One of the big questions that remain for the Nashville Predators is how they will fill up their top-six? A few unsigned free agents remain.
Once free agency started, it appeared that Taylor Hall would inevitably become a member of the Nashville Predators. Hall, who once played for Head Coach John Hynes in New Jersey, was David Poile’s top free agent pick.
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Once Hall signed with the Buffalo Sabres and other top free agents began signing with other teams, Poile’s sense of urgency waned.
The remaining top free agents dropped off of Poile’s radar, at least publicly.
Poile said that he wasn’t going to sign a player just for the sake of signing. The Predators have a lot of cap space remaining, and there are a few players who could potentially be a good fit for the Predators, but Poile is standing firm.
Poile will not make any rash decisions as a lot is riding on next season and his future. He will also not sign any player for a lengthy contract as he has in the past. Those extended contracts haven’t really worked out in his favor.
As it stands now, Matt Duchene needs some linemates, but the question is, who will fit into that role on this current roster?
While these are all excellent options, I wonder if some free agents could offer help with the scoring on this all-important second line.
Who are the top free agents that remain unsigned, and what is possibly holding Poile back from signing them?
Mike Hoffman is a nine-year veteran who has scored no less than 22 goals in the past six seasons. He’s virtually a lock to mirror the type of production that Craig Smith brought to the Predators for so many years.
As of now, Hoffman is reviewing offers from several teams, per Shawn Simpson of TSN:
Hoffman had a career-high 36 goals during the 2018-19 season. This checks a box for the Duchene line as this line, along with the first, will need to provide a large chunk of the scoring next season.
Hoffman’s detractors point to his lack of defense as a soft spot in his game. While scoring is paramount for this second line, could Hoffman’s game away from the puck be a sticking point for Poile? Or are there other factors at play?
While Hoffman may be looking for a long-term contract, the NHL’s flat salary cap and Poile’s mindset may not be conducive to such a deal. Lengthy contracts have not worked in Poile’s favor, and he will not be looking to make that mistake again.
Also, Hoffman had some off-ice issues in Ottawa, which may be another sticking point for Poile.
With all of the offseason movement, the Predators are almost like a new team and can’t afford any distractions.
Anthony Duclair had the best season of his NHL career last year with the Ottawa Senators. He scored 40 points (23 goals, 17 assists) with a Senators team that struggled last season and failed to make the playoffs.
Like Hoffman, Duclair is a scorer, and in the right situation, could be an asset for the Predators.
Also, like Hoffman, Duclair lacks in the defense department. Looking at his career statistics also alludes to an issue with inconsistency.
Duclair is representing himself in contract negotiations and is more than likely looking for a long-term contract. Long-term contracts are not on Poile’s radar, so this is a strike against Duclair.
Another red flag for the Predators may be that Duclair is on his fifth team in six seasons. Duclair may have too much baggage for Poile to take a chance on him. As was previously stated with Hoffman, the Predators can’t afford any distractions during a critical season next year.
Before you close this article and label me a lunatic, hear me out.
Ilya Kovalchuk may be 37-years-old and past his prime, but he also has a wealth of hockey knowledge. He spent time with three different teams last season and still managed 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists).
Kovalchuk’s Corsi rating averaged approximately 53.6 across all three teams he played for last season. That’s a pretty good number for a forward pushing 40 years-of-age.
Another plus would be that he would come at a bargain price, probably the league minimum and a one-year-contract. Poile has a lot of cap money, and a Kovalchuk contract wouldn’t take much of it.
Would Kovalchuk be a fit on the second line? Probably not, but signing him could turn out to be a good experiment for the Predators. If it doesn’t work out, they wouldn’t be out much money and could part ways with him at the end of next season.
Kovalchuk’s age is a huge factor. However, if he could be signed for one year and recapture some of his past glory, he could have an outstanding season.
Of these three free agents, Hoffman would be the most likely candidate to sign with the Predators and the one that would make the most sense. Adding Hoffman to a line that includes Duchene and Tolvanen could have the potential for some outstanding results.
On the other side of the argument, it may be that Poile doesn’t sign anyone else before the season starts. He may want to see how the team performs during the first half of the season.
If the Predators wind up needing help to make a push into the playoffs, a big-name signing or trade could take place before the trade deadline. Poile might choose to keep that cap flexibility into the regular season.
Either way, it will be exciting to see how this team handles all of the recent roster changes next season. Buckle up, folks. Next season could find us all on a very long rollercoaster ride.