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How foolish we were to believe that the feast of hockey would last us all the way into summer. The good times are past us and now we’re left with picking the bones of free agency. I never thought I’d care about where Dion Phaneuf signs, but dear lord, here I am looking at Capfriendly.com.

Free agency is over, let’s admit it. There’s no one left to sign and most of the trade options are gone. So, with the current Nashville Predators roster, let’s look at how the lines should be constructed.

I’ll be working under the presumption that Colton Sissons and Rocco Grimaldi will stay with the Predators. Also, only publicly available data from a multitude of sites will be used, all of whom I’ll give a shoutout at the end of the article. Let’s start with the easiest line to predict.

First Line

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I’ve been guilty of thinking about splitting up the Predators top line in the past, but I’m reformed now. JoFA should stay together no matter what. Ryan Johansen is one of the better playmakers in the NHL and putting him alongside two of the best shooters is an ideal situation.

Viktor Arvidsson is one of the better volume shooters in the NHL but his ability to get to the slot is by far his best skill. Having someone willing to get to the dirty areas is what will allow Johansen to do what he does best, dish the puck.

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Adding in Filip Forsberg adds another weapon for Johansen to use. This often means that the defense can’t double team a player, seeing as there are too many options. On top of that, keeping Forsberg and Arvidsson together will lessen the load on each player in terms of entering the offensive zone with possession.

Johansen’s main weakness is his play in transition, but Arvidsson and Forsberg help cover that up. Their collective numbers at exiting the defensive zone with possession are a bit worrisome, but having Roman Josi on defense alleviates those pressures. The coaching staff also starts JoFA in the offensive zone over 68% o the time

This line works because they have plenty of skill while following the classic line composition formula of playmaker with two shooters. This line is a no brainer, but it’s still fun to look at.

Second Line

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This is where things get a bit interesting. I have to imagine that Matt Duchene will center this line, and with good reason. If the Predators paid eight million dollars for a third line center, fans would (rightfully) be upset. So let’s assume that Duchene will center while Mikael Granlund will play the left wing. He’s the only left handed shooter of the viable candidates so it makes sense for him to stay there.

As you can tell, Granlund fills the void for the playmaker of the group. His shot assist numbers quite good, although not as high as Johansen’s. I think he’ll be able to use that skill alongside Duchene, even though Duchene is more of a passer than shooter.

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I hate to say it, but I’d like to see Duchene change his play style to fit in with the line he has. His shooting talent is easily highlighted and known around the league as something to be feared. Now that he’s playing alongside Granlund, who isn’t always the best shooter, it makes more sense for Duchene to fit the shoot first mold a bit more. This leaves the right wing with two viable candidates.

I’m torn here. Craig Smith’s offensive zone style makes him a perfect fit as he fills that “volume shooter” role that Arvidsson does. Seriously, he’s in the top percentile for shots per 60, but he also shoots from good locations as he was fourth on the Predators in high danger chances created. Meanwhile Turris has better overall numbers, even though he’s primarily a playmaker.

I think all four players have awesome transition numbers, with Smith having the worst. Despite that, I think Smith makes more sense than Turris does on the right side. Smith doesn’t exit the defensive zone as efficiently as Turris does but he’ll also have Duchene to help, who’s tied for the best and much efficient.

If I was coach, I’d put Smith alongside Granlund and Duchene. Smith has shown that he can put 20-25 goals in the net as long as he has someone to feed him the puck, which he won’t have on the third line. That, coupled with his relatively similar transition numbers leads me to believe that this trio will be best suited for an offensive role on the second line.

Third Line

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As I write this, Turris is still a Predator and so he must go somewhere on the roster. The third line is where I’d be forced to put him, even if I think he’s too good for it. Regardless of what I think, this exercise continues on.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I think the best fit for Turris is Calle Jarnkrok and Rocco Grimaldi. Before I go any further, let’s think about what kind of line we’re making. I’m trying to create third line that will be able to exploit other bottom six lines and give the Predators some true secondary scoring.

Nashville has often used its third line as a shutdown line, but it hasn’t worked. You’re better off matching JoFA against the other top line, the second line vs the other second line, and so on and so forth. So, let’s establish another scoring line.

It should be mentioned that Grimaldi’s numbers are off an awfully low sample size compared other everyone else in this article. That said, the numbers I have compiled privately have confirmed what Corey Sznajder’s numbers propose. Grimaldi is excellent in transition but often times will dump the puck into the offensive zone for whatever reason.

Grimaldi is basically Arvidsson if you took away the shooting talent. Pairing him with Turris will likely help Grimaldi reach his highest potential, even if that’s only 10-15 goals and 20 points.

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I like Jarnkrok on the line just because he has better numbers than anyone else on the team while also having some semblance of shooting talent. He doesn’t shoot as much as Grimaldi, but he could definitely be a candidate for 15 goals while also being good on defense.

Whatever issues I have with both of their transition game, I think Turris can make up for. Again, this feels like a waste of Turris’ talents but who knows. Maybe playing against other third lines will help him find his game again.

Fourth Line

This shouldn’t come as a shock, but the fourth line will not look good. Nick Bonino will center the line, or Colton Sissons can, it really doesn’t matter.

