NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Nashville Predators.
The Nashville Predators hope bolstering their forwards will be enough to win the Central Division for a third consecutive season and make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Predators signed center Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million contract (average annual value $8 million) on July 1. In order to clear space under the NHL salary cap and sign Duchene, Nashville traded defenseman P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils on June 22.
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"Let's call it like it is: If we don't make the Subban trade and get rid of his money ($9 million AAV), it's going to be much more difficult to get into the Duchene sweepstakes, if you will," Predators general manager David Poile said. "Maybe we could have, and we'd be over the [salary cap] today and we'd being having a player or players that we'd have to move. That really, I guess you would say, took the pressure off in terms of doing this.
"So Subban for Duchene sounds like a reasonable way to say it. The good news is with [defenseman Dante Fabbro] coming in, that we feel like maybe he can't replace [Subban] right away but he certainly has the potential of being a top-four defenseman. With [Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis] there as our top three, I think we still have a really good defense."
The Predators believe their depth at center is the best they have ever had; Duchene, who matched his NHL career high with 70 points (31 goals, 39 assists) in 73 games with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets last season, joins Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino at the position with Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok also being able to play there if necessary.
Nashville hopes for a bounce-back season from Turris, who was limited to 55 games last season because of two injuries and was never able to settle into a groove.
"Duchene, we want to be a center and he wants to be a center but he has played a lot of left wing," Poile said. "Kyle, we're certainly looking for a rebound year. There's nothing like competition that should get the best out of everybody. I'm glad we're where we are. We've got to play it out. We've got to see where it all plays out."
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At defenseman, the Predators have plenty of talent even with the departure of Subban. Josi and Ellis figure to be the top pair, and Fabbro, 21, could join Ekholm to round out the top four.
"I've put in a lot of work so far over the last couple years to get where I'm at now," Fabbro said during development camp in June. "If I get that opportunity, I'm going to try and make the best of it."
Veteran Dan Hamhuis could be on the third pair. Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and Steven Santini, who was acquired from the Devils in the Subban trade, will compete for minutes.
Nashville will focus on improving its power play, which ranked last in the NHL last season (12.9 percent). It hired assistant Dan Lambert, who coached Spokane of the Western Hockey League the past two seasons, to help run the power play and the offense at even strength.
Duchene, Turris and forward Mikael Granlund, who had 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 79 games with the Minnesota Wild and Predators last season, will be counted on to improve the power play.
Video: Predators' offseason outlook following Subban trade
"I think that's one thing I can do is I can definitely play a number of positions on the power play," Duchene said. "Hopefully that helps add another element. I know that regardless of if I was on the team or not, I know that the power play would be better this year for the Predators. They have so much talent."
Photo courtesy: John Russell/Nashville Predators
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