I feel as if I need to start this article off with a disclaimer, I’m going to speak ill about the Nashville Predators’ third defensive pair. I don’t hate them, I just get nervous whenever I see them on the ice in the defensive end. They’re a bit of a blemish on arguably the best defense in the NHL.
Matt Irwin has actually been a serviceable defenseman so far, he maintains average numbers in just about each category. It’s Yannick Weber that gives me pause, and for those about to mention the “seventh defenseman”, I’m not sure what the Predators see in Anthony Bitetto as a defenseman, but it’s earned him over a million dollars so far. For the sake of my article, we’re just going to look at Irwin and Weber as a pairing, and come up with some ways the Predators can upgrade their third pairing.
Before we get into each individual’s stats, let’s take a look at how they performed as a duo. To make the numbers a little bit easier to digest, we’ll be using a graph. All stats you see in this article are at even strength unless explicitly stated otherwise.
This pair is fine, I guess. Their possession stats are super average and their high danger chance share is absolutely fine, but it leaves something to be desired. The Predators’ third pairing isn’t exactly a liability, but I still feel as if there’s something to be desired.
As I mentioned earlier, Irwin has actually been good in a third line role. His stats are good and his PDO (luck) suggests that he isn’t due for any regression.
Perfectly balanced, as all things should be… In all seriousness, these are perfect numbers for third pairing guy. He’s not a liability and can hold down the fort while the top four take a much-needed break. Above average possession stats are nice, but Irwin’s high danger chance share is what really grabs my attention. His ability to not let things get out of hand in front of Pekka Rinne is a skill not many third liners have. If you ask me, Irwin isn’t the problem here.
Where Irwin has been serviceable, Weber has been the opposite. His right-handedness has given him more opportunities than his play warrants, and here are some fun stats to prove it.
Ouch, Weber got kicked up and down the ice in every meaningful on-ice stat. His possession stats aren’t atrocious but are far below average while his high danger chance share is appalling. It all looks worse when you take into account his zone start numbers, where he was heavily sheltered. It’s pretty safe to say that Weber was the one dragging the duo down.
It’s easy to identify a problem but it’s hard to fix it. Luckily for the Predators, there are a few options. We’ll start with the sexy option known as free agency. Unfortunately this year is a bit light in terms of good free agents, especially on defense. The defensive prospects are really just John Carlson, who’s about to make all the money in the world. Whether that’s with the Capitals or some other team, the Predators won’t have enough money to even breathe the same air as Carlson. That leaves a few right-handed shots who could make an impact.
My biggest want would be Mike Green, but he’ll probably make upwards of four million dollars per year as he scored at half a point per game pace while on a terrible team. If he would take two or three million dollars then it would make sense, but I really can’t imagine the 32-year-old taking that little. All other options in the free agency market are either too old or slow to compete in today’s NHL, or post good numbers with some severe sheltering (Cody Franson). Throwing money to both kinds of players would be a mistake in my opinion.
That leaves one option, trusting the kids. I think the prospects are there for the Predators, and while no one Milwaukee Admiral or junior player could step in and play a whole season, I could see a few playing 30 or 40 games. Dante Fabbro looks like he’ll continue to play in the NCAA, so that leaves Frederic Allard and Alexandre Carrier.
Allard had a tough, but successful first year in the AHL as he produced 15 primary and 24 points in 55 games played. Scoring at half a point per game is pretty good for a 20-year-old in his first season, even though he didn’t play every game. Allard is a right-handed shot who plays a two-way game, and while he likely needs another year to mature, he could definitely see anywhere between five to ten games in the NHL. His goals per game is .15 per game, high for a defenseman, as is his primary points per game at .27. He’ll need to work on his defensive game, but a short call-up could only do the young player favors.
Carrier is a year older and a year wiser, although not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He had a rough offensive outing in his second season in Milwaukee, but I believe that has more to do with his team rather than himself. Carrier produced 16 primary and 28 points in 73 games this season while eating some tough minutes. The Predators clearly wanted him to refine his defense and while it’s far from perfect, it’s better than it was a year ago. In terms of offense, Carrier had a mediocre .05 goals per game and .22 points per game. He looks to be the most prepared for the NHL at the current moment, but that could change going forward.
Onto the question of the hour, should the Predators rely on Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber this season, or should they look elsewhere? I think the answers are sitting in Milwaukee, waiting for a call-up. I’m not saying to play Carrier and Allard all 82 games, but allowing them to play around 20 games each might further their development and allow the Predators to not rely on Weber as much.