As we get closer to the NHL off-season, trade speculation is bound to pick up.
Erik Karlsson figures to be top of the list again unless the Ottawa Senators get him signed on July 1 or shortly after, and even Drew Doughty could see his name bandied about in the rumour mill.
And after the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators saw their season come to a close, it didn’t take long for one defenceman on their loaded blue line to have his name mentioned in trade rumours. Maybe because Nashville is so strong on the back end, it’s always possible the team could move one of its blue-liners for forward help, or maybe it’s because one of them is being paid $9 million against the cap, a total that could eventually become problematic.
Either way, P.K. Subban has been with the Predators for two years since being shipped there from Montreal, and already his name has generated some mild buzz. It’s an idea local columnist Joe Rexrode shot down and one Predators head coach Peter Laviolette couldn’t comprehend.
“Where’s he going?” Laviolette asked at his year-end press conference when the rumour was raised. “P.K. is here for me. Listen, he’s been here for two years, and we’re moving in a pretty good direction here with him as part of our club. He’s been awesome. His regular season, I thought, was really good last year; he might have been the best player on our team in the playoffs last year, just with regard to the way he and (Mattias) Ekholm played and defended.
“From that playoffs it went right into the regular season this year. He’s up for the Norris Trophy. I thought again that P.K. and Ekholm had an outstanding playoffs. I don’t know if there was growth from Year 1 to Year 2. He was just awesome in both years for me. He’s coachable. Plays big minutes. Plays against the best players. Produces in the defensive zone and produces in the offensive zone. I mean, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Subban was a key part of Nashville’s run, finishing as the third-highest scorer on the team with a career-high 16 goals and a 59-point total that was one off his career-best. He led all Predators defenders in power-play ice time, but was also charged with more defensive responsibilities than in years past, getting 36.93 per cent of his zone starts in the defensive end, second on the team to only Alexei Emelin.
And although his cap hit is hefty, the Predators won’t be forced to make any hard decisions this off-season. The team is projected to have $8 million in cap space before the ceiling rises above $75 million. Backup goalie Juuse Saros is an RFA along with deadline acquisition Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki. General manager David Poile indicated none of the UFAs would be brought back so there is plenty of room to keep the team together.
Subban is signed through 2022, as is Ekholm. Roman Josi is another two years away from UFA status and Ryan Ellis, with one year left on his contract, talked about how much he wanted to stay a Predator. Among the forwards, the biggest contract that will need to be handed out in the next two years could be to Kevin Fiala, who will be a 22-year-old RFA a year from now
Poile didn’t answer specifically on the Subban rumours, and although he hasn’t been shy to make blockbuster deals in his career, he didn’t sound like a GM eager to make another big splash this summer.
“I’m very comfortable going into next season with the core of players we presently have,” Poile said. “That would be our goaltending in Pekka and Saros; I think seven of our eight defencemen will be back probably with the exception of Alexei Emelin and we’ll have 13 returning forwards, that would be with the exception of Mike Fisher and Scott Hartnell. I don’t think we’ll have many changes, but there’s always changes —- nobody comes back with exactly the same team. But our nucleus is solid.”
Remember, the Predators were two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup last year and were the best regular-season team in 2017-18. The Winnipeg Jets were the ultimate test and the dead-even seven-game series was more worthy of being a conference final than a second-round match up.
Would trading one of, if not the best, defender off the blue line be the answer? That doesn’t seem a likely outcome. Though it is worth recalling that Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said he had no plans to trade Subban either.