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Forget Duchene: David Poile Should Try to Sign Alexander Wennberg

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Offer sheets are rare, but would Wennberg be worth the risks?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

For what feels like an eternity, rumors have swirled about Matt Duchene potentially being traded to the Nashville Predators. Nashville’s depth at center was their undoing in the Stanley Cup Final. After losing Ryan Johansen in the Western Conference Final, the Predators, despite admirable performances from Frederick Gaudreau and Colton Sissons, simply could not keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche are building for the future, and for nearly eight months now, they have been trying to trade Matt Duchene. Although the Predators signed Nick Bonino to presumably take over their second-line center role, Nashville General Manager David Poile has been unable to escape the rumors connecting him to the Colorado Avalanche and Duchene.

However, if David Poile really wants to acquire another other center, he should try to sign the one who scored 18 more points than Duchene and doesn’t have a contract: Alexander Wennberg.

Wennberg, a 22-year-old native of Stockholm, posted 59 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. Furthermore, despite being on a John Tortorella-coached team, he posted a 56.1% corsi for. For reference, Ryan Johansen, well known as a player with great possession numbers, had a corsi for of 59.7%. Additionally, as the top line center for the Blue Jackets, Wennberg was constantly matched up against the top players of the Metropolitan Division, arguably the NHL’s most talented division.

Despite having a breakout season for the Blue Jackets, Wennberg is a restricted free agent and has still not signed a new contract. Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen is infamous for his reluctance to pay young, star centers and perhaps Alexander Wennberg is history repeating itself. With the recent Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl deals, it could be that Wennberg’s asking amount is too high for Kekalainen. Nevertheless, Wennberg remains unsigned.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps David Poile is content with the Nashville Predators roster right now. However, if Poile wants to roll the dice at acquiring another center, he should attempt to sign Wennberg to an offer sheet before forfeiting assets to get Matt Duchene.

However, there are three things to consider: how other general managers would react, how Alexander Wennberg would fit into the Predators’ roster, and what the salary cap situation would look like.

First, should David Poile break the general managers’ unspoken code of signing a restricted free agent to a contract? The logistics of the offer sheet have not changed since Shea Weber signed one with the Philadelphia Flyers. If Poile were to sign Wennberg to an offer sheet, the Columbus Blue Jackets would have a week to match the same exact contract offered. If they would match it, then they retain Wennberg.

Signing Wennberg to an offer sheet would be breaking an unofficial code of conduct among general managers. Doing so would certainly sour Poile’s working relationship with Kekalainen, a relationship that resulted in one of the best win-win trades in recent memory in trading Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen. Other general managers may also side with Kekalainen out of fear of losing their own restricted free agents. One of David Poile’s greatest skills in recent years has been his ability to trade well. Hurting his relationships with other general managers could negatively affect his ability to trade in the future.

Alexander Wennberg was one of the most utilized players on the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
hockeyviz.com

However, looking at the Predators roster, there are no burning needs that must be patched up via trade. The core of the team is locked up to long-term contracts and all critical roles are filled. If Poile were to sign Wennberg to an offer sheet, he would have absolutely no need to trade for another player, unless he would want to acquire some veteran presence around the trade deadline. Although people make a big deal out of breaking this unspoken code of the general manager, David Poile would not lose much by doing so.

Second, would Alexander Wennberg be a good fit with the Predators? Yes. Absolutely. While Wennberg does not have the name recognition of Matt Duchene, he is a terrific player. Wennberg is a 22-year-old Swedish two-way center who scored 59 points last season and had a higher corsi percentage than Ryan Johansen. Nearly any credible statistic shows that Alexander Wennberg is a great player. With time, Wennberg is going to become an elite player. Additionally, he provides great net front presence with his 6’2”, 192lb frame. In Nasvhille’s current group of top-six forwards, that net front presence is really the only skill missing.

When Alexander Wennberg goes to the front of the net, he scores.
hockeyviz.com

Furthermore, there are a lot of truths in humor, and the “Tennesweden” joke that is often made certainly has truth to it. When one looks at the player-friendly contracts that Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Mattias Ekholm, and Pontus Aberg have all signed, it is easy to infer that they all feel at home and enjoy playing with each other in Nashville. Alexander Wennberg would be another handsome man on a team stacked with his countrymen (seriously, have you seen Wennberg’s handsome/60? Unreal.).

So how could a potential Predators line-up look with Wennberg?

Predators with Alexander Wennberg

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Filip Forsberg Ryan Johansen Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala Alexander Wennberg Craig Smith
Pontus Aberg Nick Bonino Calle Jarnkrok
Scott Hartnell Colton Sissons Austin Watson

Obviously these are just ideas, and perhaps there are better ones, but that is a group of forwards with the depth of the Pacific Ocean.

Third and finally, would signing Alexander Wennberg be feasible considering the Predators’ cap situation? According to capfriendly.com, the Predators have $6,086,667 in cap space this season. Although Ryan Ellis hits free agency in two seasons, Alexi Emelin’s $3,000,000 contract expires after this season, and hopefully either Samuel Girard or Alexandre Carrier could fill Emelin’s spot on the third defensive pairing.

There certainly appears to be space to sign a player like Wennberg. After the lucrative deals that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl signed, Wennberg’s asking price has likely increased, but he should not cost more than what the Predators can offer. Although it could make trading for a veteran presence at the trade deadline a more challenging endeavor, it would be laughable to value the ability to sign a rental over a young center with the potential to bud into a star.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it is unlikely that David Poile would be bold enough to use an offer sheet, especially after having gone through the Shea Weber offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. Additionally, Columbus could simply just match whatever offer sheet the Predators sign Wennberg. However, if Poile wants to acquire another center, he should seriously consider extending an offer sheet to Alexander Wennberg. Wennberg is going to be a star in the NHL, has yet to be signed, and acquiring him would not force the Predators to trade away assets or pieces of their valuable defensive core. Wennberg is an intriguing option that would make the Predators’ center depth, which was their undoing in the Stanley Cup Finals, into their strength.