In spite of this week’s happenings, the NHL Trade Deadline hasn’t passed. It only seems that way because many of this year’s top targets have already changed homes. (Seriously, was Tuesday “everyone gets a new defender” day?)
Teams still have until Monday afternoon to bolster their roster. For David Poile, that means there are only a few days left to decide if the Nashville Predators need another piece headed into the final playoff push.
The Predators are in an interesting spot. For the first time in several years, there’s doubt about their role at the deadline. The Predators are three points out of a wildcard spot entering tonight’s game against Chicago, and they have at least two games in hand on all three teams currently ahead of them in the wildcard race. Even after Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Carolina, the Predators have still been trending in the right direction.
Still, the team faces an uncertain future. Several key players — like Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, and Rocco Grimaldi — are set to become free agents. There’s a new coach, John Hynes, who’s still figuring out how the team’s most high-profile players fit into his vision for the Predators.
With so much in flux, it’s unlikely we see Poile swing for the fences on Monday. But even if the likes of Chris Kreider and Sami Vatanen are out of the Predators’ reach, that doesn’t mean there won’t be valuable players up for grabs. Today, we’re breaking down five players who could legitimately help Nashville in their push for the playoffs, and wouldn’t require an arm or a leg to seal the deal.
LW, Jesper Fast ($1.85M AAV, Pending UFA)
2020 Stats: 57 GP, 8 G, 16 A, 24 Pts.
The Skinny: The Rangers haven’t outright stated Jesper Fast will be available at the deadline. But the team’s four-time reigning “Players’ Player of the Year” is set to hit the open market in July, and with the Rangers in the midst of a rebuild, it’s unlikely Jeff Gorton will want to offer the type of contract Fast will command.
The Potential Fit: If the Predators want to upgrade their bottom six, Fast would be a relatively inexpensive option. Our pals at Blueshirt Banter recently speculated the asking price could look something like a third round pick plus a late-round pick, which is easily in Poile’s budget.
While not known for his offense, Fast is on pace to set career highs in assists and points with the Rangers. He’s also gained the reputation as an “accordion player,” i.e. someone who can play on any line without looking out of place. He’s played alongside Artemi Panarin at times this season, on the third line at others, and has been a strong factor in either case. That’s an asset if — say — Mikael Granlund missed one game due to illness. You could easily move Fast up to his spot without bringing down Johansen or Arvidsson’s level of play.
While he’s probably best suited as a third-liner, it’s unlikely John Hynes will want to split up the Rocco Grimaldi - Nick Bonino - Craig Smith trio (unless... you know... one of them gets traded). So in this case, you’d have to imagine Fast as a higher-end fourth line winger.
Fast and Jarnkrok play a very similar style game. Both rely on speed and positioning to make defensive plays as opposed to “throwing the body around,” although Fast is far less shy about finishing his hits (his 99 would be second on the Predators behind Watson). From the chart above, we notice that Fast is actually slightly better than Jarnkrok in a “shutdown” defensive bottom six role, and much better at creating offensive chances.
I feel like I don’t have to do much to explain his comparison to Watson.
Another area where Fast would be an instant upgrade for the Predators is on the penalty kill. Fast leads all Rangers forwards in shorthanded minutes this year, and has two shorthanded goals under his belt. Considering the Preds are dead last in penalty kill percentage, Fast wouldn’t hurt.
One Big Concern: If the idea of bringing in a career middle-six forward to boost the fourth line sounds familiar, it’s because the Predators have done it during each of the past two deadlines; first with Ryan Hartman, then with Wayne Simmonds. As unfair as it seems, one has to question whether Fast would fall into the same category. There’s a big difference between playing 16 minutes a night next to Panarin and Ryan Strome and 11 minutes a night playing with Jarnkrok, Sissons, or Watson.
D, Derek Forbort ($2.525 AAV, Pending UFA)
2020 Stats: 10 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Pt.
The Skinny: This has been a lost season for the 27-year-old defender, who missed the first three months of the season with a back injury. The Kings have been trying to ease Forbort back into his 20-minutes-a-game pace in recent weeks. But obviously, with Rob Blake getting ready to roll out “For Sale” signs this Monday, he’s not going to risk the health of a pending UFA.
The Potential Fit: When he IS at full health, Forbort is a classic “shutdown” D-man. He won’t generate a lot of offense for the Preds, but with the likes of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, you don’t exactly need him too.
What he will give you is a number of blocked shots, hits, and solid minutes on the penalty kill.
His metrics don’t say much for his offensive ability, but he’s at least above league average at preventing high-end chances.
Forbort would obviously be a depth addition for the Predators defense. He probably won’t be asked to play the same number of minutes as he does in L.A. Still, if the Predators wanted to turn the bottom pair into more of a shutdown role, Forbort could be a cheap option.
One Big Concern: It goes without saying, but whenever a player misses all but 10 games in a season, you have to wonder if he’s going to be 100% for a playoff run. Even if he is healthy, his offensive contributions are one of the lowest among defenders left on the market, which may not fit in with the John Hynes’s system.
