Heading into free agency, we already knew that the Predators landing John Tavares was a long shot. Now with Tavares down to his final six teams—with Nashville excluded—it seems we can finally move on.
But there are plenty of other opportunities for improving this team during free agency. Here are six free agents—three defensemen and three forwards—that would be excellent options for the Predators this summer.
Calvin de Haan (LHD)
2017-18 with Islanders: 33 GP, 1 G, 11 A, 18:45 ATOI, 49.1% CF
The Islanders were a terrible team defensively last year, but de Haan wasn’t likely the main reason, as he only played 33 games early in the season. Coming off a season ending shoulder injury, de Haan is in a perfect position to land somewhere with a fresh start and a good team value contract. Last summer, the Isles and de Haan reached a one-year, $3.3 million settlement after arbitration.
Calvin de Haan is a very promising young player at 27 years old. He has the skills to be a sort of poor man’s Roman Josi, as suggested by Ryan Stimson’s player comparison tool:
He can skate well, contribute offensively, and play solid defense. I could see a scenario in which de Haan signs a tryout contract for 1-2 years for around $3 million per year. If the Predators want to improve their defensive depth, de Haan would be a good bet.
Dylan DeMelo (RHD)
2017-18 with Sharks: 63 GP, 0 G, 20 A, 14:12 ATOI, 50.2% CF
(What’s with all the defensemen with the “de” prefix in their surnames? I guess it’s just two, but yeah... it’s weird.)
This suggestions came after talking to Eric Dunay, who sees DeMelo as a great “buy young” candidate for the Predators. He’s only 25 years old and has a lot of promise. As a pending RFA, the Sharks did not extend a qualifying offer, making him an immediate UFA.
DeMelo spent most of last year on the 3rd pairing with Brenden Dillon and the pairing seemed to have worked fine. I’m not exactly sure why the Sharks aren’t qualifying him, but I suppose they have other plans for their defensive depth.
When compared to Yannick Weber, DeMelo looks like a fairly serviceable bottom pairing guy, easily worth the minimum the Sharks would have had to pay him.
Yannick Weber, likely a fair comparison even at 29 years old, makes $675K. DeMelo would probably make something similar and is considerably younger.
DeMelo simply repeating his ‘17-’18 production alone wouldn’t be enough to move any needles in Nashville, but if the Preds take a flyer on this guy and he develops a little bit, what could it hurt?
Luke Schenn (RHD)
2017-18 with Coyotes: 64 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 16:23 ATOI, 45.4% CF
Schenn would be the quintessential “buy low” candidate for the Predators. He’s spent the last two seasons in Arizona and his numbers haven’t been great—but the Coyotes have been largely terrible, so it’s hard to say how much has been Schenn’s fault.
Last season, Schenn slowly lost playing time to linemate Kevin Connauton (who they just signed to a two-year deal worth $2.75 million) but it’s hard to say why—Schenn and Connauton seem to play similar styles. While Connauton seems a bit better at contributing to high danger shots, Schenn was more effective in other areas.
This could be a case of counting stats pulling the wool over the eyes of a front office. Connauton’s 11 goals and 21 points are both career highs and he shot a career high 10.8% on the season. Schenn had career lows in both goals, assists, and shooting percentage. But the superior underlying production (passing, total shot contribution, build up play, etc.) has to go to Schenn, which makes you wonder.
Could the Coyotes be putting their money down on the wrong horse? Nah, I’m sure that’s never happened.
Schenn would also bring some size to the Preds’ blueline, the one thing that Emelin brought that the Preds might actually miss. Schenn isn’t the fastest skater, so he would need to be protected, but being a right handed shooter would give the Preds plenty of options.
This one has David Poile Special (one year, one million) written all over it, though Matt Cane’s projection has his AAV at more like $1.6 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schenn was willing to come to Nashville for a bit less to play on a contending team.
