Nashville Predators: Off-season Priorities

The Nashville Predators were unceremoniously eliminated by the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so what’s next?

Draft Picks

The Predators were able to bolster their roster at the deadline and keep their first round pick. They will have the 19th pick in the first round of the draft. 

They will also have six other picks in the draft. These picks include a 3rd round pick, two in the 4th round, and one in each subsequent round. Their second round pick was traded to New Jersey in the Brian Boyle trade. 

Check out our Draft Rankings to see who may be available for the Predators at #19. Also be on the look out for the Puck77 Mock Draft. 

Free Agents

Nashville does have a few key pieces that they may want to lock up. Let’s look at the key free agents on the roster. 

Wayne Simmonds– RW/ LW

Simmonds was the big splash move for the Preds at the deadline. The intent was that he and Brian Boyle would add a net front presence and bolster the much-maligned power play. That plan never transpired, as they finished the season at an abysmal 16.7% on the power play following the deadline. Wayne Simmonds had 1 goal and 2 assists in 17 games with the Predators. Simmonds will turn 31 in August and will be looking for a significant raise from his $3.9M salary. 

Generally players in their final contract prefer to have stability, and Nashville does not generally offer No-Trade protection. I do not envision them re-signing Simmonds. 

Brian Boyle– LW/ C

Another mid-season acquisition by David Poille, the Predators sent a 2nd round pick to the New Jersey Devils. Few players can energize a locker room better than Brian Boyle. Ever since overcoming cancer, he has been a feel good story. He even netted a hat trick against Pittsburgh on “Hockey Fights Cancer Night.” However, his numbers do not justify a multi-year deal. If they can convince him to come back for one-year at ~$1.25M, he is certainly worth it, but if it gets more expensive, I would pass. 

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Other UFA’s

Cody McLeod and Zac Rinaldo are both unrestricted free agents and will likely not be re-signed. 

Restricted Free Agents

Colton Sissons and Rocco Grimaldi are both RFA’s. I believe that Sissons will be tendered an offer in the neighborhood of $2.5M to $3M per season. I don’t believe Grimaldi will be brought back. 

One of the things that is very noticeable is the lack of defenseman on the Free Agent lists above, and that will bring us to our next topic. 

Trade Chips

P.K. Subban– D

This narrative is as demoralizing as the Phil Kessel narrative in Pittsburgh, but every year this becomes the most trending trade rumor in hockey. Subban is one of the most talented defenseman in the league, and would net a huge return for Nashville, but would the return be justified? The lack of production from their wingers will definitely push this narrative throughout the off-season.

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Ryan Ellis– D

The Predators have so much talent on their back-end. Ellis is another guy that could be expendable for the right return. I know he just signed an 8-year extension, but the price tag on the contract would make it very movable. The return would be much greater than Subban could bring. 

Juuse Saros– G

A young goaltender with starting experience and a team friendly contract, every team would knock down the Preds door if they knew he was available. Unfortunately for Sarros, Rinne will be the starter for the next two seasons. I believe that Nashville will have to consider moving Sarros. 

Free Agent Targets

Artemi Panarin– LW

I know this guy will be the top target on everyone’s list, but the need for scoring wingers justifies his inclusion on this list. He will likely command an $11M per year salary, but the low tax rates in Tennessee may make Nashville an attractive destination. 

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Ryan Dzingel– C/ RW/ LW

Dzingel’s versatility will make him another attractive target. Though, he may provide a cheaper alternative to Panarin. I assume that his salary will land somewhere near $7M per year. 

Matt Duchene– C

Here is a name that has been linked to Nashville for quite some time. It was rumored that the Predators made a strong push at the deadline to acquire Duchene, but eventually lost out to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He will be courted by many teams in free agency, and I don’t know if Nashville will have the cap space to make a contending offer. Corresponding moves will need to be made to free up some salary. 

Cheaper Options

Re-signing Brian Boyle is their best option, but if that falls through, there are other affordable options. Thomas Vanek, Pat Maroon, and Troy Brouwer would be attractive, low-budget options to add scoring depth. 