D, Mike Green ($5.25 AAV, Pending UFA)
2020 Stats: 46 GP, 2 G, 7 A. 9 Pts.
The Skinny: It’s essentially a foregone conclusion the Red Wings and Green will go their separate ways at the end of the season. The 34-year-old defender has been one of Detroit’s better players during his five year stint in the Motor City, but Steve Yzerman wants to shift the focus to some of his up-and-coming players, and will look to flip Green at the deadline.
The Potential Fit: This is not the same Mike Green that once scored 30 goals in a season—in fact, his offense is rather forgettable this season. That being said, he’s still proven himself as a useful asset in Detroit.
You can see Green’s defensive impact is surprisingly solid despite playing for one of the worst defensive teams in NHL history (3.73 GA/60 and 32.7 SA/60.) Teams are generating offense at a rate six-percent below the league average against Detroit when Green is on the ice. Believe it or not, that’s better than all of the Preds’ top four defensemen with the exception of Ryan Ellis, who could return as early as tonight.
The Predators would have options if they acquired Green. The straightforward option would be to anchor him on the right side of the bottom pair. Another option, if they wanted to take some pressure off Dante Fabbro, would be to pair Green with Mattias Ekholm. Either way, the Preds would have five defenders who can be trusted to play 20 minutes a night in a playoff stretch, a luxury they haven’t had in years.
Another plus? Green’s not going to be an expensive pickup, thanks to his large cap number (which the Preds can afford, by the way) and his well-below-average offensive numbers. Reports around Detroit speculate a mid-round draft pick would be enough to send away their pending free agent.
One Big Concern: Injuries and age have started to catch up with the 34-year-old. Green’s missed 70 games due to injury over the past three seasons, not exactly dependable for a team wanting to venture deep into the postseason.
D, Brett Kulak ($1.85M AAV, 2 Years Remaining on Contract)
2020 Stats: 46 GP, 0 G, 6 A, 6 Pts.
The Skinny: Kulak is a tricky addition to this list, mainly because his name hasn’t specifically been thrown out in the rumor mill. Plus, he still has two years remaining on a fairly budget-friendly deal. That being said, Montreal has a smorgasbord of depth defenders (even with yesterday’s Marco Scandella trade). And with the Canadiens in desperate need of help elsewhere in the line-up, it’s possible they could part with Kulak in a “hockey trade.”
The Potential Fit: You could go an entire game without noticing Kulak, and that’s not a bad thing for a bottom-pair defender. He doesn’t block a ton of shots, nor does he dish out as many hits as other d-men in his same role. But you’ll rarely see him make a mistake in his own zone, something the Predators could use.
Kulak still has two years remaining on his deal, which could bring stability to the bottom pair beyond this summer, which will see Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, and Matt Irwin hit free agency.
Kulak is a “defense-first” guy who’s anchored Montreal’s bottom pair for most of the season. While he won’t generate much offense, you can see the Canadiens don’t surrender many high-danger chances when he’s on the ice. His metrics are comparable to Hamhuis’s, with Kulak having fewer giveaways. When looking at the Preds’ other third-pair options, neither come close to Kulak’s defensive impact.
One Big Concern: Considering Kulak still has term left, this might be the priciest move to pull off. Montreal has been set on acquiring players, not picks, in their recent moves, which means the Predators might have to part with a significant piece. No, they’re not going to give up Filip Forsberg for a depth defender (this isn’t Edmonton, after all). But it’s not out of the question that Montreal would want someone like Yakov Trenin, who already has NHL experience.
(Note: I’m not suggesting a Trenin-Kulak trade, I’m merely using that as an example of what Montreal could ask for.)
C/RW, Trevor Lewis ($2M AAV, Pending UFA)
2020 Stats: 45 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 9 Pts.
The skinny: Like Fast and Green, Lewis is another case of a long-time player likely being sacrificed for the sake of a rebuild. The Kings have been shopping the 33-year-old veteran, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
The Potential Fit: Okay... I know we joke about the notion of “intangibles,” “work ethic,” “energy guy,” and other hockey cliches (love you, Bryan) [Ed.: Oh, I see how it is]. But there is something to be said about a player who’s won two Stanley Cups and is routinely named the Kings’ “Unsung Hero” via player vote.
Lewis is who is. He’s not going to play a ton of minutes, but when he does play, he plays responsible hockey. Lewis can play either center or wing, and has typically been one of the Kings’ go-to forwards on the penalty kill.
For a guy who only has 9 points this season, the Kings actually do a fairly decent job of generating offense when Lewis is on the ice.
There’s no question Lewis would be a fourth-line role guy for the Predators. It won’t be a game-changing move by any sense of the imagination, but he could provide another depth option to rotate in and out with players like Watson.
The Big Concern: Lewis hasn’t exactly had the best two-year stretch of his career. He set his career-high in points back in 2018, only to miss half of 2019 due to injury. This year, his role with the Kings has been drastically reduced. It’s unclear if that’s due to the Kings shifting their focus to the future, or if Lewis has lost a step.