It’s really a perfect fit for the player and it could be a win for the team, too. Matt Duchene is heading to Nashville on a seven-year deal worth $56 million, which averages $8 million per season.
On the ice, Duchene gives the Predators another option down the middle and some cover for top center Ryan Johansen, who is coming off a decent 64-point season, but also a playoff exit that saw him tally just two points in six games.
Nashville has always been about the defense before the offense during this halcyon era, which so far peaked with a run to the Stanley Cup final in 2017. But with P.K. Subban shipped off to New Jersey in a salary dump and the Duchene signing bolstering the center spot, it seems pretty clear that GM David Poile would like his squad to be a bit more balanced.
The Nashville offense ranked just 19th in the NHL this past season and no one on the roster even came close to being a point-per-game player – though Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson both missed substantial time due to injury.
Duchene put up 58 points in 50 games for the Ottawa Senators before he was traded to Columbus at the deadline. He struggled to find his form with the Blue Jackets initially, but rebounded in the post-season, where he came in second to Artemi Panarin with 10 points to Panarin’s 11.
Where Duchene fits in Nashville’s lineup will be a fun task for coach Peter Laviolette to figure out, but the 28-year-old center has great speed and skill, while also having the versatility to fit on the wing if necessary in some situations. The fact he topped 30 goals this past season is great for the Preds, as Johansen is a pure playmaker and this gives them another goal-scoring option to go along with Forsberg and Arvidsson.
Off the ice, Duchene seems tailor-made for Nashville. He’s a country music lover who plays guitar and it’s impossible not to imagine he’s going to jump on stage at Tootsie’s for an intro as soon as he gets into town. His Christian lifestyle also makes him a latter-day Mike Fisher in a town that embraced Carrie Underwood’s husband whole-heartedly.
Now, the subtraction of Subban was pretty much necessary for the addition of Duchene, so are the Predators going to be better or worse in the long run? With Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis still leading the ‘D,’ Nashville still has one of the best blueline corps around, but you don’t replace Subban fully. The offense gets improved here and Duchene proved in the post-season that he can succeed in rugged terrain, even if he’s more of a finesse player than anything.
Given his age and wheels, Duchene should be an effective player in Nashville for most of this contract, if not the entire duration. He’s pretty good on faceoffs and has largely stayed free of serious injuries in his career, especially lately.
The only possible downside of this signing is that because Duchene isn’t a dominant No. 1 center, he simply mitigates the Kyle Turris mistake in Nashville and doesn’t do enough to get them over the hump and back to the Cup final. Johansen’s contract is long and expensive, while the Preds will need to re-sign Josi to a big contract before he becomes a UFA next summer, so this is essentially the team that Poile is going to war with now.
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