The NHL rumours are in full force already this season. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the market for a right-handed defenseman. Per Last Word’s rumour piece on February 25th, Nashville could be involved. Here’s what could happen
NHL Rumours: Nashville and Tampa Potential Deals
The Nashville Predators are in the worst position, and potentially the best position, in hockey. They have talent that can get them into the playoffs, but they cannot put it together. So they’re placed in the middle ground. That also means that they have valuable assets and, if they play their cards correctly, can launch into a quick and effective rebuild. See the New York Rangers as a prime example. Currently, they’re leaning towards rebuilding. The Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene contracts are closer to being anchors than propellers. Juuse Saros hasn’t taken that next step quite yet to become the full-time starter. Pekka Rinne hasn’t aged like a fine wine. So, it’s time to start selling off assets.
NHL Rumours: Who’s Available in Nashville?
According to Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, the Predators have everyone but three players on the table. The untouchables are Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Pekka Rinne. Ellis and Josi are defensive stalwarts, who can lead the charge for the next few years and act as mentors for the young guys they bring in. Rinne will likely retire at the end of the season, or at the least, near future. They want him to retire as a Nashville Predator. Filip Forsberg and Dante Fabbro were directly listed as guys who they aren’t keen on dealing away, but with the right offer, are willing to listen.
Meanwhile, the Lightning are looking towards adding a right-shot defenseman. They had Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian, two key players in their Cup run, depart in free agency. Jan Rutta and Luke Schenn haven’t particularly worked out, and Schenn was even waived to the taxi squad. Cal Foote hasn’t been totally confident, and it has been shown in his lacklustre performance so far. Erik Cernak is the only reliable and stable defender on the right side.
Who would the Lightning be interested in?
The two affordable right-shot defenders in Nashville are Matt Benning and Dante Fabbro. Benning, at a $1 million cap hit, and Fabbro, on his entry-level contract. Benning could be had relatively cheap, while you would have to overpay to take Fabbro. Looking at Evolving-Hockey, Fabbro is the more defensively-responsible and effective defender, while Benning provides more offence. To take it a step further, using Evolving Hockey’s player cards, Fabbro has provided very little, even negative, value offensively since joining the Predators. Benning has been more steady but does not provide as much defensive value, over the last three seasons.
Looking at the Lightning roster, they have McDonagh and Cernak as a bonafide second pair. They have excellent chemistry and have played on a line together more often than not since Cernak joined the team. That leaves Hedman and Sergachev. Sergachev is solid both ways. He has declined slightly in his offensive game but has taken substantial strides defensively. Meanwhile, Hedman has become one of the best defensemen in the league, with his offensive game particularly standing out, though he is good both at both ends. That said, the key to the Lightning cup run was Hedman’s offensive game opening up. Without Bogosian, having been paired up with one of Luke Schenn, Jan Rutta and Foote, he has not been too comfortable committing too heavily offensively.
Why Dante Fabbro should be their target
Based on what we know, Fabbro’s strong defensive zone presence would be a perfect fit alongside someone who is strong defensively, while looking to improve and open up their offensive games. That describes both Sergachev and Hedman. That said, Fabbro should be at the top of their list of right-shot defenders to target.
Now, what about Fabbro’s impact? His three most common defence partners are Ekholm, Josi and Tinordi. Josi and Tinordi see a drop in their high-danger scoring chances for percentage when they aren’t paired with Fabbro. That sort of impact would be loved in Tampa Bay, especially for Hedman. What would it take?
The Cost of Fabbro
Nashville has been clear, they value Fabbro. That said, the Lightning will have to overpay. He’s on his way to having a career-year offensively, with six points in 18 games so far. His best season on offence was last year, with 11 in 64 games. If he played 64 games this season and stayed on his current 0.33 point per game pace, he’d score 21 points.
Negotiations would have to start with a first-round pick, and lucky for the Lightning, they still have their 2021 first. They also need to shed salary, and for Nashville, they would probably want to take a right-shot defender back as a plug-and-play option to fill in for Fabbro. Jan Rutta, at $1.3 million, fits that mould. The Lightning have a surplus of NHL forwards on their roster, with Volkov finding some consistency at this time, Alex Barre-Boulet and Ross Colton had successful NHL debuts, and Gemel Smith has filled in admirably. Throwing in Volkov could provide some value. Volkov has been okay in Tampa, but his game isn’t really built for a bottom-six role.
In total, that’s Alex Volkov, Jan Rutta and a 2021 1st round pick for Dante Fabbro. Would that get it done? Probably not, but this is an option on the board for the Lightning, and if last year’s trade deadline was any indication, Julien BriseBois is not afraid to be aggressive. So, that idea would likely be a good initial offer. But, if Nashville stays true to their statements so far, they’ll demand more from the Lightning than that. Only time will tell.