As the days count down to July 1, Nashville Predators fans are staring at the possibility (dare we say, probability?) that homegrown star Ryan Suter may sign with another team.
If indeed Suter heads off for greener pastures, what can the Predators do to provide a running mate for Shea Weber? Sure, there are younger players like Roman Josi working their way up through the ranks, but it's too early to expect one of them to take on that burden, logging heavy minutes against top opposition each night. You can't replace everything that a player like Suter brings to the table with one replacement, either, so there will be relative limitations with whoever ends up filling that spot.
So what sort of options might be out there if the Preds pursue a top-pair defenseman via free agency? Let's take a look at some candidates...
The table below highlights a few of the Unrestricted Free Agent defensemen I'd like to focus on. What I'm trying to zero in on here are guys who play on the left side against above-average competition, and have a positive effect on the flow of Shots For & Against.
The data, which includes source information from NHL Numbers and Behind the Net, shows the 5-on-5 ice time per game for each player, along with the balance of shifts they started in the Offensive vs. Defensive end of the ice (i.e., Jason Garrison got 57 more shifts starting in the offensive end than the defensive one), the Quality of Competition faced by each player, and their effect on their team's Corsi rating, once that Zone Start differential is taken into account***.
|TOI/60||Net Zone Starts||Corsi Rel QoC||
Adjusted Corsi Rel/60
Another good way to review what these defensemen did last season would be to review the Player Usage Charts featured here a few weeks ago.
Garrison is an unusual story, an undrafted player who has become quite the late bloomer. He's only had one particularly outstanding season so far, however, so a long-term contract may be a bit of a gamble. Defending Big D offers the following assessment:
The two biggest knocks against Jason Garrison are his physical game and lack of track record. Despite his size he isn't an overly physical player. When taking stock of the free agent market for defensemen a few weeks ago I compared Garrison to a younger Sheldon Souray. The difference between the two is that Garrison is a better skater while Souray is much more physical.
The lack of a high end physical game isn't necessarily a bad thing for Garrison. He's known to be very positionally sound. His game also keeps him out of the penalty box. In 2012 Garrison took 13 penalties at even strength which would have placed him third amongst the Stars defense corps, but in line with group as a whole.
I like the notion of a guy who can play tough opponents while not taking too many penalties. He played over 2:30 per game on both the power play and penalty kill as well, so there's some versatility to consider here, as well.
#5 / Defenseman / Carolina Hurricanes
Aug 21, 1980
|2011 - Bryan Allen||1||13||14||-1||76|
Allen took on a tough workload in Carolina, both in terms of personnel and positional matchups, and managed to hold up pretty well. He might complement Shea Weber as more of a "safety net" partner, holding back while allowing Weber to jump up and join the rush more often, as opposed to Suter who could handle the puck from zone to zone with aplomb. He can kill penalties, but isn't a power play option at all.
#44 / Defenseman / Dallas Stars
Jul 13, 1976
|2011 - Sheldon Souray||6||15||21||+11||73|
"Studley Wonderbomb" enjoyed quite a comeback season after escaping the Edmonton Gulag, and you have to get a bit giddy over the supersonic slap shots which could come from either point from a Souray-Weber pairing. He's not the most disciplined defender, but he does play with a nasty physical style that the Predators lack sometimes (and would miss with Suter's departure).
The question with Souray may turn out to be what he's looking for contract-wise. As an over-35 player, going beyond one year carries risk, and supposedly he's already turned down a one-year $3 million offer from the Stars.
Colaiacovo has been around the block a few times, and while not a leading offensive force, can fill a supporting role. He's not much of a penalty killer, and isn't a top PP guy, either, so help in those areas would have to come from elsewhere.
#25 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Sep 25, 1984
|2011 - Matt Carle||4||34||38||+4||36|
Carle is somewhat like Suter in that he delivers outstanding value while playing just outside the limelight enjoyed by higher-profile teammates. He can pile up the assists and fill in on both sides of the special teams battle, but the expectation is that he'll re-sign with Philadelphia instead of hitting the broader market.
No Easy Choices
When faced with these choices, which direction would you like to see the Predators take? Each of these players has strengths and limitations, so which might be best suited to fill Nashville's needs?
*** Adjusted Corsi Rel/60 = the player's Corsi Rating while on the ice, minus the team's rating when he's on the bench, adjusted for Net Zone Starts. For example, a guy who starts in the defensive zone a lot will have a low Corsi just due to his situation, so we adjust figures upward to compensate, and vice versa for those starting in the offensive end.