Summary

The Nashville Predators is a team that relies on it’s blue line to create offense. While it has provided great success in the regular season, the last two postseasons have been a disappointment. They desperately need to add scoring from their forward group and improve their power play in the off-season. 

stats from hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

Nashville Predators

Dissecting the Nashville Predators Fall from Grace

With a disappointing playoff exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars, the Nashville Predators will be taking a hard look in the mirror. Can they pursue their goals of a Stanley Cup with this roster yet again, or are major changes needed?

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Six games. That’s all it took the Dallas Stars to eliminate the Central division champion Nashville Predators. The disappointing result to conclude the Predators season has raise questions among both fans and media alike. Coming into this season Nashville was expected to among the Stanley Cup favorites. With a loaded back-end, a Vezina-calibre goaltender and improvements up front, Nashville’s first round exit is a complete failure. A lack of offensive production paired with a blue-line who couldn’t seem to put it together for an extended period burned the team before they could even get to the main course.  

Offensive Ineptitude 

The forward group for Nashville has often struggled throughout the season. Although the Predators calling card has never been offence, this season the lack of production proved costly. Finishing 19th in the league, their 236 goals for were a major step backwards from last season where they finished 7th in the NHL with 261. Many pundits have pinned this drop off on the putrid power play performances that Nashville put forward over the season. They finished dead last in the league with a 12.94% conversion rate. a drop off from 21.17% last year. The power play struggles have been well documented, including here at PUCK77 in this deep dive

The deeper issue is the even-strength goals scoring. dropping from 9th (96 EVGF) to 24th (66 EVGF) in the league is a back breaker for any team. As a team, the Predators have undeniably failed offensively. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Predators finished 16th in HDCF% (High Danger scoring chances) with 50.28% but finished 4th in converting that with a 56.10% HDGF% (High danger goals for percentage). This would imply that the team is good at converting on their high danger chances yet doesn’t get to those areas enough. With only 712 HDCF through the season, the fact of the matter is that they are not getting to good scoring areas. In comparison teams in the top 10 averaged about 810 HDCF with the Carolina Hurricanes setting the high watermark with 900 HDCF.

Table courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

Goal Differential Stagnation

To be a truly elite team, a true Stanley Cup contender, you need your stars to produce beyond standard expectations. They should be able to create a major issue for other teams, creating a positive goal differential. When you score more than your opponent, you tend to win. As simple of a statement that it is, it’s easier said than done.

In Nashville’s case, when comparing their expected goal differential to their reality, they are about as average as a team could get. As you can see in the graph below, the Predators players are all bunched up at the “0” point of the graph. The few outliers for the team have been Mikael Granlund and Frederick Gaudreau. In Backlund’s case, he’s been quite poor in the fact that he has a worse GD60 (goal differential per 60 minutes of ice time) than expected in his time with the Predators. As for Gaudreau, he’s has been producing slightly above the rate he’s been expected to. However, as a bottom-six player, his impact on the game isn’t going to be as indicative on the outcome.

Chart courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

For players of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson skill levels, they need to be better in this department. For the Predators to truly recapture their elite status from 2017, they will need to be better than average. Depth in scoring would help that as they wouldn’t be burdened with doing it all as their production up and down the line-up was mediocre at best outside of that top line.

Goaltending Inconsistencies

The aging Finn that’s manned the Predators goal for years had an up-and-down season following his Vezina trophy winning season of 2017-18. Even with the inconsistency, Pekka Rinne was able to post a GSAA (goals saved above average) of 13.54, good for 8th league wide. His cumulative statistics over the season look solid yet again although the signs of aging were prevalent.

The inconsistency in his play came into play in the playoffs this year. His performance in the playoffs against the Dallas Stars was one of the reasons that Nashville fell short among others. In the graph below, the GSAA of all goalies to play in the playoffs are displayed with Rinne being dead last. Allowing almost four goals more than what an average goalie would, can be series killer. While this isn’t all on Rinne, the Nashville Predators netminder needed to be better and wasn’t.

While backup goalie Juuse Saros did play more this season than last, 26 GP to 31 GP, he will likely need to play more next season as Rinne will continue to regress with age. Saros has shown promise and should slowly move into a starters role over the next season or two. As beloved as Rinne is, both fans and management need to look at the window this team has and really question who should be in-between the pipes when the games truly matter.

