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The Weekly 1-3-1: Center Depth, Moves To Come, and Central Division Shifts

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Off-season madness continues with the beginning of NHL Free Agency on Saturday.

NHL: NHL Awards and Expansion Draft
Nashville Predators GM David Poile
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The past two weeks of Nashville Predators fandom has been a roller coaster of emotions. From losing James Neal in the expansion draft, to a draft day steal in Eeli Tolvanen, and concluding with a week of Matt Duchene rumors, July 1st’s free agency period could not possibly top that drama, right?

Wrong.

David Poile wasted no time at the start of free agency as he signed Nick Bonino to a 4 year deal at a cap hit of $4.1 million. He then followed by bringing back ex-Predator and former fan favorite Scott Hartnell on a one year $1million deal. Finally the day ended in strange fashion when the Predators traded a 3rd round pick to Las Vegas for defenseman Alexei Emelin.

Have the Predators fulfilled all their needs? Are they done adding players? As we have come to know with David Poile, you never really know that answer.

Data Dive

The Predators biggest weakness over the course of its existence has been the center position. After adding Ryan Johansen a year ago via trade, the Predators finally got a number one center. On Saturday, they added Nick Bonino, a center who is fresh off a Stanley Cup win with the Penguins. Many wonder if Nick Bonino means the Predators finally have a legitimate one-two punch down the middle.

I decided to pull the data on all second line centers on Stanley Cup Champions during the salary cap era and see what their base line stats were when averaged out and compare them to Bonino, potential Predators trade targets, and former second line center Mike Fisher.

2nd Line Center Stats (Requirements: Stanley Cup Champion; Minimum 50 games played; Seasons marked in red did not qualify)

The first finding is that Nick Bonino’s average season totals are well below that of second line centers on a Stanley Cup champion. Mike Fisher scores more than Bonino, but still falls well below the averages. The only player that is close to the average is Matt Duchene.

There are some seasons where the second line center play was rather weak (Flippula, RIchards) so it is possible to win it with weaker player at the position. But 8 out of the 11 champions that qualified all had seasons better than Bonino’s best ever totals.

Perhaps the scariest part about all this is that Johansen’s career average numbers (22g, 42a) fit more in line with second line centers on Stanley Cup champions.

In all, Predators fans should throw caution to the wind when hoping Bonino is the answer down the middle. Is he a solid addition? Yes. Does he take the Predators to new levels? Probably not. And if he is going to be the second line center, the Predators will have to make up for it in other areas.

Conclusion: Bonino is not the savior.

Twitter GM

While I may not agree with the execution, I do agree with David Poile’s “win now” strategy.

After coming off the best performance of his career, Pekka Rinne is not getting any younger, and his contract is up in two seasons. The best defensive core in hockey features four players capable of playing on any top pair in the league, and all are playing in their prime. And the forward core features three top end players all capable of all star level play that is supported by a top tier level of depth.

This is an opportunity the Predators must capitalize on, and Poile knows it. It is why I think he traded for Emelin. Whether Emelin is included in a trade, as insurance for moving another player, or simply an upgrade over Matt Irwin, Poile has another chip at the table.

If I was Poile, I would explore two routes. The first is to add another quality winger in free agency. Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek, and Jussi Jokinen are three veteran wingers that could provide scoring. All three could slot into the second line slot vacated by Neal. Is this ideal? No, but it will give the Predators more scoring options.

The second route would be a trade. Matt Duchene is the hottest name, and that would be my number one target. But Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Alex Galchenyuk are two other options that would provide upgrades over Bonino.

Prediction: Poile will make another move.

League Landscape

It is an amazing time to be a Nashville Predators fan. After sweeping their division rival on their way to reaching the Stanley Cup, Nashville is on a hockey buzz. What makes it even better is how its nemesis, the world power Chicago Blackhawks, seem to keep getting weaker.

It all started with a trade sending backup goalie Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes. Then news broke that Marian Hossa would miss the upcoming season with a skin disorder.

(Back when I played hockey my best friend, a goalie, had the same condition and was forced to quit. After every game he would get red rash marks all over his body, and it brought him significant pain.)

The madness ensued for the Hawks when Bowman sent defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin to free up cap space. This is a major downgrade as Hjalmarsson has been one of the best shot suppressors in the league.

The final move saw Bowman trade sniper Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte, and 6th round pick for former Hawk Brandon Saad, backup goalie Anton Forsberg and a 5th round pick. This move could qualify as an upgrade depending upon what you value in a forward.

Blackhawks Offseason Roster Moves

Even with the addition of Sharp, the Blackhawks reign could be on life support. Kane, Toews, and Keith will certainly keep this team in the playoffs, but repeating its regular season dominance and postseason success is as uncertain as ever.

Verdict: The Blackhawks are trending down.

So Predators fans here is your chance to chime in on the offseason moves. What do you think off our offseason so far? Would you make another move?

Poll

What grade would you give the Predators July 1st moves?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    A
    (93 votes)
  • 75%
    B
    (547 votes)
  • 10%
    C
    (78 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (11 votes)
729 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Pick one of the following trades

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Duchene for Ekholm, prospect, pick
    (98 votes)
  • 14%
    Duchene for Ellis, prospect, pick
    (124 votes)
  • 3%
    Nugent Hopkins for Ekholm
    (34 votes)
  • 3%
    Nugent Hopkins for Ellis
    (30 votes)
  • 67%
    I do not want to lose Ellis or Ekholm
    (599 votes)
885 votes total Vote Now