One of the biggest strengths of the Nashville Predators during their Stanley Cup run back in 2017 was their defensive unit. Led by P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Roman Josi, and backed by Pekka Rinne in goal, the defensive core was crucial to the Preds getting to within one game of hockey’s holy grail.
But since then, the Predators’ defense has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Last year, the Preds finished 20th in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.10 per game), their lowest finish in that category in the last six seasons. Despite Roman Josi’s Norris Trophy win, the Preds’ blueline was a disaster.
The good news is that David Poile is finally doing something about it. Here’s a quick look at the changes he’s making going into the 2020-21 season.
Preds on the way out
First, several members of the blueline will not be returning to Nashville.
Dan Hamhuis announced his retirement back in August, ending a 16-year hockey career. The team also announced that Korbinian Holzer and Yannick Weber would not be re-signed. Then, last Wednesday, the team announced they were buying out Steven Santini, one of the pieces in the P.K. Subban trade with New Jersey.
All four of those losses are “addition by subtraction” in my opinion. Hamhuis looked very slow at the end of last year, so retirement came as no surprise. Holzer and Santini were never really NHL defensemen by the looks of it, so they needed to go. And while Weber was a productive player at times, his style just didn’t mesh with what the Preds wanted to do on the bottom pairing.
Poile did the right thing by moving on from all four of these players.
Poile adds value at defense
Then on Friday, David Poile made two key signings to replace the losses on defense. The first came with veteran left-handed defenseman Mark Borowiecki.
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) October 9, 2020
A two-year deal for a 31-year old defenseman might sound like a small risk, but it’s really not considering the level at which Borowiecki is still playing. He played a career high 17:56 ATOI this past season on a rebuilding Senators team, while also scoring a career high 18 points, including seven goals.
Borowiecki should step into what was Dan Hamhuis’ role last year and play with better speed, better efficiency, and excellent veteran leadership.
Poile then signed Matt Benning, a right-handed shooting defenseman, to a two-year, $2 million deal. Benning was used as a bottom-pairing defenseman with the Edmonton Oilers last year, but showed enough to prove he deserves more ice time.
— Alex S. Pumpkins (@AlexDaugherty1) October 9, 2020
Benning was a guy that many Oilers fans were pushing Edmonton to re-sign. But after they failed to offer him a contract, Nashville pounced. Look for Benning to take over the right side of the bottom pairing, with the possibility that he moves up in the lineup should Dante Fabbro not make progress in his 2nd full season.
New look defensive lineup
With those changes, the new Nashville Predators defensive lineup could look something like this next year:
Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – Dante Fabbro
Mark Borowiecki – Matt Benning
Extra: Jarred Tinordi
As I said, there’s a chance Benning could move up in the lineup if he plays well enough. If that happens, he could pair with either Ekholm or Josi, leaving plenty of options elsewhere in the lineup.
Overall, that’s a much more balanced defensive lineup than what the Predators had at the end of last season. And Poile already mentioned the possibility of guys like Alex Carrier or Frederic Allard getting starts as well. Look for plenty of new blood on defense next season.
— Featured image via Marc DesRosiers/USA TODAY Sports —