The Seattle expansion draft came and went, and Matt Duchene is still a Nashville Predator.
At least he is — for now.
Although unlikely, Duchene's status could change after 1 p.m. on Thursday when the NHL lifts its signing/trade freeze and teams are free to deal players as needed.
To no one’s surprise, the Kraken plucked Calle Jarnkrok from the Predators during the expansion draft Wednesday night, leaving the Predators with both Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene still on the roster. Although it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
According to David Pagnotta of the Fourth Period, Predators General Manager David Poile tried to get the Kraken to take Ryan Johansen and was even willing to retain some of his $8 million salary to make it happen. Poile has never retained salary in any previous trade.
So, assuming neither center is dealt to Seattle in a separate side deal, Poile will have to swallow his pride and find a way to make it work with both of the players he exposed in the expansion draft and actively shopped.
Johansen’s role is pretty well set. He should step back in as the Predators’ top-line center next to Filip Forsberg. It’s also assumed the Predators want to re-sign Mikael Granlund, who took over as the No. 2 center when Duchene was injured last year and never gave up the job.
With nearly $29 million in cap space, they should be able to make a deal work. If Granlund does in fact reclaim his spot on second line, the Predators find themselves in a predicament.
Paying Duchene $8 million to play on the third line just seems absurd, and there doesn’t seem to be a logical argument for playing him above either of the other two centers.
Poile’s hands may be tied, and the 71-year-old GM may be forced to move Duchene to the wing — a position he’s not too unfamiliar with.
“I'm a natural centerman, I always have been,” Duchene said during his end-of-season media availability. “But I can play effectively at wing also, especially right wing. I feel comfortable there.”
The argument can be made if the Predators are stuck paying Duchene as much as they have to, why not play him in the top six and put him in the best position to succeed?
Duchene played on the top line with Forsberg and Johansen at times last year with some decent success. The trio played together for 33:36 in 20 combined regular season games, dominating in several areas including shots (40 for, 10 against), scoring chances (38 for, five against) and high-danger chances (14 for, two against). They also had an offensive-zone faceoff percentage of 88.6.
Then in the postseason, the line accounted for 37 shots, four goals — all from high-danger areas — 27 scoring chances for, 13 high-danger chances for, and an offensive-zone faceoff percentage of 75.
If the Predators are forced to play Duchene, they could do a lot worse than sticking him with Forsberg and Johansen.
“I think in the playoffs Joey, Fil and I were very good,” Duchene said. “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.”
The Predators are going to have to make the best of a bad situation. Rolling with a top line of Forsberg, Johansen and Duchene, plus a second line of Granlund, Eeli Tolvanen and Luke Kunin may just be the team’s best option right now.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_