depth to cover for injuries, may not move the needle convincing Forsberg to re-sign
Which Will GM David Poile Do?
While the roster has one pretty obvious hole in the top 6, I don’t think this is the year GM David Poile makes a splash. With the team overachieving to expectations, the salary cap in a manageable place and a top-half prospect pool there are plenty of reasons not to disrupt the apple cart. Even with Filip Forsberg at the end of his contract and the risk associated with keeping him into the summer, he’s such an integral part of the Predators’ success that unless an ultimatum is laid (unlikely) then he probably does not get moved. Poile will explore the market for a winger to play with Johansen and Kunin but likely find the prices too high. That being said, I don’t see Poile completely standing pat. There will likely be a few smaller moves either to pick up a couple of lower draft picks or bring in a prospect another team has to clear for a move of their own.
Which Would I do?
I am generally on Team Big Moves so I would probably get more aggressive in terms of acquiring another winger. The Predators are top-heavy with veterans who are all producing which Predators fans have seen to be pretty rare in recent years. Also, the unknowns around Forsberg’s future make this a unique season where it might make sense to push the chips in somewhat. What about the cost? The recent Tyler Toffoli trade might give a good sense of the answer. Calgary paid a 1st round pick, a 5th round pick, a mid-level prospect and a bottom-six roster player to get a goal-scoring top 6 winger. In looking at potential trades for Claude Giroux, Tomas Hertl or J.T. Miller the cost would be similar though perhaps an above-average prospect in addition to the 1st round pick. The roster player would likely only be to balance roster spots so in terms of the Predators it would be a lower-cost player like McCarron, Harpur or Cousins. With the strength of the Predators prospect pool looking forward, that cost might be worth it to complete the roster picture a have a fully composed roster going into the playoffs.