The Nashville Predators have experienced a humbling start to 2022. After starting the year 5-0-0, defeating the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, and Colorado Avalanche, they appeared to be in great form and up to the task of a difficult month ahead. Unfortunately for John Hynes and his club, a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 13 would offset a string of losses, kicking off a run of 0-3-1, including a devastating loss to divisional rival St. Louis Blues.
Head coach John Hynes and the team remain optimistic despite the few losses, and convincing back-to-back victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings may have fanned the flames for now, but management may want to explore the trade market for some future help. If the belief in the room is that this team has a realistic chance at doing damage in the playoffs, they could stand to use reinforcements.
The Predators have a few areas to explore within their lineup, particularly at the forward position regarding depth in scorers and finishers. As recent history dictates, a potent offense can spell disaster for any team that can ice a solid defensive core and quality goaltending. In Nashville’s history, only nine times has a player scored 30 goals or more, with Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg doing so twice. With the trade deadline looming, one player jumps to mind that could be an immediate improvement, and his name is Tyler Toffoli.
Tyler Toffoli’s NHL Experience
Toffoli has seen success at almost every level he’s played. An OHL Cup Champion, AHL All-Star and rookie of the year, World Championship gold medalist, and a Stanley Cup to his name, all before he turns 30 in April. He’s a right-handed shot with a natural scoring touch and is signed to a league-friendly deal of $4.25-million for the next two seasons after this one. While he has only reached the 30-goal mark once, with the Kings during the 2015-16 season, he hit 28 goals in 52 games last season, putting him on pace for his best season statistically.
Toffoli’s 2021-22 season started well, leading the Canadiens in points with 17 (5 goals, 12 assists) in 26 games before suffering a hand injury in a game against the Predators. It would force Toffoli to the sidelines, requiring hand surgery, missing 11 games before returning to the lineup, and putting up three points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his first three games back. The Canadiens, who sit at the bottom of the NHL standings, have gone 1-0-2 since his return.
Toffoli is a proven producer since entering the league as a 20-year-old. In his last nine seasons, not including the current one or his 10-game rookie season, Toffoli has been on pace for or has scored, 20 goals or more. Among right-wingers in the league throughout the last three seasons, Toffoli sits fourth for goals (59) and seventh for shots (435). For goals, he is behind the likes of William Nylander, David Pastrnak, and Mikko Rantanen. For reference, the first Nashville right-winger to appear on NHL’s list for goals in this period is Rocco Grimaldi (20) in the 62nd spot.
It’s no wonder why the Vancouver Canucks wanted to hold on to his services when he became an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season concluded. Toffoli is a known goal-scorer and is capable of generating offense, while his overall puck possession numbers are among the best of them.
Fitting Toffoli in Nashville
The Predators’ current right-wing position is filled by Matt Duchene, Luke Kunin, Tanner Jeannot, and Philip Tomasino. A relatively young pack, Duchene being the oldest at 31 and Tomasino the youngest at 20, could benefit from a more-experienced winger who has been tested through a rigorous playoff run and has the ring to show for it. Inserting him into the lineup may seem like a difficult task, especially considering the third line of Jeannot, Yakov Trenin and Colton Sissons would go untouched, but adjustments can be made in the top-six. Here, Toffoli would flourish while playing with some of the Predators’ top talent.
Heading into last night’s contest against the Red Wings, the Predators’ forward lines looked like this.
Nick Cousins replaced Eeli Tolvanen on the Ryan Johansen line due to Tolvanen entering COVID protocol, while Cole Smith took his spot in the lineup. Cousins is suitable in short stints but wouldn’t be viable as a top-six forward long term. If Toffoli were to join the team, it could look like this:
Forsberg – Granlund – Duchene
Kunin – Johansen – Toffoli
Trenin – Sissons – Jeannot
Cousins – McCarron – Tomasino
The suggested lines have Luke Kunin moving over to the left wing to allow Toffoli to play his natural position, thus creating a competitive second line that can create offense and finish. Cousins moves back down to the fourth line and the first and third lines remain unchanged. Toffoli could also bump Tomasino off the second power-play wave, giving the Predators two units of threatening offensive potential. It’s worth noting that of Toffoli’s 35 goals scored over the last two seasons, 10 have come on the man advantage.
Once Tolvanen comes off COVID protocol, the Predators will have the luxury of having some depth at the forward position and can dress any style of lineup to compete. The unfortunate side of this conversation is what it could cost Nashville to land a player of Toffoli’s echelon. Given the fact that he has two more years remaining on his current contract after this year, the return may need to be significant to obtain his services.
The Cost of Landing Toffoli
In terms of cost, newly-appointed general manager Kent Hughes will want to leave a lasting impression on one of his first moves in his new role. He’ll also look for ways to improve his team while shedding some salary cap to allow for offseason restructuring. Forwards Nick Suzuki, Brendan Gallagher, and Josh Anderson are all signed long-term, while Christian Dvorak, Joel Armia, and Jake Evans have three more years left after this one. Jonathan Drouin has another season after this one and Mike Hoffman has two, painting a wonderful canvas of forwards who can play in the Canadiens top-nine.
Given how underwhelming their season has been so far, a shake-up could help while clearing cap space allows Hughes to maneuver some moves in the offseason. Taking into account a player’s pedigree, perhaps the return Toffoli would receive is something Canadiens management would have to consider.
The likely scenario is it starts with a 1st-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Nashville will likely select in the mid-20s, which may be worth considering if it gets you a player like Toffoli for this year and two more years after. The package would also have to include either a roster player or a prospect, making this a bit more difficult to proceed. As it stands, the Predators’ prospect pool isn’t as deep as they’d like it to be, and parting ways with one of their better prospects at this time wouldn’t be efficient.
Some of the newly-drafted prospects like Fydor Svechkov, Zachary L’Heureux, Yaroslav Askarov, and Luke Evangelista should be conversation killers, as the Predators are best off keeping them and developing them at their own pace. They’ll be important players for the future. Names like Thomas Novak and Mathieu Olivier could be worth bringing into the conversation. In terms of roster players, Tolvanen is someone the Canadiens could like as he is 22 and on a multi-year, affordable contract. This move fills a spot on the left-wing and gives them some cap space.
It’s a price-enriched move that perhaps Poile won’t be interested in, but it’s worth exploring when the team wants to add some scoring depth on the wing. If they can acquire Toffoli, especially at a slightly-retained salary, it may be worth moving some pieces that the Predators have an abundance of if they want to continue making a push for the Stanley Cup. For Hughes and the Canadiens, is this package enough for them to pull the trigger? The decision to keep or move Toffoli this year will be made either way, with the trade deadline rapidly approaching.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)