Blue-line Dominance Fading

For years now, the Nashville Predators have had one of, if not, the best group of defensemen in the NHL. At one point, people considered them to have four quality top pair blue-liners. This season has been a major step back for the Predators defensive core.

Chart courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

As seen in the chart above, the ability to prevent entries and create exits for the stud-filled rearguards of Nashville has fallen off drastically this season. While captain Roman Josi and former Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban have been able to sustain positive control of the defensive zone, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis have both regressed this season.

Uneventful Ekholm

Ekholm has been traditionally overlooked on this backend by the average fan, but he’s consistently been a strong puck-mover while being responsible defensively. His ability to play a complete game was one of the reasons his partner, P.K. Subban, has been able to push the pace of play and take risks. His play this season however has been uneventful. While this isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s not good either.

With his defensive zone play lacking positive or negative impact, he wasn’t a detriment in his own end. The issue was the fact that he didn’t provide anything over and beyond the average defenseman. He definitely played better with Subban in the lineup, although there was a large chunk of games where he was playing without Subban due to injuries on the blue-line. A return to form for Ekholm should be expected in the fall.

Ellis Implodes

Ryan Ellis signed an extension in the offseason for 8 years, $50 million that kicks in at the beginning of next season. That gives him an AAV of $6.25 million which meant that this season was the last season of underpaying their top-four defencemen. The top-four will now cost a total of $23 million. With Josi expiring after next season meaning that number is only set to grow even further.

The struggles of Ellis have been concerning this season due to the fact that his contract runs through 2026-27. His foot speed has always been there but the difference this season has been his ability to make the appropriate decision with and without the puck. Although he put up 41 points in 82 games this year, he was undeniably one of the worst defencemen in the league for allowing opposing players to enter the zone.

Graph courtesy of Corey Sznajder (@Shutdownline)

As you can see from the graph above, while Ekholm, Subban and Josi have all been positives, even if they haven’t been as efficient as in years past. Ellis on the other hand has been absolutely atrocious. Among the worst players in the league at preventing the zone entry, the diminutive blue-liner needs to return to respectability. His ability to pivot and force players to the outside, limiting high danger chances wasn’t up to his usual standards. Generally able to skate his way out of trouble, using his active stick to turn the puck over, he failed to do this far to often this season.

Without his return to form, the contract and the defence corps will likely struggle in years to come with little-to-no flexibility to change it up unless a change is made.

Change for the sake of Success

This season proved that the Nashville core may need to change. While the team gave this group a good run, with marginal success, to get to the next level they will need to find some scoring. The depth up-front is in need of an injection of talent. The emergence of Dante Fabbro after he signed with the Predators helps the backend depth.

Simple math would suggest that if the management group, led by David Poile, think that Fabbro is ready to play on the second pairing, they should look at moving a defenseman. This leaves the question of who to trade. The logical candidates are the freshly extended Ryan Ellis and the non-homegrown P.K. Subban.

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The case for moving Ellis would be that with his league wide perception and value still very high, you can get almost maximum value. Trading Ellis to a team looking for a good right-handed defenceman could net a solid return in an offensive talent. Possible trading partners for Ellis could include the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams that are in win-now mode, need help on the back-end heading into next year after disappointing first round exits for each team.

A return such as Kasperi Kapanen plus draft picks or prospects from Toronto could be likely. A trade with Pittsburgh could be more interesting as the possibility of a one-for-one with Phil Kessel being the return could be an option for the Predators who need a pure offensive force. While a trade isn’t close (or even rumoured as of yet), Ellis has to be an option to be moved.

The other trade chip that Nashville possesses is P.K. Subban. This trade presents its own obstacles due to the fact that Subban is owed $9 million for three more seasons. This is a hefty number for any team to take on so some creativity may need to be used in order to facilitate a trade. Whether it’s taking on a contract, salary retention or even finding a matching cap hit, a Subban trade will cause GM David Poile to work his magic.

Extending the Championship Window

This Predators team has the ability and the means to extend the window to win. Changes will be needed. Coming back next season with the same roster will not suffice. Whether it’s a trade or free agency, the Nashville Predators need to alter their strategy when looking at how to build their roster. A star-studded blue-line has been close but each time they’ve been struck down because their offensive depth couldn’t get it done. That needs to change next season or the Predators could become the team that can’t win no matter how good their roster looks on paper.

