From Untouchable to Trade Bait: Where the Predators rank ahead of the trade deadline

We’ve got 6 tiers for trade likeliness

We’ve passed the halfway point in the ‘19-’20 NHL season and are careening toward February’s trade deadline at full speed.

For what was expected of them before the season began, the Nashville Predators have had an undeniably disappointing season thus far. The Preds are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in — six points out of a Wild Card spot.

However, General Manager David Poile made moves to ensure this careening, disappointing season doesn’t become a runaway train headed toward broken tracks.

Earlier in January, Poile fired head coach Peter Laviolette and associate coach Kevin McCarthy and hired former New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes. At the time of the coaching change, the Preds’ GM made his frustrations with the team known, telling a room full of media members and cameras it was not the coaches whom he blamed for the team’s current standings.

“It’s not them [Laviolette and McCarthy], it’s our players. They have to make up their mind to play the way they can,” — Predators GM David Poile

All hope for the remainder of the season (including playoff chances) is not lost, yet.

GMDP is more known for being a buyer (with questionable success, but I’ll save that for another article) than a seller and he believes, rightfully, that the Preds are in their playoff window currently. That’s not to say the window is closing. In fact, selling off the team and forcing a rebuild would be entirely counterproductive given the age and level of talent currently on the team.

Barring something drastic and unexpected, the Predators are likely to be active at the deadline and keep trying for a cup run. When I say ‘active,’ I don’t mean a fire sale or betting the farm (system) to buy expensive loaners for a half season. The most likely option is Poile taking stock of the value of players he deems ‘expendable’ compared to whom he can acquire in exchange to help their playoff chances.

Let’s take a look at who’s most likely on the trading block and who isn’t going anywhere.

Untouchables — They’re not going anywhere

These are the players GMDP won’t even entertain offers for. They’re the core of the team and/or there’s too much riding on them and the team’s future to trade them.

Pekka Rinne (37 years old, one year remaining, $5 million cap hit, modified NTC/NMC)

Rinne is nearing the end of his current contract and is up there in age, but he isn’t going anywhere. He is beloved not just by the organization, but by the players as well. However, keeping Rinne isn’t a sentimental decision. He is the best goalie in Preds history and the best goalie on the team. Though he’s in the midst of his worst year as a pro, the smart decision is to keep the brick wall you know.

He also deservers to retire as a Pred.

Roman Josi (29 years old, eight years remaining, $9,059,000 cap hit, NMC)

The Predators captain signed his long and hefty extension (which is really just a brand new contract) in October. It’s the most expensive contract in Predators history, surpassing Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene’s identical cap hits.

The Predators have traded their captain — big contract included — before (hi Shea Weber), but that trade was more about the length than the player. GMDP is not going to trade his captain before his new contract even begins. But that’s not the only reason Josi is untouchable this season. Josi is the only player Poile had kind words for in his press conference detailing Laviolette’s firing and Hynes’ hiring. He leads the team in points (48) and assists (34) by a wide margin and was the team’s lone representative during All-Star Weekend.

Roman Josi

Matt Duchene (29 years old, six years remaining, $8 million cap hit)

Duchene is Poile’s metaphorical big fish from the offseason. At third on the team in points and assists, and seventh on the team in goals, he isn’t having the season the Predators signed him to have, but is by no means having a bad season. Duchene was signed to be an interchangeable 1C with alternate captain Ryan Johansen, as well as to be a high-scoring team leader of the future. If Duchene is to be traded, it would more than likely happen during the ‘22-’23 season — the season before his NMC kicks in.

Poile is not going to give up on his prized possession not even a full year into his contract.

Filip Forsberg (25 years old, two years remaining, $6 million cap hit)

The young alternate captain affectionately known by Smashville faithful as ‘Scoresberg’ is perhaps GMDP’s first big steal. Poile managed to weasel a 20-year-old Forsberg away from Washington Capitals GM George McPhee in 2013 in exchange for Preds sentimental favorite Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Forsberg was the Caps’ 2012 first round pick. McPhee would go on to make Poile pay during the Golden Knights expansion draft.

Since his arrival in Nashville, Forsberg has been a consistent team leader in goals and points. He currently leads the team in goals (16) and, at 25, is still considered to be the future the team is building around.

