Defense Goes From Unquestionably Elite to a Slight Question Mark

We sit one week since the groundbreaking trade between Nashville and Columbus. The addition  of Ryan Johansen has excited everyone, and you’d be hard pressed to be disappointed in what he has already brought to the team. With 3 points in as many games, Johansen is living up to the billing of the long awaited 1C even as the team continues to struggle.

 

The trade will be best for both the short and long term success in Nashville. That’s not really debatable. However, the transaction doesn’t come without a new set of challenges going forward. A really good young defenseman left the Predators in Seth Jones. That without a doubt leaves a dent in the top blue line in the NHL.

 

Nashville hasn’t come up with a longstanding solution on the backend thus far. Bitetto was given the first shot by filling in beside Jackman. After a less than ideal first game, he played alright in his second appearance Tuesday. He can’t replace Jones, and it doesn’t help that he plays left handed on the right side of Jackman.

 

The other experiment saw Petter Granberg get a shot alongside Ekholm, and Ellis playing with Jackman to create a more balanced lineup. In addition, this lines up each player on their preferred side of defense. The reasoning behind placing Bitteto back in the lineup beside Jackman may be due to his offensive ability and mobility over Granberg, but is trying too hard to replace Jones really necessary?

 

It might not be in the best interests of the team. Nashville already possesses four elite two way defenseman, so trying to create another one seems excessive especially when they’ve been vulnerable to counter attacks because of their aggression in the offensive zone.

 

While it breaks up a really dynamic duo, placing Granberg with Ekholm and Ellis with Jackman evens out the responsibility and avoids a significant drop off in effectiveness when the third pair is rolled out on the ice. When the game reaches critical points in the third period, Ekholm and Ellis can easily reunite as Laviolette will likely want to shorten the bench.

 

Beside tinkering with the pairs in the present time, the departure of Jones creates a hole going forward. Shea Weber is on the wrong side of 30. He by no means is too old, but years at his usual elite level are numbered. The easy answer to fill that top spot alongside Josi was always Jones when he reached his peak as a hockey player. Now, it’s anyone’s guess who Weber will be surpassed by.

 

Ellis is a really good player, but a number one defenseman role is probably a stretch. Ekholm possesses the skill set, but would he be as effective on his off side being left handed beside Josi? Forcing Weber to fill those shoes into his late thirties will likely not do either party much good. There is no simple answer to this with the obvious lack of great talent in the defenseman prospect pool.

 

The Predators locked up the desired 1C position for hopefully years to come, but the questions for the present and future of the backend is a very real discussion topic that seemed unfathomable just over a week ago.

 

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