Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Potential Line-Up Additions

The Tampa Bay Lightning have a long and, quite simply, brutal off-season ahead of them. Who will be gone, and who will be brought in?

 

Emotionally, Tampa Bay Lightning fans have gone into phases of disappointment, finger-pointing and finally, disbelief after a 62-win regular season and zero post-season victories. Then add to that on the surface of the whole off-season, the expected cap crunch. It’s obviously a very stressful time of the year for the Lightning faithful. 

 

What’s The Plan?

I have already written a piece on each phase of the offseason. I started by covering potential draft options for the Lightning, the re-sign phase, and trades/signings during the free agent period. I also did a piece on Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.

But for this article, I decided to change it up. I went to several different people and asked them what players would make sense for the Lightning to trade for or sign during the free agent period. Keep in mind, I’m not mocking any trades, looking at salary caps, or saying these things should happen. These are simple suggestions that could be very intriguing coming from not just me, but several hockey fans, as well as a few other writers on the Puck77 site.

 

Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes

The Lightning may be looking for a change of leadership after the embarrassment of a first-round exit. This does NOT mean that the person who suggested this wants Lightning forward Steven Stamkos out by any means, but Williams is a veteran leader and a captain of a team who has more postseason wins in the second round then the Lightning had this entire postseason.

Although he is 37-years-old, Williams is coming off a 53-point season with a young Carolina Hurricanes team, and he currently sits at five points in 10 post-season games. A clutch playoff performer and incredible locker room leader, Williams would be a great addition, although extremely unlikely.

 

Ryan Reaves, Vegas Golden Knights

The biggest element to playoff hockey is its intensity. It’s easy to say physicality in the playoffs may be one of the most compelling elements to success, as the Lightning were dominated in the physical aspect of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. When a guy like “Muffin Man” Ryan Reaves is on the ice, I don’t think many people can out-hit you.

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Although not much of a producer (he’s never had a season with over 20 points), Reaves adds something to a teams game that is often overlooked. He is praised as a great teammate and locker room presence, and is a cheap addition to the bottom-six.  Something that could definitely happen, especially if Adam Erne does not re-sign with Tampa this off-season.

 

Brian Boyle, Nashville Predators

I’m not kidding you when I say Brian Boyle was the most suggested add for the Lightning when I asked around. It makes sense too, as Boyle may not be too expensive and has offensive upside, especially if paired with guys like J.T. Miller and Mathieu Joseph. 

A member of the Lightning previously (2014-17), he knows Cooper’s system and he has played with some of the guys on the team in the past, like Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson. With his prior stint on the Lightning, his offensive upside and his physical presence, this is a move that is certainly realistic and something the Lightning should pursue.

 

Connor Brown, Toronto Maple Leafs

This is another suggestion that intrigues me. Connor Brown is young (25) and often underused by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not to mention, the salary situation that the Leafs are in could make Brown expendable.

He has decent offensive upside for a bottom-nine role (three consecutive seasons with 27+ points, including a 20-goal, 36-point campaign in 2016-17). He’s also a physical presence on the ice, and has far more takeaways (120) than giveaways (68) in his career. He would be another great fit for the Lightning, and realistic based on Toronto’s situation. Again, highly unlikely, but still something to keep an eye on.

 

Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets

The first defenseman that was suggested, Jacob Trouba is a solid blueliner, and has been for a few years with the Winnipeg Jets. He is slated to be a free agent after recording 50 points this past season. As a defenseman that’s super impressive.

Add him to the list of Lightning defenders Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh as high-end offensive blueliners for the Lightning, and you have one incredible d-core. Add in Erik Cernak as a solid transitional and defensively responsible blueliner, and one of Braydon Coburn, Jan Rutta and Dan Girardi as a stay-at-home type, and you have yourself arguably the deepest and most talented defense in the entire NHL.

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This is just a pipe dream however, as the cap situation may be too much to work around, and Trouba could be looking for top-two money and minutes if he leaves the Jets. Something he most likely won’t get with Tampa.

 

Jordie Benn, Montreal Canadians

Jordie Benn has been a solid bottom-pair defenseman basically his entire career, and would be a great fit in the Lightning organization. If Tampa lets Coburn and Girardi walk away this offseason, Benn would be a nice addition.

