Even though the Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights nabbed the headliners of this year’s trade deadline pool, Nashville took home a couple of huge catches as well. Predators general manager David Poile first dealt Kevin Fiala (32 points in 64 games) to Minnesota for Mikael Granlund (49 points in 63 games) and then sent Ryan Hartman (20 points in 64 games) and a conditional fourth-round pick to Philadelphia for Wayne Simmonds (27 points in 62 games).
It’s no secret that Nashville lacked scoring depth beyond the stellar trio of Ryan Johansen (53 points in 63 games), Filip Forsberg (39 points in 48 games) and Viktor Arvidsson (35 points in 41 games). Despite owning 55.7% of the shot attempts at 5-on-5, the Predators have averaged just 2.69 goals per game since the start of February.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve gone 7-5-1 over that span.
Following the deals, the team remains rich in dependable two-way forwards but has gained a dose of creativity and net-front dominance. That improvement on the flanks and in the trenches should reward the club for controlling so much of the action.
When Granlund’s name springs to mind, most hockey fans immediately think of his lacrosse-style goal at the 2011 IIHF World Championships. The 27-year-old has developed quite a bit since then, cutting down on some of the flash to adopt a more refined, pro-style game. The world-class vision and passing touch are still unquestionably there — he just opts for higher-percentage plays rather than giving the puck away cheaply. He also displays a tremendous motor to hound opponents and regain possession.
His talent and persistence have paid off in spades, as he’s outperformed his team in scoring chance and goal shares over the past three seasons. In 2018-19, he’s sitting on a terrific 55.6 SCF% and 55.0 GF%. His 81.8 individual points percentage suggests he’s perfectly capable of driving a line from the wing as well.
That will prove vital if he’s paired with Kyle Turris (20 points in 40 games), who has struggled since arriving in Nashville last year. The 29-year-old center is a quiet and reliable veteran with a solid release. However, his impact has been limited by an inability to generate scoring chances. Among Predators forwards with 500 even-strength minutes played, he ranks second-last in chances.
Only Nick Bonino (28 points in 64 games) has seen a smaller amount…but he receives overwhelmingly defensive zone starts. Turris, by comparison, enjoys the easiest deployment and still can’t produce enough.
Granlund’s patience and puck control should benefit him greatly. The Finn is one of the few wingers who can dictate play from his position, slicing through the neutral zone with ease and carving out passing lanes no one else on the ice can see. Turris can then devote his efforts to merely finding open space and pulling the trigger.
The newcomer will also be of help defensively, as he thrived under tough usage in Minnesota alongside Mikko Koivu. No one expects a 5’10”, 185-pound playmaker to hustle as hard as he does, but he works his tail off to battle for the puck, disrupt passing lanes and block shots. He’s become a complete three-zone forward whose efficiency and grit fit Nashville’s approach like a glove. He just happens to possess high-end skill too. Assuming they play together, Turris’ team-worst 44.1 GF% is likely in for a spike.
Meanwhile, Simmonds is an interesting case. Headed into the trade deadline, the 30-year-old winger had “buyer beware” written all over him. He’s performed below his team’s mediocre standards for a few years now and seemingly would have commanded a hefty return in a trade.
For Hartman and a conditional pick, however, he’s worth the flier.
Though he isn’t a pure wrecking ball, he excels in the dirty areas by parking himself in front of the net and making life miserable for the opposition with his knack for screening goaltenders and hunting down rebounds. A ridiculous 62% of his shots come from either the crease area or the slot. Nashville could pepper netminders all night, but it was missing a power forward who can create havoc and score the greasy goals. That was particularly true on the man advantage, where the team ranks dead last.
Well, over the past five years, only one player has scored more power play goals than Simmonds. One. Yeah, it’s kind of his specialty.
Granted, he does come with defensive shortcomings. Unlike Granlund, Simmonds often loses focus and ends up on the wrong side of the puck. He’s nasty and combative, but he most certainly isn’t the player you’d send out there to defend a lead in the dying seconds of a game. As such, he might be more effective as a situational threat instead of a top-six staple.
With that said, he posted his strongest years in Philadelphia under current Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. If any team can get the best out of him in 2018-19, it’s Nashville. Shifting from also-rans to contenders should provide a major motivational boost too.
In the end, the Predators got more experienced and potent up front. Fiala seemingly wasn’t ready for a top-six role on a playoff team and Nashville couldn’t keep waiting on him. Its window won’t remain open forever, so trading him for Granlund — who is in his prime and superior at both ends — was a no-brainer. Hartman, for his part, wasn’t consistent enough to stick either. Simmonds represents an immediate step up in terms of sandpaper and net-front presence.
These moves should minimize the letdown the club would experience every time Johansen’s line left the ice.
Sure, neither newcomer boasts playoff success to date, but they weren’t exactly in the right setting for that. They are now. Nashville’s defense ranks fourth and features a superb top four of Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, PK Subban and Ryan Ellis. Its offense is led by a deadly trio and has become much deeper on the backs of recent acquisitions (including Brian Boyle). Beating goaltender Pekka Rinne (2.49 GAA, 91.5 SV%) is always challenging. On the whole, the Predators rank fifth in CF%, seventh in SCF% and fourth in GF%.
This is no longer the little team that could. This is a really good squad that just got even better. In addition to upgrading his roster, Poile has sent a crystal-clear statement to his players: We’re in championship-or-bust territory.
He may well have won trade deadline day with these two deals, and in turn, he’s put his franchise in a position to win it all.