Just two weeks ago we recognized that the Predators were entering a crucial stretch. Now sitting in 6th in the Central division at 10-11-0, it’s time for action from 501 Broadway. Everyone from ownership on down recognizes the reality of the Nashville Predators’ situation that this team as constructed isn’t going anywhere. Nineteen games into this admittedly different type of season and the Predators have not collected a point against the Lightning, Hurricanes or Stars while also losing twice to the rebuilding Red Wings. Its not just the losses but its a team that is constantly playing from behind and just can’t consistently raise their level of play.
The offense is 4th worst in the entire NHL in goals per game offensively and 9th worst in goals against. The veterans brought in during the offseason have looked good at times but are not impact players. One of the most expensive center tandems in the league has been largely non-existent. The rumblings of rebuild have been growing for over a year and now they’ve turned into a roaring crescendo. Something must be done and it can’t be another set of band-aids. Don’t get me wrong, I believe everyone including GM David Poile knows this. The question is will he have the stomach to pull apart what he put together and start building a new-look roster (for the sake of this article let’s assume Poile and the coaching staff stays, we’ll address that one later)? So with all that in mind let’s take a look at what happens now. Who should stay, who should go and how do the Predators build their way back to relevance and contention.
The Building Blocks
Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Filip Forsberg
Even in what looks to be a full on rebuild you have to start somewhere and the Predators roster has a few players who could kickstart a new direction. Josi and Ellis are still in their prime, form one of the best defensive pairings in the league and are under contract for years to come. Filip Forsberg in 2021 has found a new level to his game with 9 goals and 19 points in the first 21 games. He’s shown the physical dominance and next level skill game over game Predators fans have been waiting to see. At just 26 years old, Forsberg is the type of player you build around. An elite defensive pair and a goal scoring power forward would provide the right foundation to create a renewed Predators roster.
The Trade Assets
Mikael Granlund, Mattias Ekholm, Viktor Arvidsson, Nick Cousins, Erik Haula, Calle Jarnkrok, Brad Richardson, Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki
As I mentioned in the opening, it’s a different type of season. With teams allowing zero to minimal fans in the arenas, finances are tight around the league. That makes big money deals difficult unless the Predators are willing to bring salary back to unload higher paid players. For that reason I’m not including Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene as trade assets for now. As for who is included, Mattias Ekholm is the prize of this group. He’s a bona fide top pair defenseman with another full year on his contract at a bargain $3.75M. A player of his caliber should attract a high price starting at a first round pick and a plus prospect. From there, Mikael Granlund and Nick Cousins should both be able to return a quality prospect or a couple mid-range draft picks. The rest of the assets can all bring back draft capital which provides flexibility for either adding to the pipeline or mobility to move up for higher picks. Looking across the roster, even though the big contracts may be hard to move there is a lot of depth that playoff bound teams are looking for. The Predators are in a solid position to acquire a number of picks/prospects that can build the future.
The trade strategy for the Predators in 2021 should be to pursue prospects currently in NHL systems and 2022 draft picks. The 2021 draft is not expected to have a strong depth of talent. Meanwhile the 2022 draft has multiple high end prospects such as Brad Lambert, Shane Wright and Matthew Savoie. Also, trading for 2021 draft picks likely means trading with teams who will make the playoffs so those picks will be later in their respective rounds. Conversely, trading for 2022 picks now allows for the possibility that current playoff teams may take a step back next season and drive up the potential of those picks. Taking this approach will expand the talent base that is closer to NHL ready and obtain a range of draft picks for an expected strong draft class. Adding a number of picks can also be used to help entice Seattle to take on a bigger contract like Johansen or Duchene without giving up anyone currently in the system.
Forwards: Philip Tomasino, Eeli Tolvanen, Rem Pitlick, Egor Afanasyev, Luke Evangelista, Patrick Harper, Juuso Parssinen, Alexander Campbell
Defensemen: David Farrance, Jeremy Davies, Semyon Chistyakov, Spencer Stastney, Adam Wilsby, Marc Del Gaizo
Goalies: Yaroslav Askarov, Connor Ingram, Devin Cooley, Tomas Vomacka
The Predators’ prospect system has improved mightily in the last couple of seasons. Headlined by Philip Tomasino and Yaroslav Askarov, the pipeline may not be deep on elite talent but has a number of potential NHL contributors. Tolvanen is seeing his first extended time in the NHL and is showing a strong progression to his game. Defensively, David Farrance is putting up big numbers at the college level and looks like he could be an impactful offensive defenseman in the near term. If the Predators can add three or four of these players to the aforementioned building blocks then a new core starts to emerge.
The 2021 season is closing in on being lost but instead of being mediocre pessimistically, the Predators could start to lose optimistically. The clock is ticking however as a shortened schedule and mandated quarantines mean that waiting up until the trade deadline won’t work for contending teams. The Predators need to strike quickly to ensure that most teams will want to be involved and the potential for bidding wars goes up. If David Poile can make a couple of shrewd trades with the veteran depth, drafts well and gives the prospects already in-house a chance to prove themselves the downward spiral could be reversed into a brighter future.