He blocks a ton of shots (128 this season), and plays a physical brand of hockey. He does give the puck up often, which was the downfall for Tampa this season, but again, his physicality and blocking is important and deserves a look.

 

Patrick Nemeth, Dallas Stars

Not as offensive as Benn (10 points to Benn’s 20 this season), Patrik Nemeth does block more shots (131 blocks) and has more hits. He also turns the puck over less, although Benn does have more takeaways. What this tells me is Nemeth is purely a stay-at-home, shot blocking, physically inclined defenseman, who tries to play it safe with the puck rather than drive the offense. If he’s paired with either Hedman or Sergachev, he could be a solid addition. Again, however, it’s not very likely, but something to look for.

 

Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

Erik Karlsson was considered the best of the best on the blue line in the National Hockey League and is still considered a premier defenseman. However, an injury ravaged season, as well as a new system and new players to learn to play with and gain chemistry with, caused the elite Swedish blueliner to take a step back.

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This opens the eyes of several NHL franchises as he could take a cheaper deal than what he would have had he been available last off-season. This is still a longshot for the Lightning to reel in, as they have their own agenda and free agents (Brayden Point) to deal with, making this a very difficult signing. 

 

Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets

Matt Duchene has been tearing it apart the playoffs. He ripped up the Lightning in round one, and continued his strong play into round two against the Boston Bruins. He is also a leader on and off the ice, and if he does come to Tampa Bay, he could take them to that next step in the playoffs, as he appears to be clutch in the big moments.

Again, a long shot, but it would be an incredible acquisition if they traded a few players on semi-hefty deals (Killorn, Johnson, Palat) and bought out one big contract (Ryan Callahan) to free up space for both Duchene and upcoming restricted free agent Point. I don’t expect it to happen at all, but what a piece to bring in.

 

Ryan Dzingal, Columbus Blue Jackets

Now this is something that could happen.

Dzingel has taken steps to become a picture-perfect middle-six forward, and he may not cost much more than $4.5M on a contract. If they move Palat, Johnson or Killorn and buyout Callahan, they could re-sign Point and bring in Dzingel. He could play a role similar to that of Miller, fluctuating between the first, second, and third lines, and be able to produce in all of those spots. Could strengthen an already solid power play unit.

 

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs

This is realistic in a sense that he will likely be available. He is also a leader on and off the ice, and defense is a growing need in Tampa with the likes of Anton Stralman, Girardi and Coburn likely out-of-town come the summer.

But the Lightning already have a punishing top-four defense, with Hedman, McDonagh, Sergachev and Cernak there. Adding Gardiner isn’t necessary, but it would add incredible depth for the Bolts on the backend. It is highly unlikely, however.

 

Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes

This was an interesting suggestion. The recently turned 23-year-old Foegele is coming of his first season of NHL play. In 77 games, he only racked up 15 points (10 goals, five assists), but his possession statistics is where he really showed his value.

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He had a 53.8 Corsi For %, which is outstanding, and a positive takeaway to giveaway ratio of 37-31. But he has been incredible in the playoffs, with 8 points in 10 games and helping pave the way for the Hurricanes success. He’s also racked up 21 hits in the postseason, showing he can play physical if need be.

He’s a bottom-six forward, with middle-to-top-six potential. Because of his potential and his current status as a bottom-six guy, he may not be too expensive either. With big contracts on the horizon, the Hurricanes wouldn’t be dumb enough to take a contract like Killorn’s one for one, so it’d have to be more appealing in some way. Maybe salary retainment or additional picks can do the trick, but who knows if the Hurricanes would send him packing, especially with how well he’s done in the postseason. So that makes a move to Tampa very unlikely for Foegele. But this is something I would love to happen, given his early career postseason success.

 

All stats via hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Nashville Predators

The Peaking Nashville Predators Head Into Playoffs Hoping To Mask Their Flaws

One of the pre-season favourites to win the Stanley Cup, the Nashville Predators have coasted through the season. They haven’t been without struggle, but this team may have been just biding time.

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This season hasn’t necessarily gone as smoothly as the public expected but it was business as usual for the Nashville Predators. The back-to-back Central Division champions have taken care of business when its mattered and that’s quite frankly, all that matters. The Predators were able to close the season out on a 7-2-1 run, good enough to climb back into first and hold on over the stumbling Winnipeg Jets and the hottest team in hockey since the new year, the resurgent St. Louis Blues.

