Looking at the amount of projected cap space the Nashville Predators currently have sitting here in mid-December, you can't help but look ahead to what that could mean for the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline.
The trade deadline will be March 8, and by that time, the Predators figure to be at the very least within arm's reach of returning back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing in 2023, and subsequently leading to the head coaching change from John Hynes to Andrew Brunette.
Let's be honest with ourselves here; we have zero clue what General Manager Barry Trotz will do in his fist go around in this position. He's been there numerous times as a Head Coach and had his say, but never as the leader of a front office.
What makes the Predators' case potentially so interesting in the two-plus months leading up to the deadline is they're one of the very few teams that actually have decent cap space to go shopping if they want to. Doesn't mean they will or should, but the option is there.
If the trade deadline was tomorrow, I'm not so certain that Trotz would be inclined to add anything to this roster even with over $8 million of projected cap space. That number could change by March 8 if someone is re-signed to a contract extension before then.
This takes us to the three scenarios I can see happening for the Nashville Predators at the 2024 trade deadline.
Trotz Goes "All In" and Adds a Major Piece to the Roster
This scenario scares a lot of fans, including myself. It's always a major gamble when a general manager decides to unload the money truck and put all of their chips on that current season's run. It often means overspending and taking on a contract you don't need, and then you fall short of your ultimate goal anyway.
Front offices sometimes don't think that way, however. Sometimes they do live in the now and go for it. We don't know yet if Trotz is that kind of general manager.
To go all in and go shopping at the deadline, first the Predators will have to find teams willing to deal a big time pending UFA in 2024 and concede to the idea that the Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't happening this season.
SportsNet's Luke Fox recently put out a list of the top UFAs for 2024, and William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs leads the way at a $6.9 million current cap hit. Safe to say the Leafs will be fully in the mix for the postseason and won't be sellers, however they have zero projected cap space at the moment. Still, expect Nylander to stay with Toronto.
If the Leafs were to really start falling apart in the month leading up to the deadline, then things will get loud surrounding Nylander and a contract negotiation. Crazier things have happened.
A much more likely hot commodity on the trade market is Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames. a true top-six center that's playing for a team that's stumbling through the season and might be forced to be sellers at the deadline.
What if Lindholm is available and Trotz looks to really solidify his center core for a playoff run with Lindholm and Ryan O'Reilly as his top two centers? Lindholm also has no trade protection. This would push Cody Glass and Tommy Novak as your bottom six centers, and you're probably trading Michael McCarron at that point.
The Flames currently sit with a 11-14-5 record, but with a lot of hockey left, you can't count them out yet. Just worth watching them as potential big sellers if they keep losing.
If there's an "all in scenario" for Trotz, Lindholm might be that guy. I really don't see any other realistic big ticket options out there for Trotz to shop for. But things could obviously change in the next two-plus months.
Other trade options that I would consider being an "all in" type of player would be Sam Reinhart (FLA), Jake Guentzel (PIT) and Jonathan Marchessault (VGK). Again, I don't see these respective teams trading these guys, but we shall see.
Trotz Adds to the Depth with a Role Player, Deals a UFA of his Own
This scenario looks much more likely than the "all in" approach. The Predators have eight UFAs for 2024, and another three RFAs. You have to think that Trotz will entertain trading a couple of them in a deadline deal for a player he wants.
When you really dive deep into the pending UFAs, there isn't a lot that's eye popping in terms of what the Predators really need. I don't see them shopping for a defenseman or definitely not a goalie, but center or winger might come into play.
You have some quality depth players out there that will gain interest from teams, including Anthony Duclair of the San Jose Sharks. A 28-year-old winger who won't come at a super high cost. He put up 31 goals for the Florida Panthers just two seasons ago.
A lot of these players are going to be 30-plus in age, and the Predators don't need to be trading away young talent for older talent at this stage. It would be taking steps backward and in the process not making your team more viable for the playoffs.
For this scenario to make sense for Trotz, he needs to find the perfect trade partner offering up a player with upside and a match to Andrew Brunette's fast paced offensive system. Maybe Jason Zucker from the Coyotes or Jakob Vrana from the Blues. Two Central Division teams that wouldn't surprise me if they're sellers.
Even so, much like the first scenario, I don't see anyone that jumps off the page that says that player can make a huge different in the now. Vrana is intriguing to me because he has that uncanny goal scoring ability and isn't at a high cost if the Predators were to take a flyer on him and take advantage of the Blues unloading assets.
Don't forget the Predators have draft picks to work to their advantage as well in trade scenarios.
More and more, I'm thinking here in mid-December that Trotz will go into the trade deadline as more of a non-participant, and hold that cap space for contract extensions and free agency in the 2024 offseason.
Preds Trade Tyson Barrie at Some Point, Possibly Trade Someone Else
We already know that Barrie is being shopped by the Predators and it's really just a matter of "when" and not "if" the Predators trade him. You're not expecting anything major in return in terms of a player, but some mid to late draft picks will suffice.
After that, Trotz will turn his attention to re-signing the pending free agents coming up in 2024. Tommy Novak and Yakov Trenin are first to jump off the page.
Novak should be a lock to re-sign. He's part of your bright future and you can't just simply let him go. He's going to get a well-deserved pay raise from his $800,000 salary he makes now. At least $2 to $3 million is my early guess.
Trenin is a tricky one. You definintely don't want to lose him, either. If the Predators stay out of being buyers at the deadline, then that could indicate their intentions to re-sign Trenin, who currently makes $1.7 million. Although I don't think his pay raise will be substantial, he'll be looking for more or if not be pushed to test free agency.
Some depth players that the Predators won't be able to all bring back are Kiefer Sherwood, Cole Smith and Michael McCarron. Is it possible that one of these three gets included in some sort of trade at the deadline? I think so.
I can see the Predators being more of sellers than anything at the deadline, not because they'll be far out of the playoff race, but just because they're not in a position to be going "all in" for a Stanley Cup in 2024. They're building something special, but they can't risk it all coming crashing down with a bad trade.
I like the Predators prospect pool too much right now, and I think Trotz does too, to think he's going to feel obligated to be a buyer at the 2024 deadline even with his current amount of cap space to do so. Just because you have it, doesn't mean you have to spend it.
We'll see a couple players possibly traded (I'm thinking Cole Smith out of the three), and definitely Barrie. Other than that, Trotz's best move is probably just hold his cards tight to his chest and forge ahead to the 2024 offseason with what he's got.