Ryan Ellis (29 years old, seven years remaining, $6,250,000 cap hit)

The ‘Human Rocket Ship’ will be soaring around Smashville for years to come. Ellis is a defensive mainstay for the Predators and with or without the ‘A’ on his chest, is a team leader. He was in the middle of a rocket-ship-esque year, among the top on the team in points, when he was injured by a dirty hit during the Winter Classic by Dallas Stars forward Corey Perry.

Ellis is an integral part of the Preds’ defense and it’s not that Poile wouldn’t trade him, it’s that he can’t afford to lose him. Ellis has cemented himself as one of the most important members of this team.

Highly unlikely — It would have to be an offer Poile can’t refuse, to quote The Godfather

These are the players that GMDP says are untouchable, but if it came down to keeping them or making a move that would get the Predators the Stanley Cup, he would part with them (for a very high price).

Viktor Arvidsson (26 years old, four years remaining, $4,250,000 cap hit)

The young Swede has been a top-line forward, stats leader, and offensive power since joining the team. He is one of the Preds’ most successful draft picks thus far. He’s had a season hindered by injury and isn’t performing as well as in previous years (12 goals, 9 assists in 36 games). However, the chances of the Predators moving Arvidsson are slim to none, but not zero. Given the choice of Forsberg or Arvidsson, Poile would more than likely keep Forsberg. There’s no reason to fear, though. It would take a monumental deal to get GMDP to trade him.

Dante Fabbro (21 years old, one year remaining, $925,000 cap hit)

Fabbro is in his first full year in the NHL after playing 42 games during the ‘18-’19 season. At just 21 years old, he is the future of the Predators’ defense, something Poile isn’t going to want to give up. He hasn’t had a standout season so far. He’s got 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists). To some, that may look like a disappointment, but for a young defender on a team struggling to find their footing, I don’t believe it’s indicative of his career yet to come. However, hypothetically speaking, if a young player who’s already established himself as a star player were to become available, I think Poile would part with Fabbro for the good of the team’s future.

Mattias Ekholm (29 years old, two years remaining, $3,750,000 cap hit)

Ekholm began appearing in games with the Preds nearly a decade ago. He played two games in the ‘11-’12 season and one game during the ‘12-’13 season. Since then, he’s become a mainstay in Smashville, finding a home as a reliable second-pairing D-man. He’s the type of player who will put up consistent numbers in the assists column and play tough in the corners. He’s made himself invaluable and David Poile knows that. He isn’t parting with Ekholm unless he has to.

Juuse Saros (24 years old, one year remaining, $1.5 million cap hit)

‘Juice’ is the heir apparent to the most beloved figure in Nashville Predators history. That’s a lot to live up to, but Juuse Saros does it with grace and skill — the kind of skill the Smashville faithful feel confident in. Goaltending has been part of the struggle this season, but it’s yet to be seen whether this is just an off year (which is where I’d put my money) or something to worry about for seasons to come (doubtful). Pekka Rinne is nearing 40, and likely nearing retirement. The Preds have a history of playing musical goalies in the past, but that was a different situation — one in which a younger Pekka Rinne still had his best years ahead of him. Rinne’s best years aren’t behind him yet, but Poile does need to consider the future. It’s risky to trade away a goalie who’s shown you he can be your starter of the future.

GMDP isn’t going to part with Saros unless he has to.

Expendable — If Poile sets his sights on a big buy

Expendable doesn’t mean GMDP wants to trade these players, but it does mean he’s aware they could help him to land a big name, and that’s the price you pay sometimes.

Ryan Johansen (27 years old, five years remaining, $8 million cap hit)

Johansen, affectionately known as ‘Joey’ to Preds fans, found his way south in a shocking trade that sent once-highly-touted future of the defense, fourth-overall draft pick, Seth Jones up to Columbus. Johansen had fallen out of favor with Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella and Jones was the aforementioned expendable player in Nashville. Sure, he was seen as the future of the defense, but with a surplus of defenders in Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis, it was a 1C David Poile was in the hunt for.

In every season he’s been in Nashville, Johansen has performed the 1C role in the way Poile envisioned when brought him to Nashville. We are halfway through the ‘19-’20 season and his numbers are down, but everyone’s are. He’s elevated the young talent on his line, been a consistent leader in points and assists, and earned his way to becoming an alternate captain. However, though everyone’s numbers are down this year, I get the feeling Johansen has fallen out of favor with Poile. The Preds’ GM has called Johansen out by name, saying he ‘needs to be better,’ and it’s true, he does, but the entire team does.