The Music City Mishaps

While Nashville has taken care of business for the most part this season, doing just enough to win the division, they haven’t done so without glaring faults. The team has struggled with consistency all year. Both the forward group and the star-studded blue line have struggled at times this year. Injuries and inconsistent play have affected this team throughout the year.

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One of the most egregious weak points on this Predators team has been the play of center Kyle Turris. Acquired through being the third team in on the Matt Duchene trade, he hasn’t been able to provide the secondary scoring and depth down the middle like General Manager David Poile had hoped. Last season Turris provided good secondary scoring for the Predators, putting up 42 points in 65 games in a Predators sweater. Good for a points per game (PPG) of about 0.65. This season hasn’t been nearly as effective with a 0.41 PPG (23 points in 55 games).

Another disturbing trend for Turris has been his on-ice shooting percentage (On-ice SH%) has gone down from 8.69% to 5.36%. This means that while Turris is on the ice the team around him has been shooting at just over 5%. His affect on the team also bares out when looking at possession statistics such as Corsi percentage (54.1% over his career). The drop from a very good 55.3% with Nashville last season to an about average 51.5% is significant for a player who relies on puck possession to be effective. Turris isn’t able to facilitate the puck this season and when he does get the chance to make plays, his team isn’t shooting at a percentage that can be effective against playoff caliber competition.

Defensive Depth an Issue

While Turris struggles can help explain why the forward group isn’t as intimidating this season as last, the lack of consistency from their backend is concerning. While their top-four of Roman Josi, PK Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have all had a season about equal to or better than last year, their third pairing has been a disaster. The Nashville third pair has consisted of Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and Dan Hamhuis. All three have struggled at different points of the year.

Below is a graph from Sean Tierney (@chartinghockey) where we look at the production rates of the defenders league wide. As you can see, the Nashville top-four are among the most productive blue-liners in the NHL. A team having four horses as the Predators do is able to shelter the bottom pairing, which they have done this season, injuries permitting. Even with that factor, the third pairing has been abysmal. The disparity of the various bottom pair players in comparison to even league average defenders is concerning.

This has been aided with the addition of the 17th overall pick in the 2016 draft Dante Fabbro. The former Boston University rearguard has helped steady the bottom pairing since joining the team but relying on a player who has four games experience to carry a pairing in the playoffs, sheltered or not, is not only unfair but it is foolsome. One area that Fabbro is sure to help the bottom pairing is exiting the defensive zone and transitioning to offence.

Below is a chart plotting the even strength zone exits for defensemen across the league with the Nashville D-men highlighted. As you can see in a graph from Corey Sznajder below, with the exception of Weber (and Irwin who isn’t shown), the Nashville back-end is quite good at, at the minimum, getting the puck from the defensive zone to the neutral zone. Pairing Fabbro with Hamhuis will ensure that the likelihood of the third pairing being hemmed into their own zone will decrease immensely due to their ability to move the puck efficiently.

Blue-line Attack will be Key

Josi and Ellis. Subban and Ekholm. These are two of the most elite defensive pairings in the entire NHL. While the bottom pairing has struggled defensively, they have been inept offensively. The top-four all have at least 30 points, with all of them except for Subban eclipsing 40 points. This was all done with mixed pairings throughout the year due to an injury that Subban had suffered that caused him to miss 19 games.

With the production being primarily from the back-end, the Predators will have to continue to push the pace of play from that group of blue-liners. The top-four will likely play the bulk of the minutes with Fabbro and Hamhuis playing a sheltered role. The addition of Fabbro should help increase the production from the backend on the third pairing. The Predators style of hockey heavily relies on the defensemen to be true offensive difference-makers. Fabbro has the chance to prove that he is capable of just that.

Offence Lead by Arvidsson

To say that the Nashville Predators have been led offensively by Viktor Arvidsson would be a gross understatement. The Nashville forward group has under-performed in many facets of the game but Arvidsson isn’t the reason. Among the regular forwards in the lineup, only four players have scored more goals than expected. Viktor Arvidsson almost doubles the forward in second, Nick Bonino. As the graph below shows, Arvidsson leads the Predators in goals vs expectation and PK Subban leads the defense.

