Want Matt Duchene? Star free agent presents high cost for Preds
It’s common knowledge that former Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators and now-current Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Duchene has always coveted the possibility of one day playing in Nashville for the Predators. He almost got his wish two seasons ago when the Avalanche traded him in a three-way deal that sent him to the Senators instead and forward Kyle Turris to the Predators – a move that some would argue hasn’t exactly worked out in the way that Nashville wanted.
As free agency approaches in the upcoming weeks, Duchene remains one of the top players available on the market. He’ll be wined and dined by plenty of teams, but according to hockey insider Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet – who, if anyone, would very much be in the know – only two likely destinations exist that he believes Duchene will end up at: Nashville or the Montreal Canadiens.
Friedman on Matt Duchene: “He’s always wanted to play for Nashville, we all know that.” #Preds
— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) June 4, 2019
First off, the Canadiens can afford him. They’re not afraid of making big splashes in free agency and, along with their storied franchise history, are easily one of the most coveted locations for many free agents. Let’s face it, when it comes to history in the NHL, Montreal’s got that covered. They’ve been around since 1909 (playing in the NHA before the NHL was even a thing). They have one of the most rabid and dedicated fanbases in the entire league.
Have I mentioned that they’ve won the most Stanley Cups? Even though they were the last Canadian team to win the Cup back in 1993, Montreal’s 24 Cup wins are 11 more than the next closest team (Toronto Maple Leafs – 13) and more than the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins put together.
I shouldn’t have to continue as to why the Canadiens are a very attractive location for many free agents, so I won’t. Nashville, on the other hand, has become an attractive spot, in its own right, over the last handful of seasons, but for many different reasons.
The fans and the building play a large factor, however playing with one of the best defensive cores in the NHL along with young, exciting talent like Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen is extremely tantalizing. Don’t forget a stable goaltending duo in Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, something most teams around the league can only dream of having.
Most importantly, though, Nashville has plenty of cap space to be able to sign a player like Duchene. That last sentence? Completely a lie. With the salary cap expected to raise to roughly $83 million for next season, the Predators would have a little over $7 million in space – according to CapFriendly.com – with a handful of restricted and unrestricted free agents to decide upon.
Let’s say, in a plausible hypothetical situation, Nashville re-signs forward Rocco Grimaldi, Colton Sissons and Brian Boyle. Even giving Boyle a 50/50 chance of re-signing with Nashville, you will still likely see the Predators drop $3 to $4 million per season for the services of both Grimaldi and Sissons. Both are restricted free agents, and both are expected to get contracts with a pay raise. With or without Boyle, Nashville will have much less than half of what Duchene can and will expect to make on the open market.
If the Predators are making any preparations of bringing a player like Duchene on board, then they’re also preparing for what seems like a clear inevitability – a player, or even multiple players, will have to be jettisoned to make room for him.
The first name that most fans will bring up will likely be that of Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, who’s currently on the hook for $9 million a season for the next three years and is the second-highest paid defenseman in the NHL. With Roman Josi likely to be entering that same conversation at or before free agency next season, the Predators could potentially see four defensemen making approximately $30 million combined between them – nearly 40 percent of the current cap hit.
Rumors have swirled every offseason since Subban was traded to Nashville that he could be on the way out, including this year after the Predators were eliminated in the first round. Regardless of the how and why surrounding those rumors, Subban continues to be a Predators defenseman. Could Subban, however, soon become a victim of a salary cap squeeze?
If Nashville indeed lands Duchene, Subban will most definitely be in that conversation. Equally, though, Josi may find himself there as well. Choosing between keeping a Subban or a Josi on your roster is an unenviable task, but it’s one that Predators general manager David Poile would have to make to bring Nashville into salary cap compliance and possibly further protect the organization from the loss of one of its star defenseman to the Seattle expansion draft.
Alternatively, the Predators could possibly seek to move one or more forwards to make the necessary room. Kyle Turris has arguably seen his name shoot to the top of that list over the last few months, but is there even a market for him?
Turris is coming off the second-worst season of his career. Mired by injuries early in the year, Turris came back later in the season to notch seven goals and 16 assists but seemed like a shell of the 50-plus point scorer that he was with the Senators. He would become vocally frustrated with how the Predators were using him after being scratched later in the season, but scored 10 points in 10 games as captain of Team Canada during the most recent World Championships just a couple of weeks ago. If his comments after the tournament ended were any indication, Turris and his relationship with the coaching staff may possibly be soured due to usage. It’s something that can be repaired in the seasons to come, however it stands to reason that there’s always the possibility that Turris could be playing for another team come October.
As much as Nashville fans would love to see Duchene in a gold jersey come October, there’s very much the possibility that the Predators just may not be able to afford him under their current cap restrictions – something that wouldn’t have seemed in the realm of possibility 10 years ago.
Hypotheticals aside, it may take an act of wizardry to land Duchene for the Predators without him taking a massive discount or Nashville losing one of its key players. Regardless if the Predators are the number one choice for Duchene, the numbers currently suggest that fans may need to prepare for the inevitability that he’ll be playing elsewhere come October.
Stranger things have happened, though, so I wouldn’t 100 percent count it out.
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