Nashville Predators head coach John Hynes made a few questionable lineup decisions during the team’s Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and sitting a presumed healthy Dante Fabbro was one of them.
Fabbro, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, played primarily on Nashville’s second pairing with Mattias Ekholm for most of the season, tallying two goals, 12 points, a minus-1 rating and 59 shots in 40 games while averaging 19:18 of ice time.
So, to see Fabbro benched in the team’s biggest games of the season in favor of a combination of Matt Benning and journeymen Ben Harpur and Erik Gudbranson was quite puzzling.
“You come down the stretch and he gets hurt, and then it comes into the playoff series,” Hynes said. “Sometimes, a little bit of adversity when you go through as a young player, it’s important to learn. Sometimes, it’s important to learn how hard the NHL is. There’s always players coming and there’s always situations that you’ve got to be able to play at a high level consistently. He’s a really good player and he’s dealt with this experience the right way.”
While Hynes really may just be teaching the 22-year-old a lesson in humility, the emergence of Alex Carrier presumably made the decision to sit Fabbro during the postseason a little easier.
Carrier, who had been biding his time with the Milwaukee Admirals since 2016, helped stabilize Nashville’s defense during the regular season following injuries to Mark Borowiecki, Luca Sbisa, Ryan Ellis and Ekholm.
The 24-year-old had one goal, five points, a plus-4 rating and 47 shots in 25 games this year (including six in the playoffs). He was one of just four players and one of only two defenseman — the other being Ekholm — to have a positive plus/minus rating in the playoffs (plus-1).
Carrier averaged 22:37 of ice time and found himself on Nashville’s top pairing next to Roman Josi against Carolina, a role he and Josi are likely to occupy next year as well.
It would also stand to reason that, if Carrier takes Ellis’ old spot on the top pairing, Ellis would slide down and play next to Ekholm. The duo have experience playing as a pairing from a few seasons ago, and after faring pretty well in the Carolina series, they could reunite as Nashville’s second pairing.
So where does that leave Fabbro in the scheme of things?
“Dante is a real important part of the organization moving forward,” Hynes said. “We shouldn’t forget he’s a young guy. He came out of college and played, and I think he did some good things… I thought there were parts of this year where he was doing really well.
“We need Dante to come back and be a big-time player for us in the fall.”
The Predators have a few avenues they can take with Fabbro. He could be used as trade bait for a team — presumably the expansion Seattle Kraken — to also take off Nashville's books either Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene, who both have $8 million-per-year salaries. Having David Farrance and Jeremy Davies in house to take Fabbro’s roster spot would make that pill a little easier to swallow.
But if we are to take what Hynes said at face value, Fabbro very much is in Nashville’s long-term plans. The more likely option for him would be a move to the third pairing. By taking a little more off his plate and easing the pressure of trying to shut down the opposition’s top lines on a nightly basis, the Predators could put Fabbro in a better situation to succeed long-term.
Fabbro did have his fair share of bone-headed plays this season and he made some mistakes that raised a few questions of whether or not he was actually developing or hitting a plateau. However, if Predators fans want a little optimism, than look no further than Fabbro’s numbers compared to Seth Jones’ through their first 108 NHL games:
- Fabbro: 8 goals, 24 points, -9 rating, 156 shots, 17:05 average ice time
- Jones: 6 goals, 30 points, -19 rating, 125 shots, 17:25 average ice time
I am by no means saying Fabbro is the caliber player that Jones is. Nor am I saying that Fabbro is the next Seth Jones. What I am saying is if it takes Fabbro — who is still just 22 — a little more time to develop, that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_