While Arvidsson has scored goals at will, even in a season in which he missed 24 games largely due to injury, a curious statistic is the assist total for Arvidsson. His total is woefully low for a player of his caliber. While he leads the Predators with 34 goals, a new career high, he only has 14 assists. When looking into the teams passing, it’s evident that the only true playmaker on the Predators is their top line center Ryan Johansen. The chart below shows that while Arvidsson is productive and makes good high danger passes that result in scoring chances, he hasn’t passed with enough volume to warrant an increased assist total. Basically, Arvidsson is a quality over quantity passer.

Deadline Additions will need to step up

The additions of Wayne Simmonds, Mikael Granlund and Brian Boyle will all need to play the role that they were brought in for. Simmonds and Granlund need to become difference makers and produce some secondary scoring. Boyle will need to continue to solidify the bottom six. Anything short of these players playing up to their potential will be disappointing for the Predators playoff run.

Simmonds has particularly struggled this season and it hasn’t just been since his arrival in Nashville, he’s regressed the previous two regular seasons. The strength of his game is being a physical net-front presence on the power play while being a good rebound collector at 5-on-5 play. He needs to establish himself physically and battle in front of the net. At even strength, Simmonds will have his role reduced playing on the fourth line with Boyle and Jarnkrok which sets him up to expose some lesser match-ups playing against the weak fourth line of the Dallas Stars in round one.

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As for Boyle, he’s been about as advertised for the Predators since being acquired in early February. He’s helped solidify the bottom-six forwards, he provides versatility primarily playing on the wing yet having the ability to play center at a moments notice. The hulking forward has been able to provide a pop of offence with five goals in the 26 games he played for the Predators. He’s able to play in all situations, filling in on the power play and penalty kill when head coach Peter Laviolette sees fit.

The riskiest trade that Nashville pulled off at the deadline was sending young offensive winger Kevin Fiala to the Minnesota Wild for skilled winger Mikael Granlund. While Fiala has struggled this season with the Predators, he has shown good offensive instincts and the ability to produce offensively. Granlund however has struggled since coming to Nashville. His PPG has dropped from 0.77 PPG in Minnesota to 0.31 PPG. The trade was seen as speeding up the development of a player. Trading a young player, one for one, for a slightly older player that is likely about what the young player will become. Without Granlund meshing with his line-mates in the playoffs, currently Turris and Craig Smith, and taking on a larger role in the offence, this could end up being a trade that Nashville goes onto regret.

Playoff Outlook

The Predators look like a team that is winning despite themselves. Avoiding the Blues and the Jets in the playoffs was key to the Predators success in the post-season. The fact that the Predators are set to play the top wildcard team in the Stars is a blessing in disguise. They won’t walk over the Stars but they should be able to matchup, play well and win the series in a hard fought battle. The Stars are a good defensive team with a few offensive weapons that can strike at a moments notice. Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jaime Benn will have to take over the series in order for the Stars to truly put fear in the Predators.

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The Predators are a contender. Much like any contender, they have weaknesses. They also possess some strengths that others won’t be able to match. Whether it’s their depth on forward or their outstanding top-four defensemen, Nashville is going for it. Whether they win it is up to the “Hockey Gods”. The question isn’t can win the Stanley Cup. The real quandary is, will they?

For more on the NHL, follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari on twitter!

All stats and info is from nhl.com, hockey-reference.com, eliteprospects.com, Sean Tierney’s public tableau, Corey Sznajder’s public tableau and Naturalstattrick.com

Feature image is credited to Nikos Michals 

Can The Nashville Predators Fix Their Powerplay Before The Playoffs?

The Nashville Predators are an elite team. Not in just the Western Conference, but the Predators are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

The Nashville Predators have an elite top four defensemen, they have solid four lines with dynamic scorers such as Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. The team ranks 15th in PK percentage, successfully killing 80.45% of penalties this season. Their powerplay is their one glaring weakness. The team currently ranks 30th on the powerplay with a paltry 13.19% efficiency. The Vancouver Canucks are 29th with 15% meaning there is a stark drop off from the team they are closest to. The only team with a worse conversion rate is the Montreal Canadiens who are running at a 12.26% rate. The questionable thing about this is that they ranked 13th last season with a 21.17% powerplay, and are just over half of that this year. If they matched their 21.17% from last year they would improve on last years ranking 11th in the league.

screenshot from hockey-reference

screenshot/visual from Meghan Hall’s Balls & Sticks tableau

What made them work in 2017-18?

