Best Fits Around the NHL for Nashville Predators' Top-5 Trade Chips
For the first time since 2013-14, the Nashville Predators face the prospect of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs. With 23 points in 27 games as of March 12, the Predators sat 10 points out of the fourth and final playoff berth in the Discover Central Division. That's quite a decline for a club that won the Presidents' Trophy in 2017-18 with the NHL's best regular-season record.
That's generated speculation over whether they will become sellers by the April 12 trade deadline. On Feb. 20, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported hearing team captain Roman Josi, goaltender Pekka Rinne and defenseman Ryan Ellis were the Predators' only untouchables. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forward Mikael Granlund have frequently surfaced in recent trade rumors.
In his Feb. 16 "31 Thoughts" column, Friedman indicated the Predators had made centers Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen available in the past. However, moving their expensive contracts with so many teams carrying limited salary-cap space this season could be difficult. Both also underperformed before being sidelined by injuries, which should ensure they stay put for the remainder of the season.
Ekholm and Granlund may be the Predators' leading trade candidates, but they're not the only ones who could draw interest as the trade deadline approaches. Here's a look at the teams that could be the best fits for their top trade chips.
5. Dante Fabbro
Friedman's report on the Predators' trade deadline strategy raised eyebrows. He claimed they'd be willing to listen on almost everyone. That included Dante Fabbro, though Friedman subsequently admitted prying the defenseman from the Predators could be difficult.
Fabbro rose quickly through the Predators' blue-line ranks. The 22-year-old sophomore is a terrific skater and a good all-around rearguard who regularly plays among their top-four, averaging 19:15 of ice time per game. He's also in the final season of his entry-level contract with a cost-effective $925,000 salary-cap hit, becoming a restricted free agent without arbitration rights this summer.
If the Predators are considering a rebuild it would make sense to retain a promising, affordable young blueliner with upside like Fabbro. Still, it could be worthwhile for Predators general manager David Poile to at least listen to offers. Perhaps a first-round pick and a top prospect might interest him.
Fabbro would be attractive to most teams regardless of their status as playoff contenders. A rebuilding club with plenty of draft picks and prospects in need of blueline depth could come calling. The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators all have the cap space and young assets to make competitive bids.
4. Filip Forsberg
It seems unlikely the Predators would trade Filip Forsberg, but if he's not among their untouchable we can't dismiss the possibility. The Athletic put the 26-year-old winger at No. 4 on their March 1 edition of its NHL Trade Deadline Big Board. He's a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility. If the Predators opt to rebuild, they might not prefer re-signing him to an expensive long-term extension.
Forsberg would draw considerable interest if the Predators decide to shop him at the trade deadline. He's their most consistent offensive forward, averaging 28 goals and 58 points between 2014-15 and 2019-20. With 27 points in as many games, he's their leading scorer this season.
Trading a player like Forsberg usually happens in the offseason around the NHL Draft when teams have more salary-cap space and a willingness to trade assets for stars. Whether it happens then or at this year's trade deadline, the Predators could seek at least a high draft pick, a top prospect and a promising NHL-ready player in return.
Teams with the salary cap space to take on Forsberg's $6 million cap hit and sufficient assets to tempt the Predators stand the best chance of acquiring him. The Los Angeles Kings could be the best fit for a deadline deal. Jockeying for a playoff spot in the Honda West Division, they carry promising prospects like Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte as well as plenty of picks in this year's draft to make an enticing offer.
3. Erik Haula
The Predators are Erik Haula's fifth NHL team since 2016-17. The 29-year-old forward was shipped by the Carolina Hurricanes to the Florida Panthers at last year's trade deadline. He could be on the move again leading up to this year's deadline.
On Feb. 16, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and TSN's Pierre LeBrun indicated Haula could be among the Predators that would interest contending teams. He's on an affordable one-year, $1.75 million contract and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Friedman noted there was interest in Haula during the offseason before he signed with the Predators.
A speedy forward who can play center or on the wing, Haula enjoyed a career-high 29-goal, 55-point performance with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. A serious knee injury the following season, however, has affected his offensive game. Nevertheless, his versatility and two-way skills would make him enticing to contenders seeking affordable checking line depth.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could emerge as a suitor with winger Jason Zucker on long-term injury reserve. Haula could be a good addition on the wing or centering one of their checking lines. The Toronto Maple Leafs could also be in the market for a cost-effective rental forward. The asking price could be at most a second-round pick.
2. Mikael Granlund
The Nashville Predators acquired Mikael Granlund from the Minnesota Wild at the 2019 trade deadline. Two years later, the 29-year-old forward could find himself on the move again by the trade deadline. He's among the top-10 on TSN's and The Athletic's respective lists of trade candidates.
A former two-time 60-plus point performer with the Wild, Granlund hasn't regained those heights during his tenure in Nashville. After signing a one-year, $3.75 million contract with them last season, he'll be eligible for unrestricted free agent status this summer. It's unlikely he fits into their long-range plans.
Despite the decline in his offensive numbers, Granlund could be attractive to playoff contenders seeking experienced depth up front. A versatile forward who can skate at center or at left wing, he has solid playmaking skills and good hockey sense. He leads all Predators forwards in time on ice per game (19:31) and blocked shots with 21.
Trade speculation linked Granlund to the Toronto Maple Leafs. On Feb. 16, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Leafs had an interest in the veteran forward during the offseason.
On March 2, TSN's Darren Dreger speculated Granlund could still be a fit with the Leafs if the Predators agree to pick up part of his cap hit. He feels they have the draft picks and prospects to get a deal done. However, they might have to move out a player to make it work. If a way can be found to sort that out, Granlund could be a worthwhile rental player for the Leafs.
1. Mattias Ekholm
What's so special about Ekholm that makes him such a desirable trade chip? He's a top-four blueliner with solid all-around skills and a left-handed shot. Those qualities are attractive to playoff contenders seeking depth on the left side of their blue line.
A potential sticking point is Ekholm's contract. He's got a year remaining at an affordable salary-cap hit of $3.75 million, though in actual salary he's owed $5 million for 2021-22. He would also have to be protected in this summer's expansion draft or the acquiring club risks losing him for nothing to the Seattle Kraken.
On Feb. 20, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun suggested the Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers as possible destinations for Ekholm. The Montreal Canadiens could also be included in this group. The Bruins and Canadiens could be the best fits as the rest could prefer acquiring rental blueliners so as not to create havoc with their expansion draft protection lists.
The Bruins lack a season left-side rearguard and could offer up young forward Anders Bjork and a draft pick. The Canadiens, meanwhile, need someone to pair alongside Shea Weber on their top defense pairing. They could package little-used blueliner Victor Mete and draw upon their depth of draft picks for trade bait provided the Predators pick up part of Ekholm's cap hit.