General Manager David Poile has mentioned that the Predators still have a first round draft pick for the 2018 Draft when discussing trade options. Could he be kicking some tires? Are the Preds part of the Max Pacioretty sweepstakes? Are they looking at Mike Hoffman, Thomas Vanek, or Evander Kane? *hyperventilates*
The NHL trade deadline is February 26th. That’s nearly a month and a half away. The Predators have looked a bit “all-over-the-place” to begin 2018, and that’s due to several issues. The first and most glaring issue is Filip Forsberg’s hand/wrist injury. He’s expected back in 4-6 weeks. Kevin Fiala hasn’t had points in the past 7 or so games, and his linemates Kyle Turris and Craig Smith have also cooled off. Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino appear snakebitten.
Pekka Rinne is an All-Star, but we already knew that.
On the other hand, P.K. Subban is playing at a Norris level this season. Calle Jarnkrok has perfected his wicked wrister. The return of Ryan Ellis has injected some spark into the mix, but do the Predators have all the pieces necessary for another Cup run?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: Recent deadline picks have not always resulted in massive gains for the Predators.
Last season, the Preds picked up winger P.A. Parenteau from the New Jersey Devils for a sixth-round draft pick. Unable to find his stride in Nashville, Parenteau was often a healthy scratch and pretty much existed as a roster name during the playoffs.
The Predators also picked up veteran center Vernon Fiddler. He played fourth-line minutes and outside of a game winning goal against St. Louis in the playoffs, Fiddler was mostly absent from the scoresheet as well.
Perhaps the biggest trade deadline deal was the Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones swap in January 2016. Columbus needed a defenseman, and Nashville needed a center. Johansen immediately contributed to the Nashville lineup, and so did Jones in Columbus. This swap did wonders for both teams, and I’d say we are even with the Blue Jackets.
The season before, Olli Jokinen and minor-leaguer Brendan Leipsic were traded away along with a first round pick for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli. Who remembers that huge Franson goal in the playoffs? Me neither.
Franson cleared waivers this week and is now with the Hawk’s AHL club. Leipsic plays for the Golden Knights after a quick tour with the Maple Leafs. Jokinen and Santorelli are retired. Neither Franson nor Santorelli were noteworthy in the Predators lineup.
With the exception of the Jones-Johansen trade, the Predators did not drop any huge picks or assets for game-breaking players.
Poile’s all-in move for the 2017-2018 season was made in early November. His acquisition of center Kyle Turris in a three-way trade saw the Predators ship off young prospects Vladislav Kamenev and Samuel Girard to Colorado. Turris has been gold for the Predators, posting colossal points in November and December. He is the perfect center for his wingers Smith and Fiala.
The move for Turris allows Nick Bonino and Calle Jarnkrok to be flexible on the third and fourth lines. The forward depth is incredible right now, even with the temporary loss of Forsberg.
The longer answer: The defense, the offense, and the goaltenders remain known quantities to the Predators as they seek a return to the Stanley Cup Final. This is a more complete team than last year’s Cup competitors. The acquisition of Kyle Turris sealed the deal.
Defense: Now that the four horsemen are back together, there’s going to be a bit of a shuffle on the third defensive pairing. Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, and Anthony Bitetto have played semi-regularly on the third pair this season, and it appears Alexei Emelin will be bumped down to play with one of those three defenders.
The bottom three d-men all signed contracts on Tuesday, locking them in at league-minimum deals through the 2019-2020 season.
Many folks aren’t a fan of Emelin’s contract, but he can be effective in delivering big hits against the heavy-hitting teams the Predators are likely to encounter in the postseason (cough… Ducks) . Against faster, more skilled teams, Tony Bitetto might be a better third pair d-man because of his *bursts* of puck-moving minutes.
It’s likely we have not seen the best of Bitetto. Sidelined for a majority of last season due to injury, Bitetto has at times looked like a speedy, puck-moving defenseman capable of driving the puck to the net. Like any defenseman, he has lapses in coverage and sometimes allows bad shots against. Would Poile move Bitetto for any reason? We can’t know for sure, but I’ve been impressed with “New” Tony and I’m positive he will continue to improve.
That being said, Emelin might be a summer 2018 trade candidate. His contract is ridiculous and there might not be much need for him going into next season. However…it would be smart to keep him around for the remainder of the season.
The 2017 playoffs saw Irwin-Weber as the third pairing for a majority of the games. While not exceptional, they managed to allow the top four defenders to get rest when necessary. The four horsemen played a lot of the minutes in the playoffs, but that’s expected on a run to the Stanley Cup. Ryan Ellis played with a really messed up knee in the Pittsburgh series… the top four d-men, when healthy, are the absolute backbone of the Predators.
Offense: We’ve been blessed by the Fiala-Turris-Smith line for nearly two months. They put up incredible points late in 2017, and this line has the potential to turn up the heat as we hit the mid-point of the season.
The JOFA line has also been dynamic. The Arvi hustle just doesn’t stop. Joey has been struggling lately, but I fully believe it’s part of a slump and not an indicator of this season’s play. Arvidsson and Johansen looked incredible on Tuesday against the Oilers.
What can be said about the bottom lines? Lots. Calle Jarnkrok has certainly stepped up his game, and smarter plays and incredible shot blocking by Austin Watson impress me nearly every game. The Scott Hartnell-Jarnkrok-Watson line absolutely tore up the ice against Edmonton.
I really liked seeing Pontus Aberg with Forsberg and Jarnkrok, but his play with other linemates has been quite underwhelming. He always seems to be a day late and a dollar short.
If anything, Aberg could be part of a trade package in the summer. He just does not seem to be finding his groove. I wrote about Aberg’s woes in early December.
As mentioned above, Colton Sissons has been relatively snakebitten. His faceoff win percentage is impressive, but goals for the young center have not been materializing. Scott Hartnell is back to his annoying net-front self, and a week or so ago, Nick Bonino was shooting at Mark-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights like a guy who really wants to see his name on the scoresheet.
And Calle Jarnkrok..wow:
I suppose the question for fans would be whether the Predators NEED another scoring winger. Is the lack of scoring from the bottom two lines due to injuries and line shuffling? Maybe.
Fans are also curious to know what, if any, contribution Eeli Tolvanen could make if he came over from Jokerit at the end of the season. As a reminder, Tolvanen has the option for a second year with Jokerit if he wants it. Could Poile be reaching out to Tolvanen to bring the young Finnish sniper to the United States after the KHL season is over? It sure looks like he’s ready to contribute at the NHL level. We can speculate all day, but it’s best to assume that Tolvanen would be out of the picture for the remaining regular season.
Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne have been playing solid hockey as of late. I’m sure Rinne would like back some of the goals from the Vegas game. Still, he has more good games than bad games. We’d much rather him play like an average League goaltender now and ramp up his play come playoffs.
Saros has been dialed in since his last recall from the Admirals. He’s 4-3-3 on the season. He was just sent to Milwaukee to play three games over the team’s mandatory 5-day break (poor guy). Expect more stellar performances from Saros as the season continues.
With Anders Lindback holding down the fort in Milwaukee, the current goaltending situation is perfect and there is nothing that David Poile needs to change. I’m pretty sure Nashville would riot if Rinne or Saros was traded away.
While the Predators do not have any massive game-changers in the minor leagues, they have depth. On offense, they have reliable pieces in Harry Zolnierczyk, Trevor Smith, Frederick Gaudreau, Cody Bass, Emil Patterson, and Anthony Richard. On the blue line, they have Trevor Murphy, Alexandre Carrier, and Petter Granberg (please no) able to make NHL starts if called upon.
Without knowing what is going on inside David Poile’s head, it’s safe to assume that the Predators could indeed make another big splash before the trade deadline. However, it is the opinion of this author that the Predators are indeed Cup contenders without trading away picks, prospects, and even current players for a new addition that might not be a good fit for the team.
Kyle Turris was the final piece. The Predators are ready. We await the return of Prince Filip, the Boy Who Scored. Once 100% healthy, this team has all the right pieces to make a return to the Stanley Cup Final and win.