Last season they had about a league average powerplay which is acceptable for a team that was so dominant at even strength play. as stated, the team ranked 13th league wide with a 21.17%. The two units that played the most minutes, and had the best results for the Predators were as follows:

UNIT 1 Filip Forsberg-Craig Smith-Viktor Arvidsson-PK SubbanRyan Johansen (13 Total PPG when together)

UNIT 2 Kyle TurrisColton SissonsMattias EkholmKevin FialaRoman Josi (8 Total PPG when together)

The team changed their units up quite often, interchanging players between the two units, so the scoring was spread over many different units but these were the two with the most minutes together and also most production together.

The team has never been a high total shots team on the power play, rather they were good at setting up a play and making the most out of their opportunities. Last season the team ranked 28th in shot for per 60 minutes (SF/60) with 51.55 SH/60. Now to figure out how efficient they were with their shots, you have to look at their expected goals for (xGF/60) and actual goals for (GF/60). This is the area that helped make them efficient with their shots. They scored about a goal more than expected (7.47 GF/60 vs. 6.49 xGF/60). This is due to the team taking shots from good locations and good puck movement.

screenshot/visual from Meghan Hall’s Balls & Sticks tableau

Another factor that aided the team on their power play was their sheer volume of opportunities. The team finished the year tied for 3rd most power play chances in the league with 274. The 58 power play goals scored ranked sixth league wide even though they were an average team in terms of conversion rate. The Predators were opportunistic and took advantage of being given one of the most power plays.

What has gone wrong this year?

This season, to say that the Predators have struggled with the man advantage would be an understatement. The Predators are an abysmal team with the man advantage even though they are again drawing penalties at a rate above most in the NHL. The Predators are drawing the 4th most power play opportunities, just one behind 3rd place Florida Panthers who have 236, with 235 chances. They are the only team in the top 5 of power play opportunities with under a 21% conversion rate. The 13.19% power play has been improving slightly since the trade deadline acquisition of Wayne Simmonds and pre deadline trade for Brian Boyle. The power play percentage at the deadline was 12.3%.

The two units that were used prior to the trade deadline were as follows:

Filip Forsberg – Craig Smith – Viktor Arvidsson – PK Subban – Ryan Johansson

Ryan Ellis – Kyle Turris – Nick Bonino – Kevin Fiala – Roman Josi

Below is a chart with each units efficiency and Individual shot maps.

screenshot/visual from Meghan Hall’s Balls & Sticks tableau

screenshot/visual from Meghan Hall’s Balls & Sticks tableau

The Nashville power play ranks 23rd in shots for on the power play overall but rank 13th with 111 high danger scoring chances. although the team is getting a large number of high danger chances, the team is only shooting 12.2% from those high danger shooting areas. The league average for HDSH% is 20.59% with the top team in the league in the Florida Panthers shooting 30.77%. The team does rank 3rd in the league with 305 low danger scoring chances but is shooting a league worst 9.37% on those shots as well. In the case of the Nashville Predators, the low shooting percentage is often due to the team not having much of a net front presence. Players such as Arvidsson, Sissons, Smith and Bonino have all cycled through the net front role on their power play and none have been able to succeed at both taking the goalies eyes away for shots from other players as well as being able to clean up the rebounds and collect some garbage goals.

Part of the issue with the fact that they are getting high danger chances is that they are all coming from a spot that is considered high danger in most situations, but not as dangerous on the power play. High in the circles. Penalty kills are generally set up in a box or diamond and have players that can get in the way of the shots from the high circles, often leading to blocked shots or weak shots on goal.

Visual from HockeyViz.com, Data collected by Micah Blake McCurdy

Again this season the team has interchanged players on the power play squads and this has led to the team not being able to get into a groove and settle into some chemistry with a single unit. The consistent shuffling of the power play units by head coach Peter Laviolette could be a factor into why the team has struggled on the power play. Another factor is that the team has essentially been very unlucky. The team has the 4th lowest PDO (sum of a team’s shooting percentage/save percentage) at .976. 

