Nashville Predators: Who Should Make Up The Third Defensive Pairing

NASHVILLE, TN -MARCH 30: Matt Irwin #52 talks with Anthony Bitetto #2 of the Nashville Predators during a stoppage in play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 30, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN -MARCH 30: Matt Irwin #52 talks with Anthony Bitetto #2 of the Nashville Predators during a stoppage in play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 30, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators have one of the best defensive corps in the league, but have lacked consistency with their third defensive line. What do they need to do to establish a solid third defense pairing?

It’s well-known throughout the NHL that the Nashville Predators have arguably the best defensive corps in the league. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, and Mattias Ekholm have elevated the Predators’ blueline in just two seasons together. Those top four defensemen, along with Pekka Rinne, have guaranteed security at the blueline. Those top two lines of Josi-Ellis and Subban-Ekholm have been solid for the Preds. Those top two lines are going nowhere (assuming the Preds and Ellis agree to an extension this summer).

What hasn’t always been certain in the Predators’ defense has been their third defense pairing. The past two seasons, the Predators have experimented with different pairings for that third line. No matter how many variations, the Preds still have yet to settle on a consistent third pair going forward. Establishing a solid third line pairing, sooner rather than later, will only help to bolster the Predators’ defensive power.

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I see three options for the Predators in order to find their third defensive pairing. They work with what they already have, promote from within, or look for players outside of the organization.

Work with what you’ve got

Not counting the top four defensemen, the Predators played five different defensemen last season. Alexei Emelin, Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, Anthony Bitetto, and Samuel Girard all saw playing time.

Emelin was not offered a contract this offseason, and Girard was traded last season as part of the deal that got Kyle Turris. That leaves Nashville with three defensemen in Irwin, Weber, and Bitetto.

Here is a breakdown of all possible pairings last season for those three defensemen in 5v5 play, per Natural Stat Trick.


  • 163:57 minutes of ice-time together
  • 8 goals for, 5 goals against (+3 rating)
  • Corsi For percentage: 50.97%


  • 215:40 minutes of ice-time together
  • 9 goals for, 8 goals against (+1 rating)
  • Corsi For percentage: 47.12%


  • 92:46 minutes of ice-time together
  • 1 goal for, 2 goals against (-1 rating)
  • Corsi For percentage: 41.76%

Now keep in mind that these stats are just a small overview of their play last season, but based on the above it seems obvious to me that Matt Irwin has earned his spot on the third line. He just needs to find his partner.

Last year, Yannick Weber had 47 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists, 16 penalty minutes, and averaged 12:03 minutes per game. By comparison, Bitetto had 32 games played, 1 goal, 2 assists, 27 penalty minutes, and averaged 13:26 minutes per game. Weber will be 30 when next season starts, and is signed through the 2019-2020 season at $675,000 per year. Bitetto, who just turned 28, is signed just through next season at $650,000.

Weber and Bitetto are virtually the same player on paper. To me, which one you pair with Irwin comes down to personal preference. I’m inclined to give Bitetto the edge because I like his physical style of play and I think he has room to grow if given more games played. However, I think either Irwin-Weber or Irwin-Bitetto gives the Preds a gritty, dependable option for the third pairing.

Promote from within

The Predators have a great minor league system with the Milwaukee Admirals. Players like Josi, Arvidsson, Ellis, and Sissons are all products of Milwaukee that have made their stamp on the Predators. Could Irwin’s third-line partner be hiding out in Milwaukee? Possibly.

There’s really only one defenseman in Milwaukee that I believe is close to being NHL-ready, and that’s Alexandre Carrier. Carrier, who will be 22 in October, has spent two seasons with the Admirals. His first season was successful with 72 GP, 6G, 33A, and a -1 rating. He also played two games with the Predators that season where he had a +1 rating. Carrier’s second season wasn’t as great and saw him gather 73GP, 4G, 24A, and a -14 rating.

(Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Even though his second season wasn’t as good as his first, Carrier could still be a viable option for the Preds’ third line. I think Carrier would do well in the NHL if given the shot this season. However, the lack of an empty roster spot is his biggest issue.

Irwin, Bitetto, and Weber are all on one-way contracts next season. That means in order to have Carrier on the Preds roster, one of those players would have to be traded or go on waivers before being sent down to Milwaukee. I doubt that the Predators would risk losing one of those three to waivers since they’d get nothing in return.

The Preds could try to offload one of those players via trade in order to clear room for Carrier. However, he would need to have an incredible training camp and preseason campaign for David Poile to consider such a move. Unless there’s an injury to one of the other seven defensemen, I just don’t see the Predators having Carrier on the main roster.

Explore other options

The third option for the Predators is to look at a player outside of the organization, either via free agency or trade. However, I don’t think either of those provide a solid choice.

A quick glance at the list of available free agent defensemen will show you that there’s just not a lot out there. I don’t think that any free agent defensemen available is any better of a choice than one of the Predators’ current defense options. Why take up extra cap space on a player that’s not better than what you have?

The other option is for David Poile to make a trade. There’s obviously the trade rumors out there about the Senators shopping around Erik Karlsson. I’d love to see him on the Predators, but not for what it would cost to acquire him. There’s obviously a lot of solid defensemen in the league. However, I don’t think the risk of trading draft picks or current players is worth it in order to solidify your third defensive pairing. For both free agency and the trade market, the cost just seems to high to sure up a third defensive line.

So what next?

For me, the best option for the Predators going forward this year is to have Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto as the third defensive pairing. I think Irwin is an obvious choice for that line, and I think Bitetto’s fast and physical style of play is similar to Irwin’s. Both players would benefit from playing a similar style as their line mate, and doing so on a consistent basis. Also, Bitetto seems to me to have the higher ceiling over Yannick Weber.

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I guess we will have to wait and see what Peter Laviolette has in store for opening night.