Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile has a lot to check off his offseason to-do list. And deciding where maligned center Matt Duchene fits into Nashville’s future plans surely ranks near the top of that list.
The $40 million that the Predators owe Duchene over the next five seasons ostensibly hamstrings Poile in terms of the number of options he has, which basically leaves him with two questions.
First, could he entice the Seattle Kraken to take Duchene off his hands — either by exposing him in the expansion draft or with a side deal. Second, he could determine if there another team that both wants Duchene and can take on his inflated salary with the flat cap?
The latter option should be the preferred route as it allows the Predators to get out from under a bad contract that probably shouldn’t have been given in the first place. And if the team has to swallow losing a young, talented defenseman to do so, then at least they’re dealing from a position of strength with Jeremy Davies, David Farrance, Frederic Allard and Tyler Lewington in the pipeline.
“This is where I wanted to be for a long time,” Duchene said after stating he hadn’t given the expansion draft two seconds of thought. “Just because of two kind-of-shortened, weird seasons that didn’t go the way we wanted, that doesn’t change for me. The future’s bright here. I believe even more now in our core group than I even did when I signed here. To commit to seven years to an organization, that’s a big decision to make.”
Secondly, if the Predators are stuck with Duchene and his $8 million cap hit, where does he play next season?
Unrestricted free agent Mikael Granlund was at times Nashville’s best player last season and surely has beat out Duchene (if he returns) for the team’s No. 2 center job next season.
Over the last two seasons, Granlund has more goals (30-19), points (57-55) and power play goals (9-6) with a higher shooting percentage (15.4 to 8.9) and a better plus/minus rating (-5 to -16). In his two years with the Predators, Duchene’s production — 19 goals and 55 points in 100 games — hasn’t justified the $56 million contract he signed in 2019.
Over that span, Granlund, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, Calle Jarnkrok, Viktor Arvidsson and Rocco Grimaldi have scored more goals, while Josi, Forsberg, Jarnkrok, Johansen, Granlund, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis all have more points.
“At the end of the day, I want to produce more, of course. I expect that of myself, and I think the process in creating scoring chances ... is there. It's just the point production in this league can come and go at times … My production side hasn't been where I expect it to be.
“…It's frustrating if you don't get the results and it’s a results-based business," Duchene added. "But for me to start searching and going in a different direction right now would be probably the worst thing I could do.”
Poile will presumably want to bring back Granlund, who was been Nashville’s best player under head coach John Hynes over the last two years. Granlund’s emergence this season could force Duchene to move to the wing, a spot at which he has experience, as well, but to which he has been reluctant to moving full-time.
“I'm a natural center man, I always have been,” Duchene said. “But I can play effectively at wing also, especially right wing — I feel comfortable there.”
In the playoffs, Duchene spent time on the right side of Nashville’s top line with Forsberg and Johansen. The trio had success together in both the regular season and the playoffs and could be a viable option to begin next season.
Over the course of 20 regular season games, the line played together for 33:36. They dominated in shots (40 for, 10 against), scoring chances (38 for, five against) and high-danger chances (14 for, two against). Plus they had an offensive-zone faceoff percentage of 88.6.
In 54 minutes in the playoffs, the trio accounted for 37 shots, four goals (all high-danger), 27 scoring chances for, 13 high-danger chances for, and an offensive-zone faceoff percentage of 75.
“I think in the playoffs Joey, Fil and I were ... very good,” Duchene said. “Obviously, I thought we controlled the game when we were out there, and it was fun to play with those two guys and the chemistry we had was great. Obviously, we didn't get the result we wanted at the end of the day, so there was still room for improvement. But no there's so much talent on this hockey team it's fun to play with those guys for sure.”
Regardless of which direction Poile goes, Duchene’s mega-contract has backed the Predators into a corner. It’s not a forgone conclusion that Nashville will move the 30-year-old center in the offseason, and Poile may just have to live with Duchene’s $8 million-per-season cap hit.
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