Welcome to Oilersnation’s Deadline Targets series. Over the next few weeks heading into the trade deadline, I’ll be walking through the teams expected to unload at the deadline and the players who could be fits on the Oilers for their playoff push. Today, we have the Nashville Predators.
Pekka Rinne scoring a goal on Thursday night might end up being the highlight of the Predators’ season.
Nashville is having an incredibly disappointing year. The addition of Matt Duchene this off-season in free agency was expected to vault the Preds over the top after a first-round exit in the playoffs last spring. Instead, they’re sitting 10th in the Western Conference with a 20-16-7 record and face an uphill battle to even make it into the playoffs. This is a far cry from the perennial contender we expected to see in Nashville after the team reached the Stanley Cup Final back in 2016.
At the press conference in which the Predators introduced their new head coach, John Hynes, a noticeably frustrated David Poile spoke about how this had been the most difficult season for him in his tenure as general manager.
“This is the hardest year I’ve ever had because we’ve been totally unable to meet expectations on ice for our team and for our fans,” he said. “It’s not them [Laviolette and McCarthy, who were fired], it’s our players. They have to make up their mind to play the way they can.”
This came just a few days after Poile said that he’s “open for business.” While the Predators likely aren’t ready to burn things to the ground just yet, they’re certainly a team in need of a shake-up.
“Right now, we are not in the playoffs, and I am open for business, if you will. … I’m sitting here being outside of the playoffs. We have for the last several years been buyers at the trading deadline. If we don’t improve here shortly, we might be a seller for the first time in a number of years.
“I’m hoping that that’s not the case, but as I said, I’m open for business. I’m certainly going to be willing to listen to different teams’ thought processes on any of our players at this point.”
If Nashville continues to falter under Hynes, you’ll likely see the Preds try to get something in return for impending free agents Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith ahead of the trade deadline. Granlund was a big deadline splash by Nashville last year, but he’s been a big flop thus far, posting just 20 points in 53 games with the Preds. Smith is a reliable middle-six centre who has spent his entire nine-year NHL career in Nashville.
But, as we know, Ken Holland is more likely to be looking at longer-term options than rental players to help push the Oilers over the edge. While Holland has doubled down that making the playoffs is his goal this year, the big picture is ultimately his top priority.
Edmonton’s needs are clear at this point. The team needs a winger to complete the top-six and they also need a third-line centre who can play a defensive role while also chipping in offensively. Nashville, on the other hand, has a clear need right now for help on their blueline. They have an effective top-four of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Dante Fabbro, and Mattias Ekholm, but the depth falls off a cliff after that, as 39-year-old veteran Dan Hamhuis is Nashville’s No. 5 defenceman. With Fabbro and Ellis currently on the shelf, the need for a veteran defenceman is even greater than ever.
As spry wee lad Tyler Yaremchuk mentioned in his Weekly Rumours post earlier this week, a Kris Russell for Nick Bonino swap between the Oilers and Predators makes all kinds of sense on paper. The two players have virtually identical contracts, one year left after this one at $4,000,000 for Russell and $4,100,000 for Bonino, and both players would fill needs on the opposing clubs. Edmonton gets their third-line centre, Nashville gets help on the blueline.
Of course, there’s the caveat that Russell has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to put together a list of teams he can’t be traded to. Would the cowboy veto a trade to Nashville? Hard to say.
The Oilers are currently using Riley Sheahan and Gaetan Haas as their third- and fourth-line centres. Sheahan is best suited as a fourth-line centre, and while Haas’ play has been solid, adding a player with the resume of Bonino would be a big upgrade for the Oilers. Bonino played a key role as the third centre on the back-to-back Penguins Stanley Cup teams in 2016 and 2017 and would instantly make Edmonton’s bottom-six more formidable.
Russell has been an excellent warrior for the Oilers. Though he catches the ire of the analytics community for his poor underlying numbers, he’s been a consistent presence in the lineup for four years, killing penalties and blocking shots, game in, game out. That said, the Oilers have depth on the blueline, especially on the left side, and this would be moving from a position of strength to fill a position of weakness.
Even if it weren’t to happen during the regular season, a Russell for Bonino swap is something that makes all kinds of sense.