Nashville Predators prepare to buy out Kyle Turris

Turris wasn’t the solution the Predators were looking for after 2017, and he’ll now be looking for another team.

The Announcement:

The Précis:

Buying out Kyle Turris, according to CapFriendly, means that the Nashville Predators will be on the hook for $2M against the salary cap until the summer of 2028. This would not usually be ideal, and may mean they have plans for what would have been the remaining four years of Turris’s contract that will need that extra $4M cap space.

The Background:

After the Predators’ Stanley Cup run in 2017, the team went into high gear searching for an additional center. They had come heartbreakingly close to lifting the Cup, and lost a Final in which 1C Ryan Johansen was recovering from emergency surgery and unable to play, and 2C (?) Mike Fisher was recovering from what appears to have been a concussion but played anyway. With Colton Sissons and Calle Järnkrok as their top two centers, the Predators were two victories away from winning the whole freaking thing.

So, obviously, as soon as the offseason began, David Poile went looking—again—for that elusive center the team needed. Now he wasn’t trying to get a single high-quality NHL center in his prime. The Predators needed a second high-quality NHL center, a backup if needed and a strength when everyone was healthy. Hadn’t they just lost to a Penguins team that boasted Evgeni Malkin as a 2C, after all?

That year, absurd as it is to think about, the Ottawa Senators had taken the Penguins to overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. If a puck had bounced differently, they would have been the ones the Predators had faced. The outcome of the series might have been different, but that wasn’t something Poile had the luxury of thinking about. Instead, sometime that summer or that fall, he set his sights on Senators center Kyle Turris and began talking trades.

Ultimately, Turris came to Nashville in a three-way trade involving the Colorado Avalanche, which sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa for Turris and some futures, and then Samuel Girard to Colorado to get the Predators a center. Once in Nashville, Turris signed a six-year deal immediately; the extension was announced at the same time as the trade.

Speculation about what the Avalanche wanted for Duchene, and why the Predators ended up in a three-way trade to get Turris instead, has varied. It seems nearly certain that they wanted one of Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, or Roman Josi, and David Poile wasn’t willing to play—nor should he have.

Rumors of the trade leaked a day or two before it was finalized. A few people felt that it would have been a mistake on the Preds’ part, and one that they’d been lucky to avoid. I started looking into Turris then, though, and the more I looked the more I liked what I saw. He was a skilled and creative passer who’d still take a shot; his defensive impact didn’t look that great—and with some of the improvements that have been made in hockey analytics over the past few years, we know now it wasn’t—but the Predators had solid two-way forwards. They needed someone who could make the offense go, and Turris seemed like a reasonable possibility.

For the first few weeks after the trade, everything was coming up roses. Oh, the Senators were cratering, and Duchene was telling the omnipresent swarms of Canadian reporters that he hadn’t actually been traded for Turris and it wasn’t fair to compare their production, but in Nashville Turris was centering Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala, and that line was absolute dynamite. Girard was settling in well in Colorado, too, but sometimes you have to make a mutually-beneficial trade in-division, and Turris’s hot start made it feel very much worth it.

Then things began to deteriorate. As he settled into the Predators’ system, Turris’s production began to decline, and the Fiala–Turris–Smith line lost its luster. At some point in that honeymoon period, the fanbase had nicknamed them the FiTS line (because they gave opposing defenses fits); now the only ones feeling that way were Predators fans.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Samuel Girard continued to dazzle Avs fans with his smooth and showy skating. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, even as the Sens’ death spiral of a season dragged on, Matt Duchene began to produce again.

When the Predators were bounced in the second round of the 2018 playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets, rumors that the Predators were hoping to trade Turris started to build up steam. Unfortunately, that six-year, $36-million contract that Turris had been so pleased to sign when he was traded to Nashville had become an anchor; without the offensive production he’d been signed for he wasn’t earning it, and no trade partner wanted to pick it up and take the risk.

As his tenure in Nashville dragged on, it became more and more obvious that Turris’s playstyle had changed. Gone were the lethal passes across the crease and around the back of the net that his linemates had thrived on in Ottawa; gone was his shifting, elusive positioning on the power play. The Predators’ idea of a high-danger pass was still “one that sets up a bone-breaking slapshot.”

Over the 2019 offseason, after the Predators were eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Stars, Turris went to play for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, where he was part of a devastatingly successful line that ran roughshod over every matchup they got. He told reporters at the time that he enjoyed his role in the system that Team Canada’s coach was running, and felt he’d been able to play his style of game well as a result.

At the start of this past season, Peter Laviolette made the decision to bench Turris. Neither coach nor player aired the specific details of Laviolette’s reasoning, but given the Team Canada incident it feels likely that there may have been conflict over Laviolette’s system. Turris was healthy-scratched for seven games while the Predators lost, and lost, and lost. It was an incredibly frustrating experience as a fan, and I’m sure a much worse one for Turris himself.

It’s very hard to trade a player your last head coach was not willing to use at all, unless you clearly state that your disagreement over that player’s use was why that head coach isn’t your current one. Poile, obviously, did not; his statement about firing Laviolette was instead one of frustration with almost the entire roster, Josi excepted.

Even once he was allowed back in the lineup, Turris’s role was still limited, his production was limited, and almost every argument I could make in his defense could be countered. I will simply say: yes, Turris’s production declined in Nashville.

So did Matt Duchene’s, once he too signed here; so did Mikael Granlund’s; so did Ryan Johansen’s. Meanwhile, Kevin Fiala has exploded offensively for the Minnesota Wild, not a team known for explosive offense. With forward after forward coming to Nashville still in their 20s and with a successful history elsewhere, only to slump after the first few weeks, I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame on Duchene, on Granlund, on Johansen—or on Turris.

With a head coach who is willing to have forwards who display offensive creativity, and an organization that has been constructed from the ground up to support that philosophy, I think Turris has the vision and the instincts to still give real value to a NHL team. I’m sorry that that NHL team won’t be the Nashville Predators.

We wish the best of luck to him and his family as they try to find someplace new.