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|Preds have enough reasons to bring back Volchenkov for defensive help
28 мая 2015 года. Kristpher Martel. FOX Sport Tennesse.
Nashville's defensive core during the 2014-15 campaign was one of the NHL's best. Even with the Stanley Cup yet to be awarded, the Predators still boast one of the strongest sets of defensemen -- a group that, for the most part, is locked up through at least next season.
Of the seven main defenders to play for Nashville this year, Anton Volchenkov finds himself as one of two unrestricted free agent defensemen, most likely the only one with a chance of re-signing with Nashville.
Yet, would handing out a new contract to Volchenkov be the answer to the gap in Nashville's third defensive pairing? Should the Predators just trust in Victor Bartley or could there be an option on the free agent market?
Ultimately, Nashville might be better off re-signing Volchenkov and letting the 2015-16 season unfold with the pieces they have available.
Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis each have multiple years remaining on their contracts. Bartley, Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm each have contracts ending at the end of next season.
With Volchenkov in the mix, Nashville posted a 2.46 goals-against per game -- ninth-best among all teams in the regular season.
That number could have been dramatically lower. The Predators ended their year on a nasty slump that saw losses in 15 of their final 21 games, not including four of six games against Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. Also, Jones -- who had himself an up-and-down season before breaking out during the playoffs -- split time throughout the year paired with both Volchenkov and Bartley.
How Jones performed with both defensemen easily becomes one of the main arguments for why re-signing Volchenkov should be an easy decision for Nashville.
The upcoming free agent market for defensemen should be addressed as well.
Outside of blue-chip blueliners Mike Green and Paul Martin, each of whom will hit the market come July 1, there aren't very many defensemen that Nashville could viably target to pair up with Jones for next season. At least, not for the money that Volchenkov would foreseeably earn from the Predators.
Not only that, but there are even fewer that offer what Volchenkov can who are under the age of 35.
Chicago's Johnny Oduya comes to mind as a player hitting free agency that could fit with Nashville, but the question then becomes if the Predators are willing to spend upwards -- or more than -- $4 million per season for his services? In a player like Volchenkov, there would be a near-guarantee of spending nowhere close to what some free agent defensemen will be searching for on the market.
Most importantly, would the Predators be better off seeking outside help or leaving Jones to pair up with Bartley next season?
This past season, Jones and Volchenkov played just shy of 360 minutes together (per hockeyanalysis.com). The sophomore defenseman played a little more than 300 minutes with Bartley.
With Volchenkov, Jones found stability. The pair combined for three more shots on average towards the net while allowing three fewer than when playing alongside Bartley as the final defensive combo. Visualizing that, Nashville averaged 57.88 Corsi For events and allowed only 48.70 with the Jones-Volchenkov pairing compared to 54.98 Corsi For events and 51.03 Corsi Against events for Jones-Bartley.
Impressively, the Jones-Volchenkov pairing allowed nearly a goal less per 60 minutes (1.67) than the Jones-Bartley pairing did.
This isn't to point out any inability of Bartley to hold his own amongst Nashville's active defensemen, but more that the chemistry between Volchenkov and Jones along with their on-ice play should easily provide the Predators with enough fuel to work out a new deal with the Moscow native.
Nashville has some options available in Milwaukee if they don't trust Bartley enough to play him for a full season either alongside Jones or paired with another defenseman.
Are any of them truly ready? Are players like Johan Alm, Jonathan-Ismael Diaby and Garrett Noonan ready to make the jump to the big show?
Highly doubtful, however the Predators could foreseeably keep an eye on a player like Anthony Bitetto -- who played seven games for Nashville this year and is an upcoming restricted free agent.
Volchenkov is an affordable option that Nashville can keep around for another season or two. Not just to give Jones a stable defenseman to play alongside, but to give the Predators a chance to grow more of their remarkable homegrown defensive talent.