Improvement since the Deadline

Since the trade deadline acquisitions of Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds, as well as the pre deadline trade for Brian Boyle, the teams power play has improved. Wayne Simmonds specifically is making a big difference in the power play as he gives the Predators a natural net front presence that they have been lacking. Since Simmonds first game as Predator, the Nashville power play has hummed along at a solid 21% (4-19) which puts them about where they were last season. It has a lot to do with the teams restructured power play units.

screenshot from dailyfaceoff.com

The teams shooting percentage on the power play has risen from 8.79 percent up to the trade deadline to a still paltry 11.43 currently. This is an interesting trend seeing as the teams HDSH% (high danger shooting percentage) has actually fallen since the deadline having gone from 11.84% to 11.11%. This leads one to believe that the team has been shooting better overall thanks to the addition of a net front presence that isn’t the 5’9″, 180 lbs Arvidsson. The additions of Brian Boyle (6’6″, 245lbs) and Wayne Simmonds (6’2″, 190lbs) at the deadline have added the ability to not only screen the goalie but Simmonds has the ability to be a dominant offensive force in front of the net cleaning up the rebounds and Boyle has put up a power play tally since being acquired.

Although Simmonds has not been able to build up his counting stats, he has been able to make a subtle difference to the deployment of the players, allowing high skilled players such as Arvidsson, Forsberg and Johansson to play on the half boards and slot so that they can put their stick handling, passing and shooting ability to better use than planting them in front of the net.

An area where Nashville has struggled recently on the power play is entering and setting up in the offensive zone. This shouldn’t be the case with players like Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson. The team often lets penalty killers close on them without passing the puck off to the Wings as they rush into the zone, thwarting any chance of a successful zone entry on the power play.

Is there a fix?

While the power play has improved over the small sample size, nine games since Simmonds has joined, and has begun producing at a 21% power play conversion rate since the deadline, maintaining that will be key. The Nashville Predators do not need a top flight power play to truly establish themselves as a Stanley Cup contender, but they do need one that can at least threaten the other team and provide opportunistic scoring.

Continuing to interchange the units may be hindering the teams ability to build chemistry and create a sub par product on the ice. This means that head coach Peter Laviolette should decide on two units and make minimal changes. Let them build chemistry and let them establish the big bodies in front of the net. Getting Wayne Simmonds going can help increase the goal count on the power play because he has been an elite net front presence over the past 3 years scoring a total of 33 goals between the 2016-17 seasons to now.

Creating puck movement on the power play in transition will also be a key factor in whether they can improve their power play. This can be done a variety of ways but the most basic way they can do this is to incorporate the drop pass as most teams, including the Predators, use when breaking out from their own zone, but having players on both wings that can receive a pass and bringing it into the offensive zone with one stride and then hitting another player with a pass after the defence has backed off because of the initial player rushing the zone.

In zone, the team needs to be less stagnant. They like to set up and sit in the same position. With the amount of skill that the team has of the back-end, allowing plays such as Subban, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis to free wheel a little bit and draw in defenders while the half wall player rotated either towards the middle “bumper spot” (between the circles in the high slot) or up high in the zone while that “bumper” player rotates to the vacant point. If you can get the penalty killers on the opposing team moving, this allows for a team to get more open looks at the net while a hulking presence such as Simmonds or Boyle screen the goalie will only increase the likelihood that a goal will be scored.

While most teams don’t have the firepower on the backend, the Predators should get all four of their top defensemen involved in the power play because they can all skate, pass and shoot. Players such as Josi or Ellis can play the half wall and create offence and playmaking ability from that position while allowing Subban and Ekholm to unleash their hard shots from the point. Allowing the players to get creative and use their skill on the power play will be key for the Predators moving forward.

Overall the Nashville power play has improved recently, albeit in a small sample size. If this league average production rate can continue, they can continue to be talked about in the conversation for the Stanley Cup. If they regress and continue to falter when they get the man advantage, this season will end up being a wasted opportunity for a team whose window is slowly but surely beginning to close. The Nashville Predators can be Stanley Cup champions, provided they continue to use their big bodies in net front roles and allow their skill players to wander the zone, tiring opposing penalty killers while also opening up shots for their high-end talent.