Currently, the team has a surplus of forwards — a similar situation to one that brought him to Nashville. Joey could be on the chopping block.

Rocco Grimaldi (26 years old, contract expiring, $1 million cap hit)

Grimaldi has been a surprising an unintentional bright spot in an up-and-down season. When it’s seemed like nothing is working or clicking for the Preds, Grimaldi has found a way. He has 15 assists and 8 goals and his lines have been the most consistent throughout the first half of the season. However, he is coming to the end of his one-year contract.

It’s time for Poile to decide just how much he likes Grimaldi compared to what his good season could bring in.

Calle Jarnkrok (28 years old, two years remaining, $2 million cap hit)

Jarnkrok is clearly someone David Poile believes in. He’s been shuffled around the top lines, and with good reason. He’s in the team’s top five in points (27) and goals (12). He is essentially the Preds’ high-end utility man. He can produce on the top line and in the bottom six. But what do you do with a player like that when you’re trying to win the Stanley Cup? On one hand, you’ve got proven consistency, but consistency doesn’t necessarily always put up the biggest numbers. However, other teams could see the value you do in a package deal.

Trade bait

Earlier I said I thought the Predators would be active at the deadline. These are the players the Predators’ front office more than likely has on their list of players to shop.

Nick Bonino (31 years old, one year remaining, $4.1 million cap hit)

Admittedly, I didn’t believe in Nick Bonino before the season began. I thought of him as a misshapen puzzle piece in the Preds’ organization. However, he proved me and the rest of his doubters wrong. He didn’t silence me, he made me repent for my sins against his name.

Nick Bonino has been probably the most consistent player for the Predators this season. He’s currently third in goals (14) and has made the Preds’ third line a dangerous line. His trade value is high for teams looking for that one missing piece to score and grind on their third line. Along with his Stanley-Cup-winning pedigree, it might be time for Nashville to say goodbye to ‘Bones.’

Mikael Granlund (27 years old, expiring contract, $5.75 million cap hit)

Granlund was GMDP’s big trade at the deadline last season. Poile sent forward Kevin Fiala, his 23-year-old, highly-touted former first-rounder (11th overall), to the Minnesota Wild. Granlund was expected to be an upgrade from Fiala, who was struggling after a great ‘17-’18. However, a season and a half later, Granlund still hasn’t found his footing. He’s been a top-liner, paired with the likes of Duchene and Forsberg, but it still hasn’t spurred his offense to life. His name is also consistently mentioned near the top of every article detailing potential trades.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire? With his age and potential, he could still draw in a decent return.

Kyle Turris (30 years old, four years remaining, $6 million cap hit)

Oh, Kyle. It’s not your fault. Not really — not this season, anyway. I don’t know if there’s a player this season who’s had a more difficult season. Turris finally managed to block out the haters and distractions and find his footing on the ice again. However, it appeared it was too late, and then-head coach Peter Laviolette had made up his might about Turris — he no longer fit. He dealt with being shuffled between the top and bottom lines, all while creating offense where he could, and suffered through a multiple-game benching.

Turris still has a lot to give to the NHL. I believe he still has a lot to give to the Predators, but it’s looked like the end of the road for Turris for a while now. GMDP might want to strike while the iron is still hot.

Craig Smith (30 years old, contract expiring, $4.25 million cap hit)

Craig Smith has been a Smashville mainstay for nearly a decade now. He played his first season in Bridgestone Arena during the ‘11-’12 season. I’ve used this term for multiple players throughout this article, but Craig Smith is the most consistent player throughout his tenure with the Predators. Year after year, Smith puts up between 30-50 points. The Predators front office and coaches have always been a huge fan of Smith, telling anyone who would listen what a great player he is. He’s also frequently shuffled between the top lines and the third line, proving how highly he’s thought of.

Smith is clearly a player the team would like to keep, but likability doesn’t equal security.

Unlikely to be traded

They aren’t ‘untouchable’ or regarded highly enough to be shielded from trade talks — truthfully, they probably wouldn’t garner much attention on the trade market. The Predators do see value in them, however.

