Sorting out the Nashville Predators defense with Ryan McDonagh gone

There has been a logjam for the Predators in their defensive corps for a while now, but space and opportunities for someone else to step up has presented itself with Ryan McDonagh traded.
Mar 19, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) celebrates
Mar 19, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) celebrates / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Just think about the past calendar year and what the Nashville Predators defensive corps has been through; signing Luke Schenn in free agency in 2023, the Tyson Barrie trade request leak, Jeremy Lauzon sets all-time single season hit record, Alexandre Carrier avoids getting traded at the deadline, and the NHL debut for Marc Del Gaizo.

Maybe it wasn't a shock to some, but for me, I didn't see Ryan McDonagh getting traded this offseason. I figured he was part of the long-term plans for General Manager Barry Trotz to continue to build around.

Instead, Trotz freed up extra cap space and acquired a valuable 2nd round draft pick in 2025. All while not retaining any of McDonagh's $6.75 million annual cap hit that runs for two more seasons. I like the strategy of moving on from a veteran before that player starts seeing the dramatic dip in production, and freeing up that much cap space can't be ignored when empowering the front office to seek out impact forwards this offseason.

The Predators have the fourth-most projected cap space according to, sitting at $6.2 million. But Trotz also said that it was more about granting the trade request that McDonagh made to go back to Tampa Bay than it was about freeing up cap space, per Alex Daugherty of The Tennessean.

No matter the primary reason by Trotz, it does free up cap space to make a big splash to upgrade the roster and the need is probably higher to find more pure scoring for the forwards, which was extremely lacking in their first round series loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Even finding shots on goal was a nightmare task for the Predators.

At the very least, a classy move by Trotz to respect a veteran's desire to go back to a team that he built a lot of memories with and is getting towards the end of their decorated NHL career.

McDonagh was originally acquired in a salary cap dump by the Lightning in the 2022 offseason. The Predators gave up Grant Mismash and Philippe Myers in the trade. Mishmash has never played an NHL game and doesn't currently have an NHL team, and Myers will be a UFA this offseason but is playing for the Lightning's AHL affiliate in the Calder Cup Playoffs right now.

What the Preds defense looks like post-McDonagh

So what is the ripple effect of this McDonagh trade? McDonagh played around 440 minutes on the top pairing with Roman Josi this past season, but he also played 232 minutes with Alexandre Carrier and 373 minutes with Luke Schenn.

In other words, the Predators' defensive corps was a fluid situation all season, but when you subtract McDonagh out of the mix, it undoubtedly means someone else is going to have to dramatically step up their game in 2024-25. Trotz even hinted at that notion that he wants to give a pathway forward for younger players to get the opportunity.

Who could be that frontrunner to pair with Josi to open next season? Is it Dante Fabbro who already has plenty of experience in that role and many times has performed well? Now Fabbro shouldn't be confused as a "young" unproven player anymore, but the organization has been patiently waiting on him to take it to the next level, now with five seasons of fulltime NHL duty.

Josi and Fabbro had the second-most minutes together as a pairing on the Predators last season at over 600 minutes, only trailing the Carrier/Lauzon pairing which was also very effective.

Could it be Alexandre Carrier who gets re-signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason and gets his big shot playing with Josi? He doesn't have nearly the same amount of experience as Fabbro does in that role, but he does appear to have a higher ceiling than Fabbro.

Spencer Stastney is the first young defensemen to think about for the Predators, but he is primarily a left defenseman like Josi. He could make the switch, it happens occasionally, but Fabbro is my frontrunner to get the top pairing role unless the Predators bring someone else in through free agency.

Either Stastney or Del Gaizo, maybe both, will be on the Predators roster to start next season. Where they all slot in is unclear and needs to be sorted out. Both have played well in their limited NHL experience to this point.

Everything hinges on what happens with Carrier in free agency

A lot of this uncertainty is primarily tied to what happens with Carrier in free agency. My thinking is that Trotz wants to keep Carrier if he can negotiate a team-friendly deal, but expect Carrier to get some interest in the opening market after making a big jump forward in his development.

Carrier led the Predators in Shots Blocked per 60 at 5.99 while setting a career high in blocks with 137. On the offensive side, he showed flashes but actually saw his offensive output regress from his rookie season in 2021-22 so there is still more to be desired as he approaches age 28 in the Fall.

If Carrier walks in free agency, and Tyson Barrie also leaves which has always been the expectations, then you suddenly have lost three starting defensemen on your right side all in one offseason. That's a lot of roster turnover at one single position to replace. That's why it's hard for me to believe that there isn't a plan to do everything possible to re-sign Carrier.

You look at the left side of the defense currently and it's thin as well, but you have Stastney and Del Gaizo ready for the fulltime call-ups. When you consider all of this, the Predators are either going to call up someone new from the prospect ranks to get a shot on the right side, or they sign someone else in free agency.

The overwhelming belief is that trading McDonagh is just the tip of the iceberg to Trotz's offseason plans and we can really only speculate at this point. The primary question mark for me is what happens with Carrier.