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Predators upgrade power play, keep pace in Central arms race with Simmonds

The Predators needed to stay aggressive after the Jets made a big move Monday. Simmonds helps Nashville get bigger, meaner and, most importantly, he should improve a woeful power play.

The Central Division arms race promised to be one of the 2019 trade deadline’s most important stories. The Winnipeg Jets and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stepped up with their Kevin Hayes trade the morning of Feb. 25, so the Nashville Predators and GM David Poile, typically an aggressive deadline mover, were under the gun to match their rival.

First came Poile’s 1-for-1 swap of Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund, which secured Nashville another high-end offensive player. That injected the Preds’ top-six forward group with skill but still didn’t address another crucial team need: a forward with size, toughness and a net-front presence to augment the power play, which sits at a league-worst 12.6 percent.

Landing UFA right winger Wayne Simmonds from the Philadelphia Flyers changes everything. Simmonds, 30, is on pace for his seventh 20-goal campaign. He’s one of the toughest pound-for-pound players in the NHL. The most important thing Simmonds brings for the Preds is, of course, that power-play acumen. In the past six seasons, dating back to 2013-14, Simmonds’ 74 power-play goals rank second only to Alex Ovechkin’s 116.

So what does the trade cost Nashville? On top of a 2020-fourth round pick, which becomes a third-rounder if Nashville wins a playoff series, the Flyers get right winger Ryan Hartman. He’ll replace a lot of Simmonds’ scrappiness, he’s just 24, he’s an RFA this summer, and he’s hit double figures in goals three straight seasons. Averaging just 13:26 of ice time per game, he ranks 154th among the 466 NHL forwards with at least 100 minutes played in goals for per 60 at 5-on-5, indicating Hartman might be capable of doing more if given more of a chance. There’s a bit of upside left here for a player the Chicago Blackhawks drafted at the end of 2013’s first round.

Still, the Simmonds move goes down as a coup for Nashville. It upgrades its forward corps significantly from Fiala and Hartman to Granlund and Simmonds – without Poile surrendering a first-round pick or a top-end prospect such as Eeli Tolvanen or Dante Fabbro. Nashville needed to get very aggressive to keep pace with the Jets, no doubt, and the cost to do so ended up arguably lower than expected by the time the dust cleared on deadline day.

The Preds’ Stanley Cup window isn’t the league’s smallest by any means, but it isn’t a yawning chasm, either. Starting goalie Pekka Rinne is 36, and captain Roman Josi is a UFA in 2020, so right now is Nashville’s best opening to take its shot. Today qualifies as a win.

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