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

All stats and info is from nhl.comhockey-reference.com, and Naturalstattrick.com

Charts and graphs provided by Sean Tierney and Corey Sznajder‘s Public Tableau

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

New Jersey Devils: On To The Next Phase

After being officially eliminated from playoff contention, what is the next step for the New Jersey Devils?

The New Jersey Devils have been mathematically eliminated for quite some time now, and it’s not necessarily because they’re bad. To say the Devils were dealing with lots of bad luck this season is an understatement. They got torn apart, and it took netminder Cory Schneider almost half of this season to register his first win. I firmly believe that they can quickly turn things around next season if they just stay healthy and win the off-season. It all starts with the re-sign phase.

Expiring Forwards

Unrestricted: Drew Stafford, Kenny Agostino, Kurtis Gabriel

Stafford, 33, currently makes $810k USDs, and has recorded 4 goals and 7 assists (11 points) in 57 games, averaging 12:02 time on ice. He has a 43.7 Corsi For % and a 43.6 Fenwick For % on the season. Clearly not his year, and one of his career worst season’s. I don’t see why the Devils would re-sign him when they can call someone up or get a top 3 pick and an NHL ready player through this season’s draft.

Agostino, 26, currently makes $700k USDs, recording 6 goals and 16 assists (22 points) in 58 games, averaging 12:35 time on ice. He has a 54.1 CF% and a 52.1 FF% this season, split between Montreal and New Jersey. He has played in a career high amount of games, and has had one of his best seasons individually. He could cost about $800k-$1.5 million USD over, at most, a three year span. He’s been a decent addition for the Devils, and will look to continue that moving forward.

Gabriel, 25, currently makes $650k USDs, recording 2 goals and 2 assists (4 points) in 22 games, averaging 7:22 time on ice. He has a 37.1 CF% and a 38.3 FF% this season, both career highs. Gabriel has been extremely unreliable at the NHL level through the three separate stints that he has had in his career. He’s a very cheap option, but he just isn’t NHL level talent, and will most likely stay in the AHL for years to come.

Restricted: Stefan Noesen, Pavel Zacha

Noesen, 26, currently makes $1.725 million USDs, recording 3 goals and 5 assists (8 points) in 37 games, averaging 12:40 time on ice. He has a 44 CF% and a 44.9 FF%, which are his worst possession numbers in 5 years. He hasn’t been a fit for the Devils, as his defensive and possession numbers are a staple to his game, and he has struggled in those areas. He is a solid 3rd liner, but not in New Jersey.

Zacha, 21, is making $894k USDs, on his final year for his rookie contract, recording 12 goals and 9 assists (21 points), a career low since he has been in the NHL consistently. He has posted a 46.3 CF% and a 47 FF%, also career lows. He has not become the first round pick (6th overall) that he was expected to become. Might be best to go their separate ways, but after a 2 year deal is signed and through a trade. I’d guess a $1.5 million USD deal through that term, and dealt to a new team.

Expiring Defensemen

Unrestricted: Egor Yakovlev

Yakovlev, 27, is currently making $925k, recording 2 goals and 4 assists (6 points) in 24 games, averaging 15:37 time on ice, in his first NHL season. He has a 44.2 CF% and a 42.2 FF% this season, which isn’t great. Unfortunately, no visual for Yakovlev is available at this point in time, however, he has not been bad for New Jersey. Maybe a 1 year deal at, or around, the current cap hit he has now.

Restricted: Connor Carrick, Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller

Carrick, 24, is currently making $1.3 million USDs, recording 1 goal and 8 assists (9 points) in 29 games, with 5 points coming in the 15 games he has played with the Devils (he played for Dallas, previously), averaging 16:15 time on ice. He has a 47.1 CF% and FF%, both career lows since his age 19 rookie season with Washington. Here’s a visual from CJ Turtoro’s a3z player comparison tool:

Carrick

visual from CJ Turtoro, stats from Corey Sznajder

As shown in the visual, Carrick isn’t exactly creating chances through his shooting, although he has not been bad there, either. He has trouble entering the offensive zone, but excels at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and up the ice. He does a relatively decent job at limiting his opponents entry chances. Based on the visual, his stats, and his age, as well as where the Devils stand, roster-wise, Carrick could get a 2-3 year contract, worth up to $2-$3 million USDs.

