When the news broke that Ryan Ellis would be out for half the season, that meant guys like Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, Anthony Biteto, and for reasons still unknown Alexei Emelin would have to fill his skates until he was healthy again.
While Irwin and Weber weren’t stand-outs, Poile must have liked what he saw because he signed both of them to cushy, two-year, 1.3 million dollar contract extensions. They may not be top-four talent, but they’ll be around until Poile is ready to bring the likes of Alexandre Carrier or Frederic Allard into the fold.
The problem with not being a top four defensemen for the Nashville Predators is every single mistake you make is going to be more jarring than it really is. Being a blue-liner for a team that prides themselves on having one of the best defensive cores in the league is no easy burden to bear.
Luckily for Irwin there were worse Nashville defensemen who took the majority of the bashing this season. The chaos Emelin caused overshadowed a lot of the blue-line’s shortcomings this season. Irwin had his moments, but it’s hard to send a pitchfork mob after Irwin when all your pitchfork mobs are chasing down Alexei Emelin.
Luckily for Irwin, he can play next to virtually anyone during 5v5, which keeps him at a steady ice-time average when his teammates were dropping like flies over the course of the season.
Irwin’s a reliable player, if he’s on the ice with the right person and not having to drag around his defensive partner all night. When he’s on the ice with someone who can hold their own and isn’t a flight risk, his game goes beyond being a bottom pair guy.
I could dig up a bunch of meaningless stats about Irwin’s season, but in all honesty there’s not much to look at. Irwin is a very average player, who at times is graced with a spark of greatness.
Irwin and Weber are practically interchangeable. I’ve found myself staring at charts and graphs and having to check the name on them several times, they look so similar. They’re both painfully average. I imagine if you put them side by side and make them run drills long enough they might morph into one giant blob of a hockey player. They are who they are, don’t expect Norris caliber players, expect a cookie cuter bottom pairing.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Every team needs a bottom pairing where you know what you’re getting out of them. Irwin and Weber have their differences but at the end of the day they serve the same purpose, they both make the same mistakes, and they both got the exact same contract for the exact same reason.
Irwin’s only edge over Weber is that the ghost of playoff Colin Wilson tends to possess him during November and he evolves into a different breed of defensemen. The same game struck him during the playoffs where half the defense was MIA (for reasons still unknown).
I’m still deeming him the November Man for now, but with Emelin out of the picture, Irwin might be able to find a more solid and meaningful place among Nashville’s blue-line. He still has some room to grow before they start seriously considering the prospects in Milwaukee, but that window is closing fast.
While most of the team usually owes Pekka Rinne dinner on any given night, I hope Rinne bought the most expensive meal on the menu for Irwin after this.
And because his nickname needs a 2017-18 moment to fall back on.
Who doesn’t love a good top-shelf goal against the Anaheim Ducks?
Irwin didn’t have a moment this season that was so blatantly awful it was embedded in my memory for all of eternity or the video of it was still plastered all over the internet, but he’s had plenty of, you’re playing hockey in the NHL please don’t ever do that again moments to last the Preds a lifetime.
I don’t know if this is too generous or too harsh, but an average season deserve an average grade. This wasn’t a normal season for Nashville’s blue-line, but Irwin being vastly mediocre during a season that was mostly absent of Ryan Ellis is disappointing. He could have stepped up and earned himself a bigger role, and he didn’t. But hey! C’s get degrees, and C’s get contract extensions!