Colin Blackwell (26 years old, contract expiring, $675,000 cap hit) and Yakov Trenin (23 years old, expiring contract, $730,833 cap hit)

Blackwell and Trenin have spent the season bouncing between Milwaukee and Nashville due to injuries, line shuffling, and other factors. Blackwell is nearing the end of the two year contract they gave him after signing him as a free agent in 2018. Trenin is in the final year of his entry level contract. Neither one has shown Preds management and coaches they’re worth a full time roster spot yet, but they’re being given every opportunity. Poile has not given up on them and clearly sees potential in them so I don’t foresee them going anywhere — and if he did decide he’d seen enough, neither one has enough trade potential yet to move.

Colton Sissons (26 years old, six years remaining, $2,857,143 cap hit)

It doesn’t feel right to have Colton Sissons in this category — but it is the right place for him. Sissons is that guy who goes out onto the ice and gives that 110% you hear athletes talk about. He does the hard work, the dirty work, the work that goes unappreciated and unseen by some fans — but not Preds fans. They know their Sissons. They know he doesn’t put up big numbers, but they also know his value as part of the team. I don’t believe Sissons feels, or needs to feel, self-conscious about management’s feelings toward himself either. They clearly know they have a good thing with him, signing him to a nice, lengthy contract in July. This category isn’t a ‘knock’ at Sissons, just confirmation that he isn’t going anywhere.

Also, Sissons scored. We know it and you can’t take that away from us.

Austin Watson (28 years old, three years remaining (extension), $1.5 million cap hit)

Watson is a complicated figure — once, a highly regarded young player, now, a divisive bottom-six forward. That is mostly due to off-ice issues, which are outside the scope of this article, but also due to his uneven performance on the ice. What Watson does, he does well, but the Predators don’t have the luxury of being a one-role only team, currently. He provides enough value that Poile isn’t going to salary-dump him, and selling him off for late round draft picks would be a loss in value to the team.

There’s a saying about letting sleeping dogs lie, but that seems like a harsh thing to say about someone who really hasn’t had a bad season this season. The organization clearly hasn’t given up on him, nor should they yet — he made his way onto the top line this season (but let’s not do that again).

Unmovable — you know why

This category isn’t meant to be cruel or mocking. It’s not meant to put down players — after all, they’re still doing what we can’t. However, it is meant to point out that there isn’t a ‘small’ market for these players, there’s no market for them.

Matt Irwin (32 years old, expiring contract, $675,000 cap hit) and Yannick Weber (31 years old, expiring contract, $675,000 cap hit)

Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber both have 2 points, both assists, in 25 games and 28 games, respectively. That’s it. That’s the explanation. Neither one has given management enough confidence to put them on the ice nightly, but has given management confidence to explore minor league replacements. Both players are in their 30s and with numbers like this, there is just no market for them out there. It’s best to let their contracts expire at this point.

Irwin and Weber seem like fantastic guys off the ice, but they unfortunately never found their footing in Nashville.

Dan Hamhuis (37 years old, expiring contract, $1.25 million cap hit)

Dan Hamhuis has come full-circle with the Predators. They drafted him 12th overall in the ‘01 draft, but after awhile, his team stock went down in favor of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Following the ‘09-’10 season, Hamhuis was bounced around before landing with the Vancouver Canucks where he spent the next six years. He then spent two years in Dallas before coming ‘home’ to Nashville ahead of the ‘18-’19 season.

In his return to Smashville, it appears he’s come home to be put out to pasture. It sounds dark, but if you think about it, it’s kind a beautiful ending — like a sunset almost. At 37 years old, with an expiring contract, and only 5 assists in 43 games, it seems unlikely that his career expands beyond this season, or that he’d want it to. If that’s the case, I’m glad he got to retire a Pred, and his time is much appreciated.

Let’s hear what you think: Vote below.

What do you think the Predators will do at the trade deadline?

BUY! Throw money at a big name and go for The Cup13
Sell! Sell! Sell! Burn it all down now. Just rebuild.82
Reasonable trade — Something needs to change while they have a chance to win167
Risky trade! You’ve got to bet big to win big, even if it means losing my favorite player41
Trade for draft picks. It’s not happening this season. Don’t tank, but coast to the end180

For the comments: Do the Preds buy or sell? If they’re trading, who do you think they trade? Who do you want to see them trade? We will talk about it below. See you there.