Butcher, 24, is on his final year of his entry-level contract, worth $925k, recording 4 goals and 25 assists (29 points), in 73 games, averaging 19:19 time on ice. He has a 50.3 CF% and 51.2 FF%. With these numbers, he clearly is the priority this off-season for the Devils. Here’s Butcher’s visual from CJ Turtoro:

Butcher.jpg

visual from CJ Turtoro, stats from Corey Sznajder

Butcher does a decent job of gathering assists off his shots, but like Carrick, doesn’t generate much offense off of it. Also like Carrick, Butcher isn’t great at getting into the offensive zone, but is a breakout wizard. Where he stands out, is in his ability to shut down opponents who are trying to enter the Devils zone, as he has been fantastic at breaking their chances up, and just all around solid. Based on this visual, along with his decent point production despite the injuries to teammates, including Taylor Hall, he’ll be making good money. I expect a 5-6 year deal worth $4.5-$5.5 million USDs per year.

Mueller, 24, is currently making $850k, recording 1 goal and 9 assists (10 points) in 49 games played, averaging 18:08 time on ice. He has a 48.4 CF% and a 48.9 FF% this season. Here’s Mueller’s visual from CJ Turtoro:

visual from CJ Turtoro, stats from Corey Sznajder

Mueller, Carrick and Butcher are all similar in shot contributions, but Mueller is… sort’ve bad at everything else… These visuals are ugly, and the only thing he is decent at is breaking out of the zone. He has earned top 4 minutes in New Jersey, and he isn’t quite a top 4 defenseman, at least not yet. He’s still young, and the Devils could use him for depth next season. 2 years at about $1-$1.5 million USDs per year to prove himself as he heads into his prime years.

Potential Call-Ups: John Quenneville, Brett Seney

John Quenneville was the Devils 30th overall pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft, and it seems he is finally ready to make the jump. He has recorded 16 goals and 16 assists (32 points) in 33 AHL games. He is 5th on the team in shots, despite playing far less games than those in front of him. He is 4th in goals on the roster, as well as tied for first in power play goals (6), tied for 5th on shooting% (15.8) and 6th in penalty minutes per game (1:12). The 6’1, 205 pound centerman can provide a security blanket as the temporary 4th line center with power play time, and move into third if they part ways via trade with current third line center, Pavel Zacha, as I predicted earlier in this article. However, Quenneville’s entry-level contract is up at season’s end, and it must be renewed. If I were to guess, I’d say a 1-2 year deal, for no more than $1 million USDs. He must prove he can bring his game to the next level first, but he is promising.

Brett Seney is a 23 year old Center/Left winger who was drafted in the 6th round (157th overall) by the Devils back in 2015. Although he has played in 50 NHL games this season, he is currently in the AHL. He makes this list simply because he has stood out this season, and I expect him to make the full move to the NHL next season. Through those 50 NHL games, he has posted 5 goals and 8 assists (13 points), including 1 power play goal. He proved to be a physical presence on the ice, recording just under a hit per game, while also flashing offensive upside. In the AHL, he has recorded 2 goals and 16 assists (18 points) in 21 games. He has been a staple on their power play as well, recording 7 power play assists. Considering he has a head start at making the big leagues ahead of both guys listed ahead of him, it’d be no surprise if he ends up being the only one who sticks in the lineup for a whole season. He could be a solid 2nd/3rd liner with power play time, for sure.

If you are thinking, “You’re just a fan, and you’re the writer for the Lightning, so what do you know?”, then take it from the experts at public tableau, with this visual from Sean Tierney on probability of making the jump to the NHL:

NJD Potential Callups

visual from Sean Tierney, stats from prospect-stats.com

We here at Puck77 are looking for contributors on the New Jersey Devils. If you are interested, or would like to join and contribute for another team, click here:

AHL Stats via theahl.com, prospect-stats.com

All NHL stats via hockey-reference and Corey Sznajder

All visuals via public tableau (CJ Turtoro and Sean Tierney)

Featured image credit: Niko Michals