If the Predators’ six-game Stanley Cup final loss this past June made anything clear in Nashville, it was that one of the only things standing between GM David Poile’s club and another shot at the Stanley Cup was their depth down the middle. It’s an issue that was front and center when Ryan Johansen was sidelined with a lower-body injury deep in the Western Conference final and one that followed the Predators into the summer.
Poile first addressed the matter through free agency. He brought aboard Nick Bonino, whom Nashville had watched celebrate the Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory, on a four-year, $16.4-million deal. But rumblings persisted throughout the off-season that Poile wanted to do more. Bonino, for all his merits, had excelled most as a third-line center in Pittsburgh, and it was believed the second-line role was better suited to another center with truer top-six punch. Thus, connections were drawn between the Predators and Colorado Avalanche, with speculation being that Poile was interested in acquiring Matt Duchene to give Nashville another first- or second-line center to play alongside Johansen and put the Preds right back in the Stanley Cup picture.
And, as Sunday’s blockbuster three-way trade indicated, the Predators were, indeed, involved in the Duchene discussions and eventual trade. However, it was Nashville who helped facilitate Duchene’s departure from Colorado and to the Senators by sweetening the trade package and scooping up Kyle Turris, a potential first-line center who gives the Predators exactly what they were after.
“Kyle is one of the best two-way centers in the National Hockey League,” Poile said in a statement. “He should be a great fit in our locker room and will bolster our lineup and give us the depth that’s necessary during the regular season and the playoffs. He is someone who can play in all situations and will help us tremendously on both ends of the ice. He will give our coaching staff a number of options in terms of offensive production and defensive responsibilities.”
Without a doubt, Turris, the third overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, proved he could contribute as a top-six pivot in Canada’s capital, and he progressed as a playmaker, scorer and two-way player during his time as a Senator. Immediately upon his arrival in 2011-12, he set career marks with 12 goals and 29 points, eventually bested by a 64-point campaign in 2014-15 and a 27-goal performance last season. As of Monday, Turris is heading to Nashville with three goals and nine points in 11 games while averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game.
Making the deal wasn’t as easy as acquiring Turris, however, as it appears that the three-way trade was at least in part contingent on Turris inking a contract extension, and such a deal was part of the immediate aftermath of the acquisition. It was announced that Nashville had signed Turris to a six-year, $36-million extension mere minutes after the trade news broke.
That Turris sought an extension was no secret. In fact, extension talks with the Senators were what first thrust Turris into the rumor mill earlier this season. It is somewhat surprising, however, that Turris signed what many would deem a reasonable extension with Nashville when such a deal couldn’t get done with Ottawa. It seems, though, that Turris and the Senators couldn’t agree on term. Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion confirmed as much during Monday’s press conference to introduce Duchene, saying a six-year agreement was never on the table and that Turris wanted a seven- or eight-year pact with the Sens. Regardless of the reasoning for the change of heart when it comes to signing a six-year deal with Nashville, Turris put pen to paper to begin a new chapter in his career.
Make no mistake, either, that Turris agreeing to sign on for six seasons is what allowed the Predators to part ways with some significant pieces in this three-way swap. It was no small deal for Nashville to give up a second-round selection, defenseman Samuel Girard, who had impressed so far as a rookie, and center Vladislav Kamenev, whose AHL production came with promise of NHL production. But with Turris signed, Johansen locked in for eight seasons and Bonino brought in on a four-year deal — not to mention Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons as depth options down the middle — there was no space for Kamenev to break in. Likewise, Girard was expendable with Nashville’s incredibly talented blueline in its prime and locked in for at least more seasons.
The financials of the deal work well for the Preds, too, and Poile will have time to maneuver before there’s potential for any cap crunch in Music City. Per CapFriendly, and using the current NHL salary cap of $75 million, Nashville is set to have roughly $9 million in cap space next season without a single major roster player heading for free agency. Realistically, the next major signings Poile will have to take care of are that of defenseman Ryan Ellis and goaltender Pekka Rinne, but neither are eligible for UFA status until July 2019, at which time Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg and Colton Sissons will all be RFAs, as well. Add in a potential rise in the cap, though, and Nashville should be able to retain those they deem worth retaining.
Whom the Predators deem worth keeping and how Poile and Nashville move forward in the future are questions for another day, discussions to be had down the line. But right now, at this moment, the Turris acquisition makes one thing abundantly clear: Poile and the Predators are all-in and they won’t be satisfied with coming up short.
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