Follow me on Twitter, @TheTonyFerrari

Stats from Hockey-Reference.com, NHL.com, NaturalStatTrick.com, Meghan Hall, DailyFaceoff.com and HockeyViz.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

 

Nashville Predators: Adding Play-Making And Grit

The Nashville Predators bolstered their lineup with the additions of Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund.

Granlund

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The NHL Trade deadline came and went and the Nashville Predators succeeded in adding a two-way force and a gritty power forward. Mikael Granlund was traded to the Nashville Predators for a hefty price in the young Kevin Fiala. While Fiala was a young player who just hasn’t quite been able to grab ahold of opportunity in Nashville, he is going to the Minnesota Wild who are seemingly looking themselves in the mirror and realizing that if they want to continue to compete, they need to take a year and retool with younger players who can help infuse the lineup with a little more speed and skill.

In Granlund, the Predators get a 200 foot player who is able to push the puck up the ice and create offence as well as the ability to play centre if needed. A skilled winger who excels at both ends of the ice, Granlund is currently at 52.4% Corsi For at even strength and which was good for a Corsi Relative of 1.6% which measures where he is compared to his team. The winger currently has 15 goals and 34 assists for 49 points in 63 games. This secondary scoring will be integral for the Predators in a bid to go on a long playoff run after the regular season as well as helping ensure the Predators the best seeding in the Central division standings.

Simmonds

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The second big addition on deadline day came in the form of power forward Wayne Simmonds. At the cost of Ryan Hartman and a conditional 4th round pick, the addition of Simmons made sense for the Predators. The 4th round pick can become a 3rd round pick if the Predators win one round in the playoffs this year. Hartman was traded to Nashville at last seasons deadline for a 1st round pick and a 4th round pick along with forward Victor Ejdsell. Hartman hasn’t worked out for the Predators and could use the change of scenery.

What the Predators get in Simmonds is a gritty winger isn’t the scoring threat he was a few season ago, but he is a solid contributor to a middle six and he can help change a game with the style he is capable of playing. A tough, hard checking forward who is relentless on the forecheck, Simmonds can also act as a net front presence on the power play, which ranks dead last in the NHL. He has shown to have an ability to clean up rebounds as well as get in the way of the goalies view of the puck while standing strong and battling for position.

Minor Deals

On the eve of the deadline, the Predators made a minor trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Predators sent Nic Baptiste to the Maple Leafs for future considerations. The Leafs AHL team, The Toronto Marlies, then sent AHL forward Emerson Clark to the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL team. It’s a relatively minor deal that changes players on each respective AHL team and likely won’t affect the NHL roster of either team.

Brian Boyle

Earlier in February, the team made a trio of trades. First, they traded a 2020 second round draft pick for fourth line center/winger Brian Boyle. A popular February addition for playoff teams in recent seasons, Boyle has proved to be an effective player and good leader for teams looking to make playoff pushes. Coming in at 6’6″ and 245 lbs, the forward brings size and physicality to the Predators who could use some come playoff time. Adding in some offence with 15 goals on the season, the veteran forward is a solid addition to the NHL lineup.

Cody McLeod

Hours later, the Predators added a familiar face in Cody McLeod for a 2020 7th round pick. This trade seemed purely a desire to bring back a locker room leader and player that they felt added a wrinkle to their lineup for games against the rough and tough games in the Western Conference. The final trade in early February happened two days later on February 8th, the Predators traded forward Emil Pettersson for forwards Laurent Dauphin and Adam Helewka. This again is a minor trade that won’t affect the NHL rosters. This was purely an AHL move of post prospect age players who are decent AHL contributors bolstering each roster.

What did their Rivals do?

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets were the busiest team on deadline day making 6 trades, none bigger than adding Center Kevin Hayes to their lineup, bolstering their depth similarly to how the addition of Paul Statsny did last season at the deadline. This gives the Jets a 1-2-3 center lineup of Mark ScheifeleKevin HayesBryan Little. Center depth that matches any team in the Western Conference. The rest of the Jets trades were depth pieces in forwards Par Lindholm, Alex Broadhurst and Matt Hendricks as well as defenders Nathan Beaulieu and Bogdan Kiselevich. Nothing that moves the needle but the defensive additions could signal defender Josh Morrisey could be more seriously injured than initially expected.

Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights only made one trade but it was the only trade they needed to make. They were able to pry prize forward Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators along with being able to negotiate an 8 year deal with an average annual value of $9.5 million per season. The cost was high. Vegas sent prized defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom, forward Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second round pick all of was well worth the price of the most underrated superstar in the NHL. The acquisition of Stone certainly puts Vegas in the class of Nashville, Winnipeg, Calgary and San Jose making for a more competitive West especially with the emergence of the St. Louis Blues.

Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues

The Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and the Blues all made deals as well, although none of the significance of the Knights or Jets. Calgary added defencemen Oscar Fantenberg from the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks added veteran playmaking forward Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings and the Blues added defencemen Michael Del Zotto from the Anaheim Ducks. All deals that help the depth of each team but none the kind of deal that wins the deadline.

The Predators Outlook

The rest of the regular season will be a battle. Thankfully management was sure to bring in coveted reinforcements in Simmonds, Granlund and Boyle as well as veteran presence McLeod. The Predators look vastly different from the team that started the season but the backbone of the team in their top 4 defencemen of PK Subban, Roman Josi, Matthias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis and their Vezina trophy winning goaltender Pekka Rinne. These two things along with the offensive additions can help propel the Predators on a deep playoff run but they will have to get through their loaded division first. The Central division and Western Conference dominated the headlines and put their names on the map this trade deadline. They loaded up and are going to be among a handful of teams fighting at the end of all works out.

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All stats and information is from Hockey-Reference.com, NHL.com, hockeydb.com and TSN.ca

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Nashville Predators

Nashville Predators: Adding Some Much Needed Physicality

Earlier today, the Nashville Predators made two trades.

Nashville Predators general manager David Poile was busy today as he was actively working the phones. After working the phones, Poile was able to land Brian Boyle from the New Jersey Devils and re-acquired Cody McLeod in a trade with the New York Rangers. Fortunately for the Predators, they didn’t have to cough up any roster players or any prospects. Instead, Poile dealt future draft picks. In the Boyle trade, he dealt the Predators’ second round draft selection (2019 draft). Afterwards, Poile traded the Predators’ seventh round draft selection (2020 draft) to the Rangers for McLeod.

Adding Physicality

With the Predators acquiring Boyle and McLeod, they’ve added some much needed depth. The Predators organization needed to make moves to acquire bottom six forwards.

In specific, they needed to acquire players who aren’t shy when it comes to being physical. Per FoxSports.com, the Predators are one of the worst teams in the NHL when it comes to Hits/Game (H/G). At this point in the regular season, they are averaging 18.1 H/G. Oddly enough, they are also taking quite a bit of penalties. They are currently averaging 8.5 Penalty In Minutes/Game (PIM/G). So, the Predators needed to add players who can be physical, but who tend to make legal hits. 

With the additions of Boyle and McLeod, they are adding players who play with grit, but don’t sit in the box too often. After 47 games played, Boyle has 88 hits and 22 PIM.

On the other hand, McLeod has 96 hits and 60 PIM in 31 games played. While McLeod’s PIM is a little high given the amount of games that he’s played, he’s proved last season in his 25 game stint with the New York Rangers that he can be physical and not commit many penalties. In his 25 games in Manhattan, he posted 39 PIM. That’s not too bad. If McLeod can revert back to play from last season and just focus on legal hits, the Predators will be made in the shade. Worst case if McLeod is taking a lot of penalties, Poile didn’t cough up a lot to land the 34 year old and he can just waive him.

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Boyle Could Be A Dark Horse

Going back to Boyle, he’s got some other talents up his sleeve. Not only can Boyle be a physical asset, but he’s also on pace for his second best season from an offensive perspective. 

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To date, Boyle has 13 goals, 6 assists and 8 power-play points in 47 games. The remarkable thing is that Boyle has posted 19 points with depleted New Jersey Devils roster and with him only logging an average of 13:49 time on ice. 

Right now, Boyle won’t need to play a big role in the offensive zone, but should the Predators have some injuries emerge, they’ll have a centre who could step up into a bigger role. 

stats from FoxSports.com, hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals