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Will Predators prove that trading P.K. Subban is worth it?

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The Nashville Predators made a bold move in trading P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils during draft weekend. While the initial package is downright pitiful, the logic is that it opens up space for future moves, with all signs pointing toward serious flirtation with Matt Duchene.

Which brings us to the $9M questions: will the Predators actually be a better team in 2019-20, and in the long term?

With Matt Duchene reportedly slated to visit the Predators on this very Thursday (according to Pierre LeBrun), it only seems fitting to dive into the situation right now. There’s a lot to chew on here, so like Subban during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, you might feel the need to grab some Listerine.

The theme seems to be the word “over,” and not just because it could take Predators fans a long time to get over their team trading P.K.

Overreacting to Subban’s struggles?

As much as I roll my eyes at people going a little over-the-top while discussing Subban’s decline (plenty of wiser people are with me in expecting Subban to deliver value to the Devils), there actually is some argument to trading Subban.

Injuries hindered Subban, and it’s possible that they might linger, especially since he’s 30. If you follow the Bill Belichick model of getting rid of players “a year early, not a year late,” then maybe the Predators simply bit the bullet.

That’s tougher to stomach when you consider how poor the return was for P.K., though. Honestly, even if the Predators wanted to eventually trade Subban, they almost certainly would have received more in a trade if they merely gave P.K. a chance to climb back up in public perception. Again, it’s not that hard to fathom a rebound season for Subban, so the only reason you’d panic-trade Subban now is because you absolutely must have a free agent like Matt Duchene.

Such a plan is dubious, but beyond that, was a putrid P.K. trade the only way to clear space? From bribing someone to take Kyle Turris and/or Nick Bonino, or possibly something more reasonable in parting ways with Craig Smith or Mikael Granlund, it’s tough to digest the idea that the only way forward was surgery at the scale of getting so little for Subban.

Putting a ton of trust in Dante Fabbro, an admittedly promising 21-year-old defenseman who nonetheless only played 10 NHL games so far, seems dubious. Maybe this is as much about soothing concerns about trading Subban by plucking at the dulcet strings of potential. Nonetheless, GM David Poile himself said that Fabbro’s play affected the Subban trade decision, as The Athletic’s Adam Vingan reported (sub required).

“The makeup of our defense is still very good,” Poile said. “I probably would not have made this trade if Dante Fabbro hadn’t signed with the Predators and hadn’t played at the end of the year and hadn’t played as well as he did. That gave me good confidence that … we could still have a good defense and trade somebody like P.K.”

The key, of course, isn’t for Fabbro to be better, or even close to, Subban. Instead, it’s about a net gain. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the Predators are likely to get what they pay for.

Soon to overpay Duchene?

Look, if the Predators were opening up all of this money to bring in Artemi Panarin, then I’d be sold. He’s a true superstar, he’s younger than Subban, and he’d give Nashville a gamebreaker.

Instead, virtually every sign points to Duchene being the Predators’ target, and while I really like Duchene, I like Duchene a whole lot more at his expiring price ($6M) than the massive raise he is expected to receive. TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke about $9.5M, and that maybe being conservative. LeBrun also points to $9.5M, while his Athletic colleague Craig Custance places Duchene in the $8-$10M tier.

From viewpoints that are more traditionally minded, to those with a more analytics bent, just about no one values Duchene at that level. It’s one thing if Duchene received a slight raise as Evolving Wild’s projections would indicate, but at up to eight figures, a potential Duchene deal approaches an albatross level.

As much as Subban’s $9M is scary at age 30, it also runs out after 2021-22, really mitigating the risks. Duchene is 28 with a January birthday, and chances are, he’ll cost as much as Subban per season, and for more term.

Yes, there’s the chance that the tax breaks and country music might lure Duchene to sign a deal that’s friendlier than he would in, say, Montreal. The Predators have developed a knack for swinging bargain deals, after all.

Still, with the way Kevin Hayes and others have raised the earnings bar, and with this possibly being Duchene’s best stab at big bucks, can we really expect huge savings for Nashville or any other suitor?

With Ryan Johansen coming in at $8M, Turris getting $6M, and Nick Bonino at $4M, a massive Duchene deal could leave the Predators with an expensive center group, but not necessarily great bang for the buck.

Overrating Josi

The Predators didn’t just move Subban to afford Duchene or a free agent addition; they also likely want to pave the way to extend captain Roman Josi.

Even Josi’s critics will admit that, in the grand scheme of things, he’s a huge steal at $4 million per season. The Predators won’t enjoy that luxury after 2018-19, however, and the Predators open themselves up to signing Josi for a similar contract to that of Subban, only it could end up being even riskier.

The analytics community has been debating Josi’s value for years, right down to now-Devils analytics lead Tyler Dellow breaking the Josi vs. Subban argument down for The Athletic back in 2017. While Josi puts up big points and is tremendous in transition, his possession stats often leave a lot to be desired.

Dellow summarized some of the Josi debate with the line:

What if he’s actually just a guy who puts up empty calorie points and doesn’t actually drive success in a meaningful way?

Honestly, with Josi at $4M, the debate seemed like little more than interesting “Who’s better?” fodder. Now the real bill is looming, though, and the Predators could really put themselves in a bind if they make the wrong calls.

The thing is, even if Josi is better, the Predators probably need to think that he’s a lot better than Subban, and that he’ll stay that way, or the risks will really start to stack up.

Josi is really just a year and change younger than Subban, as Josi turned 29 on June 1. He’s been savagely underpaid at that $4M since 2013-14, so even a “hometown discount” would probably at least meet Subban’s $9M per year. And, again, the risk level would likely be much higher. While Josi’s next deal would start in 2020-21, Subban’s would be just about finished, as his $9M expires after 2021-22.

Risky business.

Stating the possible scenario over again

So, to review:

  • The Predators were reasonable in trading Subban, but they probably chose the worst time to do so, landing very little beyond cap space.
  • If the Predators sign Matt Duchene, they’re almost certain to lock him down to a riskier contract than the one P.K. has. And Duchene might not even be more valuable than Subban.
  • If the Predators moved Subban in part to retain Roman Josi, then a Josi extension is highly likely to be riskier than the P.K. contract. There’s also a healthy debate about which defenseman is actually more valuable, especially since Josi would be 30 when his next contract kicks in.
  • Maybe Nashville goes the prudent route and doesn’t sign Duchene and/or Josi. But, if so, why trade Subban for dimes on the dollar? The lose-lose situations start to pile up a bit.

Yikes, right? This all sounds really bad to me. I don’t know about you.

An overview of a best-case scenario

To be fair, maybe this could work out.

  • Duchene takes the sort of discount that William Karlsson gave Vegas, and Duchene’s speed and shot make a big difference for the Predators.
  • Josi also takes a hometown discount. That’s not outrageous, although a hometown discount could still be enormously expensive. Yet, maybe Josi justifies the cost, at least in the early years of such a contract?

Even in that rather sunny scenario, the Predators might not make the strides they’re currently tripping over their feet to make. As much as this is all about Subban, Duchene, and Josi, it’s important to get other things right.

Overlooking the real problems?

Are the Predators treating symptoms rather than causes? It’s not like Duchene would be the first major addition Nashville’s made to try to fix their offensive struggles.

Obviously, Kyle Turris was a big part of the Matt Duchene trade involving Colorado and Ottawa, only to see his stock plummet. The Predators have also brought in Mikael Granlund, Nick Bonino, Wayne Simmonds, and others to try to boost their offense, and the results have largely been disappointing.

With that in mind, is it possible that this team is simply not being optimized by Peter Laviolette? Duchene is the type of scorer who may animate the corpse that is Nashville’s power play, but to what extent? Much of those issues could be systemic, and it’s unclear if Laviolette & Co. know how to solve those problems.

If the Predators sign Duchene, only to enjoy minimal results, it really must be asked: at what point are you just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Is it possible that the Predators should have given Turris, Granlund, and others more time to find their games before taking the drastic measure to trade away Subban?

For all this talk of overreacting, overpaying, and overrating, maybe they haven’t truly understood why the Predators’ offense is underachieving?

***

Look, I firmly believe that Subban, Duchene, and Josi are all very good players. There are scenarios where these moves work out extremely well for the Predators, even long term.

Considering the likelihood that Duchene and Josi will both sign expensive, risky contracts — ones that end up being bigger dice rolls than the Subban deal Nashville had to get rid of — I can’t help but shake the feeling that the Predators might be doing all of this work, only to end up in a similar spot for 2019-20, and potentially a far worse situation down the line.

Predators GM David Poile’s enjoyed some maestro moments, and maybe he’s saving his best for these challenging times.

Even so, there’s a strong chance that history will repeat itself, and the Predators will find themselves in a situation much like the Canadiens after trading P.K. Subban: feeling embarrassed, regretful, and overwhelmed with a bunch of extra invitations to golf.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Russ Conway, writer who brought down hockey union boss, dies

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LAWRENCE, Mass. — Russ Conway, a hockey writer who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1992 for his stories about corruption in the NHL Players Association that helped bring down union head Alan Eagleson, has died. He was 70.

His death was reported by the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he had started at the age of 18 and later served as sports editor.

A longtime Boston Bruins beat writer, Conway published a series of articles that exposed Eagleson’s lucrative conflicts of interest as the union boss, player agent and organizer of international tournaments. Conway’s reporting spawned investigations in both the United States and Canada that resulted in Eagleson serving six months in prison and forfeiting his Order of Canada.

The Hockey Hall of Fame kicked Eagleson out and gave Conway its Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1999 for bringing honor to journalism and hockey.

Can Henrik Lundqvist bounce back for Rangers?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Let’s tackle three questions for the Rangers in 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in (and how many new guys will fit in)?

Don’t blame head coach David Quinn if he uses phrases like “learning process” a lot next season, as there are a ton of new faces in New York, including players who figure to be top scorers and minute-eaters.

It’s not just about getting the most from Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Really, it’s not even about integrating likely rookie impact-makers like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

The Rangers must also decide if prospects like Vitali Kravtsov will make the team out of training camp, and if they’ll stay long enough to eat up a year of their rookie contracts. Quinn must decide if players like Lias Andersson are ready to take another step forward.

From a forwards and defense level, this is a very different-looking team, something that was cemented by the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout. As far as chemistry experiments go, the Rangers are basically mad science.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. Is Henrik Lundqvist washed up?

If you had to choose one Ranger to forget all about last season, it would be Lundqvist.

The Rangers’ defense was abysmal in 2018-19, and Lundqvist buckled under the pressure of trying to carry that sorry bunch, suffering through a season where he had a very un-Hank-like .907 save percentage.

When you look a little deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that his 2018-19 season wasn’t that far from normal, or maybe a “new normal.” Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his even-strength save percentage has been nearly identical for the last three seasons, as it was .919 in both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and .918 in 2016-17.

Before that, prime Lundqvist was regularly beyond .930 at even-strength, and so frequently above .920 overall that you almost set your watch to his elite play.

Considering that he’s 37, maybe the window for his elite play has finally closed, but maybe Lundqvist can squeeze out one or two more great years? Let’s not forget that Lundqvist wasn’t exactly protected in Alain Vigneault’s latter years with the Rangers, as those teams were often horrendous from a possession standpoint.

If Quinn can create more of cocoon for Lundqvist (and Alexandar Georgiev), might the Rangers improve at keeping pucks out of their own net? Even with Panarin leading a big boost in offensive punch, you’d think they’d need a lot more than they got from their goalies last season, Swiss cheese defense and all.

3. Will the playoff picture be an open road or treacherous path?

The Rangers aren’t the only team in their division that should be tough to gauge once prediction time rolls around, making it difficult to tell if the Metro will compare to what was a mighty Atlantic Division last season.

The Devils are just about as wildly different as the Rangers, and the Flyers made bold moves in their own right.

It’s easiest to imagine the Rangers falling in the wild-card range, so a lot may hinge on how other teams perform, both in the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. If the Panthers and Sabres take big strides — as they’re paying to do — then the Atlantic teams could gobble up as many as five playoff spots, forcing the Rangers to break into the top three of the Metro. That might be asking too much, so the Rangers have to hope for a little bit of a buffer when it comes to the playoff bubble.