Nick Shore (C)
2017-18 with Kings, Senators, Flames: 64 GP, 5 G, 14 A, 14:10 ATOI, 52.5% CF
Like DeMelo, Shore was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Flames, making him an immediate unrestricted free agent. Calgary had very little invested in Shore—they picked him up basically for free from the Senators at the deadline (he was in Ottawa after being dealt from Los Angeles as part of the Dion Phaneuf deal).
Nick Shore is a bottom-six forward who drives play well in defensive minutes with favourable skater context, doesn't score himself. pic.twitter.com/N36QS5QFv0— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 26, 2018
By all accounts, Shore is an excellent defensive forward who can suppress shots along with the best of them. Which is good because his offensive skill is very sub-par. He might not ever score more than 10 goals in a season or reach more than 20 points.
But if the Predators want to shore up (lol) their defensive efforts, Nick Shore would be a great add. He wouldn’t likely cost more than $1 million and when you see how he compares to the Predators’ other Nick, it’s hard to see how this would be anything other than a steal:
One of the biggest problems last season was defensive consistency. Adding a guy like Shore should help improve that and for very little money.
Riley Nash (C, RW)
2017-18 with Bruins: 76 GP, 15 G, 26 A, 15:25 TOI, 51.7% CF
Riley Nash is like a more balanced version of Nick Shore. Though he’s still not much of an impact player offensively, he can hold his own in the offensive end while still putting up great defensive numbers.
Pension Plan Puppets has a nice profile on Nash’s potential in free agency you should go check out. This summation captures Nash’s role on the Bruins quite nicely:
[Bruins Head Coach Bruce] Cassidy used Nash primarily when a goal against would do the most damage. He wasn’t used when the Bruins were in a deep hole, but he did see some reasonable minutes when they were well ahead. He holds leads; he doesn’t go out and get them.
The Bruins were one of the best shot suppressing teams last year and Nash was a part of why. He wasn’t the whole reason—guys like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara have a lot to do with that as well—but he was relied upon for heavy defensive use and played considerable time of the penalty kill: he had the 2nd most shorthanded minutes of any forward on the Bruins.
For a guy that’s so relied upon for defense to still put up 15 goals and 40 points, Nash is worth a look. Matt Cane projects his salary to be in the $2.2 range, but I could see him commanding at least $2.5 or $3.
If the Predators want another forward with similar skills to Calle Jarnkrok and Nick Bonino (which, as I mentioned before, would be just fine), Riley Nash would be a great addition.
James Neal (RW)
2017-18 with Golden Knights: 71 GP, 25 G, 19 A, 17:11 ATOI, 51.5% CF
Hello again. Nice to see you after all this time. Pity we had to part on such poor terms, perhaps we should get re-acquainted.
A James Neal return in Nashville wouldn’t be all that hard to imagine, but the team not protecting him in the expansion draft could make the negotiation table a bit more awkward. Assuming there are no hard feelings from Neal, the fit would be... well... probably similar to that time when he scored 77 goals for the Predators in 219 games.
The most likely obstacle to a James Neal return would be the money and term. If Vegas offers what he wants, he is probably going to stay (he reportedly wants to stay in Vegas, though it doesn’t seem like they will make a serious offer). Neal is probably asking for a pay increase, probably around $6 million, and a minimum term length of three years, though he will probably want more like five years.
Would it be worth keeping a 30+ year old sharp shooter around even if it means overpaying him in the back half of the contract? I think so. He’s never been a speed guy and he’s proven capable of maintaining production even as he’s aged.
When thinking back to the series against the Jets, I really wonder how things might have turned out with James Neal on board. Not that scoring was a main problem in the series (outside of Game 7), but Dustin Byfuglien pretty much owned that series. I hate the “enforcer” mind set, but there’s no doubt Neal would have been making Buff’s job a lot harder.
Also: if we bring Neal back, we can stop being snarky literally every time either Neal or Jarnkrok scores a goal. It’s a win-win.