Nashville Predators GM David Poile promised changes were coming both after the qualifying round loss and in his pre-offseason presser. He touted a return to the “Predator Way” by being harder to play against and that all roster change options were on the table. Now that we’re past the NHL draft and the frenziest part of free agency, we see how Poile meant what he said. While as of this writing in mid-November there are still some quality players available, outside of Taylor Hall there really isn’t a player who commands top dollar in a season where the cap is staying flat. In reality, David Poile returned to what he does best in free agency which is finding contributing players on value contracts.
Recapping the offseason moves:
Outgoing – Craig Smith, Mikael Granlund, Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson, Colin Blackwell, Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, Korbinian Holzer
Incoming – Luke Kunin, Nick Cousins, Brad Richardson, Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki
Looking at the draft, the prize for the Predators is goalie Yaroslav Askarov, drafted with the 11th overall pick. While the pick drew some ire from many in the fanbase, at just 18 years of age, Askarov is already starting regularly in the KHL and drawing comparisons to some of the top goalies in the world. Askarov may not see North American ice for another 2-3 years, but his potential to be a franchise goaltender is a tantalizing prospect. In the second round, the Predators selected London Knights (OHL) winger Luke Evangelista, who took a significant leap forward in the 19-20 campaign and has some real offensive potential. The remaining picks, including two more Lukes, are a mix of steady overage players and some intriguing potential from the late rounds.
Offseason Stock Report
Stock Up – The 3rd Defensive Pair
Over the last couple seasons, the Predators have struggled mightily to find a 3rd defensive pairing that could at minimum hold their own enough to provide a break for the top-4. GM David Poile made the right choice to move on from Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber and Korbinian Holzer then capitalized in free agency by bringing in Matt Benning and Mark Borowiecki. The pairing should provide stability and toughness missed in previous seasons.
Stock Down – The 2nd Forward Line
Long lives the bane of the Predators forward group! Repeated attempts by Poile via trade and free agency to build a suitable second line fell flat and now two thirds of the line will be a significant question mark outside of center Matt Duchene. Assuming coach John Hynes starts the season with the JOFA line staying together, the second line will have Duchene, an unproven Eeli Tolvanen and one of any number of middle-6 forwards on the roster. Given the issues scoring in the qualifying round, the Predators cannot afford to have a second line that doesn’t produce on a consistent basis.
Stock Up – Cap Space
With all the offseason movement, David Poile cleared $17M+ in cap space while only bringing in $5.5M. Barring another signing before the season begins, the Predators currently sit with the 3rd most cap space in the league at just under $13M (this will go down some when younger players like Trenin and Tolvanen are added to the active roster). What that does provide is significant leverage in trade discussions with a team like Tampa Bay who needs to clear cap in order to retain their young talent. While Poile hasn’t directly added to the 2nd forward line in the offseason, he does now have flexibility to make any type of addition should the opportunity arise. (Editor’s note: As of the publishing of this article, RFA Luke Kunin still remains unsigned.)
Stock Down – Fan Expectations
For three consecutive seasons, the Predators have experienced a lesser finish than the season before. That is an alarming trend on its face, but could have even deeper impacts for a fanbase that hit a fever pitch from the summer of 2017 through 2018. Now the roster is less proven and the front office will need to sell the fanbase on a combination of the “Predator Way” and the potential of the incoming young players. Another season of regression combined with the collective impacts of COVID could do some real damage to the Predators’ brand.
Stock Up – Goalie Pipeline
As the legendary career of Pekka Rinne winds down, there is rightful optimism for the next wave of Predators netminders. Juuse Saros had a strong stretch run and looks poised to take on the majority of starts in the 2021 season. In the AHL, the Milwaukee Admirals have two former all stars in Connor Ingram and Kasimir Kaskisuo. The ECHL Florida Everblades will likely use college signing Devin Cooley as its primary goaltender. Finally, Yaroslav Askarov is a starter in the KHL at 18 years old and also just dominated the Karjala Cup for Team Russia. The next 10-15 years look very bright for a Predators team that will likely experience more turnover across the roster in the next 2-5 years.
On some level, the offseason leading into the 2021 season feels a bit incomplete. With as much cap space as the Predators have, and at least one glaring hole on the 2nd forward line, it seems like there is at least one more deal to be made. The further the calendar goes without signing a free agent like Mike Hoffman, the less likely that seems to be the route David Poile will go. It would seem to be that one of teams facing cap issues (per CapFriendly 9 teams are currently over the $81.5M cap and that doesn’t even include Tampa or the Isles) will be the target for any additional roster upgrades. Looking ahead, there are some reasons for optimism in terms of goaltending, defense corps and a top of the forward corps that should bounce back to some degree. Challenges exist in terms of overall forward scoring production and young talent rising to meet expectations. The offseason certainly saw David Poile remake the roster, but how that will reflect on the ice is a significant question mark.
Salary cap figures courtesy of CapFriendly