In the second post of the day, we take a look at the Nashville Predators trade deadline needs. Will they pull the trigger on a large deal before the deadline again?
Record: 35-22-5, 75 points
Place: Second in Central Division, one point behind Winnipeg.
Helping us go over Nashville’s strategy is Jeremy Gover — a locker room reporter on the Predators Radio Network. Jeremy can be found on Twitter @govertime.
1. Preds have been up and down lately, what are some weaknesses that they could address prior to the deadline?
Nashville addressed the power play struggles with the addition of Brian Boyle coming over in a trade with the New Jersey Devils earlier this month. Other than that, I think there are still two areas that need to be specifically addressed. A bonafide scoring winger would do wonders for this team as their second line (regardless of personnel) has struggled this season. Plus, a lethal winger like Artemi Panarin out of Columbus or Mark Stone out of Ottawa would significantly help the second power play unit as well. The only other area of concern I see is in the third defense pair. Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Weber have been okay but they haven’t been without their fair share of struggles. And let’s not even talk about what it’s like when Matt Irwin draws in for Weber. Now, Hamhuis and Weber are hardly Roman Josi, PK Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, but the Preds can’t expect the big four to play 29:00 each and then give Hamhuis and Weber 2:00 come playoff time. They need to find balance. I believe a veteran blueliner like Ben Lovejoy or Alec Martinez could give them that second pair-caliber defenseman to play third pair minutes. I mean, c’mon, if you’re a Preds fan, tell me you don’t feel a helluva lot better about your chances if you see “Josi-Ellis,” “Ekholm-Subban” and “Hamhuis-Lovejoy” as your lineup.
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2. David Poile has not been afraid to make the big move before, so would he be inclined to go all in again this year given how weak the West has seemingly become?
Normally I would say Poile won’t hesitate. While the Stanley Cup is the mountain, the Winnipeg Jets are basecamp for the Predators. Period. If neither team makes a deal at the deadline, I think Winnipeg wins in seven games again. That’s not to say Nashville can’t win (I believe they can) but they’d have to get some fortunate bounces or ride a hot goaltender — or take advantage of a cold goaltender — in order to survive. And, if they do, I don’t much they’ll have left in the tank (as we saw when Vegas throttled a tired Winnipeg team in the Western Conference Final last year). All that being said, if the Jets go get a Matt Duchene or a Mark Stone or an Artemi Panerin, Poile will have to respond.
Poile is in a very interesting place right now. There’s not a scenario (short of an inexplainable first round upset for either team) that doesn’t put Nashville and Winnipeg on a course for each other. So, in a way, that makes Poile’s job easier. For the first time in a long time (ever?) he can actually address deficiencies of his team compared to strengths of a specific opponent.
3. Is there a player or two you think the Preds should specifically target prior to the deadline?
Stone is the prize for Nashville, in my opinion. Panarin is a finisher and the Preds could certainly use his services, but Stone is a more well-rounded player, he makes his linemates better, he has a familiarity (to some degree at least) with Kyle Turris, he has the size to match up well against Winnipeg and he’s more likely to sign an extension than Panarin is. Based on all of those factors, I think Nashville should be targeting Stone. If they can’t get him, Panarin should be next up. If they can’t get either of those guys, they should start sifting through the second tier of available players. Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist and New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider come to mind. That said, I don’t think those guys are enough to become a true Cup contender.
4. Are there any players the Preds could move out at the deadline from the roster?
Kevin Fiala is the only one who I think the Preds could live without. I don’t care what the analytical community says (spoiler alert: they love him), he’s maddening to watch and he’s not living up to his potential. He looks lost out there sometimes and, to make matters worse, he has at least one lazy or ill-advised turnover per game. When he was on the top line, he literally ran into his teammates because he didn’t have a good sense of where to be and, throughout the campaign, he’s tried to do far too much by himself. Nobody’s rooting against him by any means, but a change of scenery might be in order.
5. Ultimately, do you think the Preds make a move (or moves) prior to the trade deadline?
I believe they do. David Poile may be the winningest general manager in NHL history but he’s about to turn 69 years old, he’s never won a Cup and this is the most talented Predators roster, top to bottom, in franchise history. Pekka Rinne is getting older as well and this team went to Poile after last season and specifically told him not to make any major changes. That they wanted another crack at it with the group they had in the room. As a result, only minor changes were made (Scott Hartnell retired, Mike Fisher re-retired, Alexi Emelin wasn’t brought back and Dan Hamhuis returned). If Poile swings a huge trade at the deadline, he’s telling us that the players were wrong. That they’re not good enough to compete with the existing group. But how can you blame him when the power play is dead last in the League and the Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson line is carrying this team right now? Where’s the depth scoring that was supposed to be present and accounted for? Where have Fiala and his 23 goals last year disappeared to? I think he has to do something.