I guess I’d rather have Sissons as the center for Bonino can play left wing, as he is left handed. Either way, it’s not very pretty. Neither player are good in transition and while Bonino is technically above average for shot assists, he rarely makes passes to the high danger areas.

Honestly, for this position, just flip a coin each night. Miikka Salomaki shoots more but I’m pretty sure he has a negative glut of shooting talent, meanwhile Austin Watson doesn’t do much of anything.

The fourth line is an eye sore, but most fourth lines are. Just hope that they can break even on goals scored each night.

First Pair

No surprise here, but the first pair should stay together. It’s a successful pair that’s worked before in the past, and as long as their development stays the same, they should work again in the future.

As you can probably tell by the chart above, Roman Josi does a lot of the heavy lifting. His ability to exit the defensive zone and enter the offensive zone with possession is almost unparalleled. Ryan Ellis throughly relies on Josi to transition the puck up the ice, as Mattias Ekholm relied on P.K. Subban, so it makes sense to not split up a good thing.

While Ellis’ and Josi’s entry defense numbers are average at best, Ellis is the best board battlers on the team now that Subban is gone. Keeping him with Josi, who is fairly weak on the boards despite being the most blatant crosschecker in the league, is smart. There’s still the issue of protecting the slot, as both players once again average in that regard, but that can be solved by sheltering them from defensive responsibilities.

Second Pair

Here’s where the questions really begin with the defense. Subban was jettisoned from the squad and a lot of responsibility has seemingly fell upon rookie Dante Fabbro.

Fabbro has played a grand total 10 games at the NHL level and while he hasn’t looked bad, per say, he’s worked hard at not putting himself in places to mess up. The downside of this style is that it often takes a player out of position to make a real impact.

Our stats overlord, Corey Sznajder, has no public stats available for Fabbro because of the few games he played, but I took stats for eight of Fabbro’s 10 games. Fabbro never entered the offensive zone, not once. It was clear he didn’t want to jump up and possibly abandon Dan Hamhuis on an odd man rush.

The biggest issue is our sample size is too small to make an educated evaluation of Fabbro. How can we say if a player is ready for top four minutes when he’s only had a small taste of what they have to offer. For every Charlie McAvoy, there are dozens of Jon Blums.

With all of that said, starting Fabbro with Ekholm is a smart decision. Ekholm can pick up the slack as far as in-zone defense. Otherwise, there are holes in Ekholm’s game that Subban effectively covered that I’m not sure Fabbro will be able to. Ekholm isn’t an effective puck mover and often deferred to Subban to get the job done.

The proof is in the graphical pudding as Ekholm did move the puck in the 70th percentile, but was far below average in terms of efficiency. This means that the exit was either picked off by the defense, or it was cleared out, effectively turning the puck over to the other team.

Nevertheless, giving Fabbro a 6’4 Swedish security blanket is a smart move while trying to encourage him to move the puck. The only thing that makes me even a bit worried was that Subban and Ekholm took on the toughest competition night in and night out, and I’m not sure if Fabbro will be ready for that. If he isn’t will that mean that Josi and Ellis will have to see more defensive zone responsibilities? It could throw things out of balance, but that’s a bridge the Predators will cross when they have to.

Third Pair

Much like the fourth offensive line, this line has the potential to be a real eyesore for the Predators. I like Dan Hamhuis but he’s not the player he used to be and his ability to move the puck is almost non-existent. He claimed the title for most cleared pucks per game, averaging just under 10.

If you want to see the effects of father time, look no further.

Just about all of his stats fall, except for one. Still, Hamhuis is the best option on the left side. Matt Irwin’s offensive numbers are below average despite some of the most egregious sheltering I’ve ever seen. The coaching staff should only play him when absolutely necessary.

I don’t love the idea of Yannick Weber playing significant minutes, but I like him better than Irwin. Plus, Weber is a right handed shot and gives the Predators a balance of three lefties and three righties, a coach’s dream.

I think Weber will be a “fine” base for the third pair, but I think the Predators should get weird with it. Call up Alexandre Carrier or Frederic Allard. I don’t have any numbers for them, but giving the kids a chance rarely causes any real issues.

There’s always the argument for Steven Santini, the “roster player” the Predators got back in the Subban deal. But his numbers are quite terrible and he should only see time if a few others are injured.

If only there was another young defensemen the Predators had, maybe one that traded away?

Overview

In summation, this would be the lineup that analytics would prefer:

Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson

Mikael Granlund – Matt Duchene – Craig Smith

Rocco Grimaldi – Kyle Turris – Calle Jarnkrok

Colton Sissons – Nick Bonino – Miikka Salomaki/Austin Watson

Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm – Dante Fabbro

Dan Hamhuis – Yannick Weber

I truly believe this lineup will be the most balanced in terms of creating offense and playing in transition. Line deployment and line combination (forward with defense) is a different article for a different time,

Rumors are still flying about Turris or Bonino being traded so we’ll see how long this lineup holds up for. Ultimately, I just hope the Predators make use of the free stats that are made publically available by some brilliant individuals.

Big thanks to Corey Sznajder for the data as well as C.J. Turtoro for creating the smart and concise visuals.

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