Yesterday morning, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger made an appearance on TSN690’s The Morning Show, where he talked about trade rumors, the Nashville Predators, and Matt Duchene.
I know—what is this, 2017?
But the interview was real, and it belatedly came to the attention of Preds Twitter right as Duchene himself was tweeting about arriving in Nashville with several of his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates to celebrate Riley Nash’s birthday. Chaos had already ensued; the mention of the Dreger interview poured gasoline on the flames:
Dreger on TSN690 says there is something to the Subban trade rumours, it’s connected to clearing room to sign Duchene, who the #Preds have interest in. Dreger says it will be a hard contract to move, doubts Poile wants to eat some of that contract. Adds Turris could be moved too.— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) May 9, 2019
So what actually happened in the interview, and what does the situation look like?
First, the interview. You can listen for yourself if you like, but I’ve transcribed the relevant part (verbatim to the best of my knowledge, so please be aware that people do tend to repeat words and it sounds much more natural in the spoken interview):
Conor McKenna: Well, uh, P.K. Subban’s name is never too too far from NHL trade rumors and this offseason’s no exception. I’m curious about what, if anything, you’ve heard about the possibility of Subban moving this offseason out of Nashville.
Darren Dreger: Well, you know what, Conor, I, I think there’s, there’s a possibility of that, and I—I—I—I think I mentioned it earlier this week, uh, and it was more related to Matt Duchene and what his interest might be, and I, I think the Nashville Predators—[yawns] excuse me—are gonna have a fair bit of interest in Matt Duchene as a pending unrestricted free agent, but in order for Nashville to get in that game, they’re going to have to move out some pieces or a piece, if, you know, there’s an interest in doing that, and the names that we’re hearing in a speculative way are Kyle Turris and, and P.K. Subban. Again, it’s, it’s just raw speculation at this point.
Uh, P.K. Subban is, is a very good NHL defenseman, um, at times he’s been high-risk—he was that way in Montreal, and carried that game to Nashville. The challenge could be for David Poile, you know, how do you move that contract with that amount of money? So, you know, there’s some out there who say “yes, there would be interest in P.K. Subban,” and there should be, but it might require the Nashville Predators to eat a bit of that salary and I don’t know that David Poile is going to want to do that.
Dreger is providing an excellent example of what I wrote about earlier this week, how broadcasters just tell their audience that Subban is bad defensively until the audience believes it, and he’s also talking complete nonsense by making the problem here about P.K. Subban’s cap hit and how the Predators would have to retain salary (!?) instead of the idea of trading P.K. Subban as a cap dump. There are some legitimate arguments that can be made in favor of trading Subban, but that is not one of them.
When he’s healthy, Subban is the Predators’ best all-around defender, as he has been the last three postseasons. Good players get paid money, unless they play for Steve Yzerman in which case good luck with that.
If the Predators do want to sign Duchene, the way to clear cap isn’t by trading Subban.
Dreger mentioned that Kyle Turris’s name was coming up in rumors; I think trading Turris now would be a mistake for more reasons than one, but he does have a $6M cap hit. He’s also coming off of an injury-riddled and very bad season; trading Turris now would be almost the definition of selling low.
Might the Predators have to do that anyway? It is possible—they’ve gotten themselves into a situation. The salary cap for the 2019-2020 season is projected to be roughly $83 million, and after the Predators have re-signed some players on expiring contracts they’ll probably have—at best—somewhere around two million dollars in cap room for 2019-20. (Alex Daugherty wrote about what the Preds’ extensions might look like here.)
That’s not enough to sign a big-name UFA coming off a $6M contract, especially while negotiating Roman Josi’s extension. The managers of Evolving-Hockey have taken up the good work of projecting contracts that used to be done by Matt Cane; their model projects a six-year, $6.9 million contract for Duchene. The math just doesn’t work.
If the Predators are interested in Duchene, they’ll need him to sign for Järnkrok money, or else they’ll need to make a trade. Obviously, Duchene isn’t going to sign for Järnkrok money, because no matter how many cowboy hats he’s been spotted in or how much fun he’s having in Nashville right now as I’m typing this—last night as you’re reading it—that’s not a deal that makes sense for a player of his ability. Even if he were willing to sign a comically cheap deal, the NHLPA would very rightly be unhappy with the way other UFAs would be pressured to sign cheaply because he had.
So, yes, if the Preds want to sign Duchene they will need to clear cap.
There are things to be excited about with a potential Duchene signing. Although the Preds’ forwards have been struggling in the system this past year, Duchene is still a very good offensive talent, and anyone who can put up 107 points in 118 games on a pair of awful Senators teams can probably scrape by with some less-than-optimal usage in Nashville.
More excitingly, and more helpfully, though, he’s an excellent faceoff man who’s a left-handed shot. Acquiring Duchene would mean that the Predators would be able to take Nick Bonino off the power play. If Bonino could somehow be replaced on the penalty kill, too, and if a trade partner could be found who would be willing to take his $4.1M cap hit, that would clear a good-sized chunk of space for Duchene without requiring the Predators to trade their best defender for cheap spare parts.
Trading Bonino, who is coming off an unsustainably successful season, would be a much better move than selling low on Turris or trading Subban just to clear cap. All his recent remarks have indicated that Duchene is interested in exploring his options, and hasn’t ruled out re-signing in Columbus any more than he has ruled out any other specific NHL city.
If Matt Duchene is interested in playing full-time in Nashville—not just visiting as a tourist and having fun, but cursing the pedal taverns and keeping an ear out for tornado sirens, and knowing that some locals would judge him for doing the tourist stuff he’s enjoying so much right now, and overall committing to live in a city that’s very different from where he grew up or anywhere he’s played previously—then the odds are good that having him would benefit the team.
He’s a skilled player, even though he does seem to be followed by disaster almost everywhere he goes. His time on the first Blue Jackets roster in franchise history to win a playoff series might have helped rid him of the reputation of being an albatross, which can only benefit him in free agency.
That said, I am skeptical of any plan to move Subban for fair value in assets that don’t count against the cap in order to sign Duchene. Poile has made questionable trades before—the Ryan Hartman for Wayne Simmonds one is a good recent example of something similar—but this one would be bad. Trading Subban for futures and scrap makes the team measurably worse during their “win now” window. There’s also the fact that Hartman only cost futures himself; trading the guy he’d traded Shea Weber to get for a jumble of nothing and potential wouldn’t look great for Poile.
More than that, though, it doesn’t even solve the immediate problem with the cap. The Predators already had a lot of their cap space tied up in forwards—$53M at the end of this current season, more than the Washington Capitals ($50M) or the Pittsburgh Penguins ($44M) or, in fact, any other NHL team. Forwards getting paid that much money need to be producing. That they’re not is a bigger concern than can be solved by trading Subban, and adding another expensive forward doesn’t feel like the answer.