(You know, unless they end up being far better or far worse than expected.)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers put Quinn under pressure to show spending was worth it

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are Broadway’s NHL team, so consider the 2018-19 season a “dress rehearsal” for head coach David Quinn.

Expectations were low for a team that telegraphed a rebuild to the point of sending out a press release, but you can take the training wheels off after the Rangers invested huge money and resources into the likes of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko, and Adam Fox.

If this was a video game or fantasy hockey, you’d seamlessly improve with seemingly more skilled players without much fuss. Actually making it all work in reality isn’t always so simple, though, putting Quinn under pressure to make it all come together in 2019-20.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | X-factor]

Let’s consider some of the challenges ahead.

Manufacturing a Bread Line, and managing young guns

The first question falls under “good problems to have,” as Quinn should ponder how to get the most out of Panarin.

As PHT’s Scott Billeck discussed here, one likely combination would involve Panarin lining up with top center Mika Zibanejad, and rookie Kakko. There are plenty of other ways to experiment with Panarin, though, and a lot of those possibilities hinge on which younger forwards can earn significant reps, or even spots on the roster at all.

One could imagine Panarin setting the table for someone like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, or Vitali Kravtsov, much like Panarin undoubtedly helped Pierre Luc-Dubois become a quick study in the NHL during Panarin’s days with the Blue Jackets. It could end up working out best if Panarin and Zibanejad power one line apiece, or it may be better to concentrate that high-end, more experienced NHL scoring talent on a first line.

Along with Kravtsov and others fighting for roster spots, there are also players with something to prove, from Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich to someone coming off of a rough stretch like Vladislav Namestnikov.

It’s up to Quinn to mold this intriguing, but somewhat unshapen group into something cohesive. Unlike last season, the raw materials are there for something, even if this group isn’t necessarily primed to be explosive out of the gate.

Getting some stops

The good and bad news is that the Rangers’ defense basically had nowhere to go but up. It won’t be easy to generate the sort of gains that can help the Rangers contend, though.

Jacob Trouba’s getting his wish: he’s the man on that New York defense, no question about it; we’ll see if this is a “careful what you wish for” situation, because if this unit’s going to be any good, it will probably come down to Trouba being the minutes-eating top guy.

Adam Fox has been drawing hype for a while, but what can he be right off the bat? Considering the Rangers’ personnel, they might not be able to ease the 21-year-old into the NHL fray as much as would normally be ideal.

Even with considerable gains, the Rangers will probably continue to do what they’ve done for more than a decade: ask a whole lot from Henrik Lundqvist.

The 37-year-old is coming off of the worst year of his NHL career, as he languished with a .907 save percentage behind that lousy defense. Lundqvist can’t be asked to patch up the same mistakes as he did during his prime, but if the Rangers are going to take a big step forward, they need King Henrik to return somewhere close to form.

If not, that presents another hurdle for Quinn. Can he manage Lundqvist’s ego — and placate those around him — while getting results in net, particularly if it becomes clear that Alexandar Georgiev would be the superior option most nights? That’s a potential instance where problems become as much political as tactical, and answers rarely come easily.

***

Change can come quickly in the NHL, yet even by those standards, the Rangers have undergone a dramatic makeover. Quinn is charged with making sure that things don’t end up looking ugly.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Grade the Hurricanes’ new road uniform

Carolina Hurricanes
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On Tuesday morning Carolina Hurricanes unveiled a new road uniform for the 2019-20 NHL season, ditching their primary storm logo on the front for some diagonal lettering that spells out “Canes.”

It is a rather simplistic design, but it is clean and pretty sharp.

Along with the wording across the front, they also brought back the warning flags along the waistline of the jersey.

Have a look.

Other features as part of the new uniform: The new secondary logo (the hockey stick with the warning flags attached to it) appears on both shoulders, while the helmet will feature a raised 3-D sticker of the primary logo which you can see here.

You can check out all of the features at the Hurricanes’ website.

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look? Does the diagonal lettering work for a team that is not the New York Rangers? What is your grade for the Hurricanes’ new road uniform?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.