Nashville Predators: Are Free Agents the answer to help the defense?

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 19: Roman Josi #59 and Ryan Ellis #4 of the Nashville Predators prepare for a face-off against the Florida Panthers at Bridgestone Arena on October 19, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 19: Roman Josi #59 and Ryan Ellis #4 of the Nashville Predators prepare for a face-off against the Florida Panthers at Bridgestone Arena on October 19, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Of the numerous problems facing the Nashville Predators this season, the defense has been by far one of the biggest that’s held them back.

Whenever hockey resumes, whether it’s this season or next, the defense for the Nashville Predators has to be addressed by GM David Poile.

Can management shore up the defensive core for next season with free agents, AHL call-ups, or a combination of the two?

The current defensive landscape

The Nashville Predators have one of the NHL’s top defensive pairings in Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. No one can really touch them, and they’re critical to the success of the Predators.

The second pairing also features an underrated Mattias Ekholm. After that, things get dicey.

With the acquisition of Matt Duchene before the 2019-2020 season, the Predators had to trade Ekholm’s defensive partner P.K. Subban.

Subban’s departure thrust the second-year defenseman, Dante Fabbro, into the second pairing, maybe before he was ready.

The rest of the defensive core consists of Dan Hamhuis, Jarred Tinordi, Korbinian Holzer and Yannick Weber. Aside from the occasional scrap by Tinordi and Holzer, results have been less than stellar.

Hamhuis, Holzer, and Weber are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

Free agency could provide the Predators with an opportunity to make some changes to the defense that could yield better results and help push them deep into the playoffs next season and beyond.

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Are Free Agents The Answer?

As I previously stated, the Predators’ management should let two of the three UFA defensemen walk at the end of this season.

Hamhuis will probably retire at the end of this season. He’s had a great NHL career, but struggles to be effective at this point in his career.

Weber just hasn’t been very effective at all to be on the third pairing for the Predators.

I’m not 100 percent sold on Holzer yet since I haven’t seen him play much for the Predators. He only played in three games for Nashville before the season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With that said, there are a couple of scenarios that could play out depending on how many defensemen decide to move on and UFAs that are available on other teams.

Keep in mind that this is a non-scientific look at these scenarios and anything can happen between now and next season, Also, keep in mind that the Predators will have limited cap space next year.

Scenario 1 – Hamhuis and Weber Don’t Re-sign

  • Cap Space Savings – $1.925M
  • Free Agent Defensemen In This Price Range – Several

From a stats perspective, two of the best UFAs in this price range would be Erik Gustafsson from the Calgary Flames and Mark Borowiecki from the Ottawa Senators. Both have a current cap hit of $1.2M.

Individually, Gustafsson’s and Borowiecki’s stats are better than Hamhuis’ and Weber’s combined. Both have excellent assist and point numbers.

Gustafsson has six goals this season. Borowiecki has netted seven goals. Weber has only one goal, while Hamhuis has zero. But it’s not about just scoring goals, especially from the third pairing. It’s about not being a liability.

Other notables are Ben Hutton and Michael Del Zotto. Radko Gudas could also be a viable option to try to sign, but may want more money than the Predators are willing or able to spend.

Any of these players mentioned, along with several other free-agent options, could either be moved up into the second pairing with Ekholm or paired with either Tinordi or Holzer on a third pairing.

Tinordi or Holzer could also be moved outside of the top three pairings and play in relief duty for the third pairing, depending on which free agent could be signed.

Milwaukee Admirals defenseman Alexandre Carrier will likely get another NHL opportunity in 2020-21. This scenario could be a likely option with the announced contract signing by Carrier.

Two-year contracts could be an option for any of these lower-priced free agents. I hate to say it, but anything would be an improvement over the Predators’ current every-changing third defensive pairing.

Scenario 2 – Hamhuis, Weber, and Holzer Don’t Re-sign

If all three of the Predators’ free agent defensemen don’t return next season for the Predators, there will be more cap space available to sign a bigger free agent.

Joel Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes and Mark Pysk from the Florida Panthers are similar players from a statistics perspective and ones to have circled on your free agent radar.

Both could provide the Predators with more rounded gameplay and some added scoring over what the Predators currently have.

Gudas can once again possibly be an option for the Predators. While his stats aren’t as good as the aforementioned Edmundson and Psyk, he should be able to provide them with more than what they’re currently getting from a depth perspective.

I could see a more experienced free agent heading up the third pairing and matched up with Carrier to open next season.

A move like this would place Tinordi on the outside looking in, and sending him back to the AHL with the Admirals.

As in the first scenario, signing a bigger name free-agent defenseman should warrant a two or three-year contract. Longer contract terms have gotten the Predators in trouble in the past.

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There’s over 60 free agent defensemen available next season. It’s next to impossible to predict which direction the Predators will go. Many different scenarios are on the table.

If changes aren’t made and next season is a bust, it may be time for an overhaul within the Nashville Predators from the top down.