It’s a rough time in Smashville these days. Fifteen games into the season the Nashville Predators sit at 6-9-0 after a pitiful performance losing 4-2 at home against Detroit. That record is good for 7th in the Central Division and behind two teams (Dallas and Carolina) who have each played 3 less games. The Predators have faced Tampa, Carolina and Dallas for 7 of the 14 games where their record is 0-7-0 and have been outscored 33-11. While expectations for this Predators team were of a fringe playoff team at best, the showings against the preseason favorites in the division have put a sour taste in the mouths of the fanbase. But not all is doom and gloom in Pred-land, let’s take a look at some stock up/stock down at this early point in the season.
Stock Up – Tomasino and Pitlick
After a strong showing at the World Juniors. Philip Tomasino looked the part of a prospect ready to make the leap to NHL play. With the OHL season delayed, an amended NHL-CHL agreement allowed Tomasino to start the season with the AHL Chicago Wolves (Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, opted out of the 2021 season). After three games Tomasino is tied for the AHL lead in scoring with five points and has looked every bit the explosive talent that put up 100 points in the OHL last season. For his part, Rem Pitlick has followed up a 20 goal first professional season with three goals in three games including one shorthanded. Pitlick’s top-end speed and hands have been on full display with multiple breakaways combined with solid finishes at the net. With the Predators continued struggles generating offense, it is honestly baffling that these two have not been given a shot at the NHL level.
Stock Down – Finishing
The Predators are not without forwards who can score. Forsberg, Arvidsson, Duchene and Johansen have all put up 30 goal seasons in their career. In this 2021 season, however, the Predators have lost all ability to finish their opportunities. As a team, the on-ice shooting percentage at 5v5 is just 6.59% which is 26th in the NHL. On high danger shots, it’s even worse as the Predators are middle of the road in creating chances at 18th overall but are converting at just 12.8% which is 2nd worst in the NHL. The lack of finishing ability across this Preds lineup glaring and is holding the team back from being more competitive night after night.
Stock Up – Pekka Rinne
Following a very disappointing 19-20 season where Pekka Rinne lost the starter’s net to Juuse Saros and culminated in not seeing the ice in the 4 game play-in round loss to Arizona, he came into the 2021 season as a clear 1b. With the Saros and Predators struggling, Rinne has stepped up and performed like a younger version of himself. Through his first 9 appearances, he has compiled a 2.74 goals-against average and a 0.907 save percentage at all strengths which aren’t world-beating but he’s also saving high danger chances at 0.860 which is 10th in the NHL. Also, when you drill down to 5 on 5 ice time Rinne’s numbers go up to 2.31 GAA, 0.920 SV% overall and 0.900 on high danger chances. In short, Rinne is keeping the Predators in games in ways he was not last season.
Stock Down – Lineup Roulette
One of the most commonly used sayings in the English language has to be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Predators continue to have difficulty accomplishing that idea in the forward lines. Consistently there have been games where a particular trio of forwards clicks, only to see head coach John Hynes change them up for the next game. Now, the Predators are dealing with a number of injuries but for a team that has difficulty scoring it doesn’t make sense to break up Forsberg-Duchene-Granlund or to sub out Cousins and Tolvanen for Michael McCarron and Sean Malone. The Predators need to create their best chance at success every game and the lineup roulette isn’t accomplishing that.
Stock Way Down – The Roster
Look, I’m not going to rehash every Poile move and try to explain them. As with any GM, there are hits and misses. What we have seen is that the roster constructed under Laviolette to maintain a Cup window then passed to Hynes is declining. The trades that cost assets, missed opportunities to recoup them and the list of high dollar contracts to keep the top players have created a difficult path to retooling the roster. Over the last couple of seasons, the core has gotten older and the added veterans have not made the level of impact needed to push the team forward. Additionally, the fanbase was told over the offseason that the team viewed multiple prospects as NHL ready and a youth movement was coming. What took place instead was Poile signing another round of veterans (to be fair, some were quality adds), and the only prospects to crack the roster under Hynes with any regularity have been Yakov Trenin and Eeli Tolvanen. Adding it all up, the core of the roster has declined in productivity and the team continues to resist bringing the next wave of talent forward.
The Predators are in a bad spot. The struggles offensively aren’t going away and the significant injuries to Johansen and Ekholm are certainly not helping. While it is clear that the team has not played their best hockey, the current state Predators cannot be viewed as more than a fringe playoff team. There is an opportunity to change the course of the season between now until the end of February. In that time the Predators play Detroit twice and Columbus four times surrounding two games against Dallas. This is their best chance to get back into a playoff spot as March brings more matchups with Tampa Bay and Carolina.
If this team cannot take advantage of the lesser talented teams in the Central then the truly best course of action will be a more aggressive reset. NHL insider Elliotte Friedman was on local 102.5 The Game this week and mentioned that a number of the veteran depth players on the roster would be attractive to playoff-bound teams. From the NHL roster, only a few players should be viewed as safe. At this point, I would put Forsberg, Josi, Ellis, Kunin, Tolvanen and Trenin in that group. Given the economic state of many teams which will prevent bigger trades, I would not consider this to be the year for a full teardown. However, there are still opportunities to acquire prospects and give the top players currently in the system a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick