Nashville Predators: Will Matt Irwin Ever Fit in the Third Defensive Pair?

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 31: Matt Irwin #52 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena on October 31, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 31: Matt Irwin #52 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena on October 31, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators have always had good defensive pairs in the past, but not as of late. That’s why we take a look at Matt Irwin.

Matt Irwin has been with the Nashville Predators since 2016-17, the year the Predators went to the Stanley Cup Final. After a few months with the team, he was signed to a one-year, $650,000 contract extension.

Irwin spent majority of the season with the Predators, recording 14 points in 74 games. He also appeared in 22 games for the team during the 2017 playoffs, where the Predators fell in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Since then, Irwin has gotten a contract extension, but is due to become a unrestricted free agent at this season’s end. He’s always been a mainstay on the team’s third defensive pairing, which has been under scrutiny this season as the Predators are now giving up the tenth-most goals per game to their opponents.

Now here we are in 2019-20 and a decision needs to be made on who should get the most starts on the third defensive pairing. Is Irwin the best choice, or is there other options for GM David Poile and head coach Peter Laviolette?

Now lets talk about this year

What does Irwin have to offer to this team? Can he up his production even a little bit? He’s obviously not out there to put up big offensive numbers, but you do have to wonder if there’s a better option out there for the Predators to entertain.

But the question remains how will Irwin hold up later on down the road? He’s playing mostly with veteran Dan Hamhuis on the third pairing, and sometimes being a healthy scratch to Yannick Weber. Irwin has just eight starts this season through the team’s first 19 games, while he started in 44 games last season and 50 games the season before that. His starts have been in steady decline since his first season with Nashville.

Another side looks like they’ll give Weber more chances to play on the third line and see how he plays. Weber does seem to bring a little bit more of an offensive upside, but this team doesn’t need that. They need steady defensive play and a more physical presence. Does Irwin or Weber remedy that more?

AHL Call ups?

People want Irwin sent down to the AHL and call up some fresh players that could take his place. Players such as Jarred Tinordi, a top defenseman for Milwaukee who can put up some numbers but also be a masterpiece at getting out of sticky spots. He’s a massive player at 6’6″ and 230 pounds. This might be what the Predators need on that third defensive pairing over the aging Irwin.

More from Predlines

Another option is that the Predators could call up Steven Santini another top defenseman for Milwaukee who can do the same amount of work as Tinordi. It would be a big step up if they both can develop and eventually be called up to take over that 3rd defensive pair.

To do this you would have to go with upside and inexperience over steady veterans. Hamhuis is probably locked in on one spot in the third pairing. However, that other spot is up for grabs, and Irwin might be the odd man out.

If Irwin gets sent down it would free up that spot with Hamhuis. A players like Tinordi or Santini could actually benefit greatly by playing with a smart veteran like Hamhuis. It might be worth the experiment as the Predators defense continues to struggle.

Irwin would have to try and work his way back up and make the coaches believe that he can be more productive and reliable. Make better plays with less errors ,as it should become well known that this pair isn’t clicking and is a huge question mark over the team.

How this will play out

We’re probably in store for a lot more roster moves in the coming weeks. We haven’t seen a lot of changes to the defense other than interchanging Irwin and Weber on the third pairing. Perhaps it’s time to bring someone up from the AHL to see if that changes anything.

The Predators can’t keep trying the same combination on the third pairing if its not working. Irwin is receiving some of the least amount of ice time of his career right now at four minutes less than his career average. He played in his first game in two weeks in last night’s 7-2 loss to the Blackhawks, where he finished as a minus-2 but did dish out four hits.

Trending. Predators Downward Spiral Continues With Loss to the Blackhawks. light

There’s not a clear answer right now on what to do with Irwin. His time is probably quickly coming to an end with the Predators, and that means giving some AHL prospects a chance or just sticking with Weber. Either way, Irwin’s days are probably numbered.