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Trade Targets For The Nashville Predators

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In addition to exploring the options available in free agency, David Poile could also look to make a trade to get some help up front.

Edmonton Oilers v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

David Poile has talked about the possibility of patching some of the holes in the Predators’ current roster by adding a couple of forwards in free agency. We’ve looked at centers and wingers, but the players available have a few things in common: most of them are in their mid-thirties, many of them have missed significant time due to injury in the last few years, and almost all of them were never great even in their primes.

To add a good, established player still in his prime a GM almost always has to make a trade. Poile has said he doesn’t plan to move any of the top four defensemen. While he could easily change his mind if the return is right, for now let’s consider a couple of players rumored to be on the move who he might be able to get without trading a core defenseman.

Alex Galchenyuk (C/LW)

Galchenyuk was drafted third overall after an outstanding performance as a center in the OHL, but Canadiens management decided to move him to wing until they felt he was ready to play center in the NHL. As his experience at wing has not prepared him to play center to their satisfaction, they are now rumored to be looking to move on.

Galchenyuk is a 23-year-old who has produced at a first-line rate in each of the last three seasons despite being used out of his natural position and with frequently-shifting linemates. Galchenyuk himself is an extraordinarily well-rounded offensive player, but putting him on a line with Steve Ott, as the Canadiens did, is not the way to maximize his potential.

This graph using Ryan Stimson’s passing data shows Galchenyuk’s strengths offensively. He excels at passing and setting up plays, including ones in dangerous areas of the ice. Unlike pure playmakers like Joe Thornton, or even mostly-playmakers like Ryan Johansen, Galchenyuk also takes shots himself at an excellent rate.

And although his 2016-17 shooting percentage of 16.3 is high and should be expected to go down, his shooting percentage has increased every year since his rookie year—from 11.4% in 2012-13 to 14.9% the year before last. James Neal’s pure scoring talent is what made him so valuable to the Predators; Galchenyuk may have the tools to do something similar.

His defensive play this year was much more worrying, especially when his extremely sheltered zone usage is considered.

This shot map from HockeyViz.com shows the shots the Canadiens gave up this year with Galchenyuk on the ice. This is awful.

But it’s also 61 games from a young player who has not performed this badly before, who missed time to injury this season, and whose team may not be fully committed to his success. Furthermore, the Predators have plenty of excellent two-way forwards. Kevin Fiala, who would likely play to Galchenyuk’s left should the Predators acquire him, has excellent and very underrated defensive abilities. I think it would work out.

Because Galchenyuk is in some disfavor with Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, much like P.K. Subban was last year, he is likely to be moved for less than full value. Bergevin’s moves over the last few years suggest he values players with a gritty, physical style over dynamic skaters. Also, the Canadiens have an aging defense corps and depleted options on the roster and in the pipeline, especially after their moves of the last few weeks.

A package of a high-quality D prospect who is almost NHL ready (Alexandre Carrier or Samuel Girard) plus a C prospect or young player (Colton Sissons might be the best offer to make) would be my starting offer for Galchenyuk.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C)

After Connor McDavid’s arrival in Edmonton, Oilers management started making some drastic changes. Former first-overall pick Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson last summer. Jordan Eberle was traded in exchange for Ryan Strome last week. 24-year-old Nugent-Hopkins is the last member of the pre-McDavid core left, and he probably shouldn’t be looking at real estate in Edmonton.

There has been some worry that Nugent-Hopkins has been a product of his former wingers.

Nugent-Hopkins With and Without Linemates

Teammate CF% Together GF% Together Nugent-Hopkins CF% Apart Nugent-Hopkins GF% Apart Teammate CF% Apart Teammate GF% Apart
Teammate CF% Together GF% Together Nugent-Hopkins CF% Apart Nugent-Hopkins GF% Apart Teammate CF% Apart Teammate GF% Apart
J. Eberle 50.9 49.1 46.2 41.3 51.2 49.6
T. Hall 50.8 53.6 48.5 43.5 52 51.1
5v5 With or Without You data from stats.hockeyanalysis.com

As this information from stats.hockeyanalysis.com shows, Nugent-Hopkins’s performance and results improved significantly with the team’s two best wingers. However, some of that may simply be due to the Oilers’ poor forward depth and questionable coaching. Given more solid linemates and a more solid system, he may do well even when not playing with stars.

His passing profile isn’t great, and his production is about what might be expected given the passing profile. Depending on the model, Nugent-Hopkins produces even-strength offense at a rate somewhere from average to very poorly for a second-line player. This would still make him an improvement over what we have seen so far from Sissons and Calle Järnkrok, though not Mike Fisher if he returns.

Nugent-Hopkins’s points have been dropping with his icetime over the last three years, and his shooting percentage in 2016-17 was 9.0, the lowest it’s been over more than half a season in his career. The combination meant that his statline for the season was not great (18-25–43), but he may be due for a partial rebound next year. Shooting at his career average he would have scored about three more goals last season, putting him on pace for a 20+ goal season for the third year in a row.

The biggest advantage to acquiring Nugent-Hopkins in trade would be that Peter Chiarelli likely wants to move him and may not be picky about the return. The Hall-for-Larsson and Eberle-for-Strome trades were both met with incredulity. The Oilers might be looking to add a consistent 20-goal scorer like Craig Smith, whose cap hit of $4.25M for the next three seasons could be too high depending on his current role with the Predators.

However, the Oilers may or may not be willing to retain salary on Nugent-Hopkins, who will be making $6M a year through 2021. Their salary cap situation is precarious. Poile might have to decide whether Nugent-Hopkins’s contract is worth it to the Predators as it is and whether he’s likely to improve playing in Laviolette’s system.

Decent young centers are not usually available at favorable prices, and there is a risk to acquiring a key player cheaply. Nugent-Hopkins may be overpaid for his skill set and production. It’s possible that Bergevin and his coaches evaluated Galchenyuk correctly, and he isn’t the center the Predators need at all. However, if Poile is trying to upgrade the forward corps without losing a roster defenseman, his options are limited.

Both Nugent-Hopkins and Galchenyuk are likely to require a roster player to go back in return. It will probably take a more valuable roster player to get Nugent-Hopkins and more valuable futures to get Galchenyuk.

The HERO chart comparing the two shows that they have different strengths and weaknesses. (A high spike in production for Galchenyuk’s shortened 2012-13 rookie season is skewing his trend graph.) Galchenyuk drives play more and has the production to go with it; Nugent-Hopkins has fewer defensive weaknesses to go with less spectacular offensive play. For a team that has struggled to find pure offense and has no shortage of steady, solid defensive forwards, Galchenyuk seems like the better target.