Back in mid-February we took a look at the stock report and wow was it was difficult coming up with parts of the organization where the stock was going up. Since then, what a relatively short but no less strange trip it’s been. Once relegated to the land of the rebuilders, the Nashville Predators took it upon themselves to change their fortunes and make something of the 2021 season. Now with just a few games remaining in the shortened regular season, the boys in gold find themselves in the final Central Division playoff spot and in control of their own destiny. Regardless of how the final games and playoff positioning (or lack thereof) shakes out, 2021 has been one of the most fascinating seasons in the history of the Nashville Predators. With the roller coaster of a regular season mostly in the rearview, let’s take a look at some stock up/stock down.
Stock Up – Juuse Saros
A Predators stock report right simply would not be complete without tipping a cap to Juuse Saros. This run to the playoffs does not happen without him, hard stop. Since the March 6th loss to the Florida Panthers (what I consider to be the start of the run), Saros has allowed just 26 5v5 goals in 21 games and posted a 0.956 SV%. Among regular starting goalies, those are both best in the league. In all situations, Saros has saved a staggering 23.50 goals above average which is also best in the league. That number is more than double second place Semyon Varlamov who has saved just over 11. During this span, Saros has repeatedly given a Predators team scoring under 3 goals per game on average a chance to win. In short, Saros has been one of the top 3 goalies in the league for the past two month and the Predators owe much of their recent success to him.
Stock Up – Coaching Staff
The Predators coaching staff certainly did not endear themselves to the fanbase at the start of the season. The mostly veteran roster showed little chemistry and the in-game strategies simply didn’t work. The power play was lifeless and the penalty kill was historically inept. But as the injuries mounted and more of the young talent entered the lineup, the coaching staff preached a simpler game. Suddenly the team came to life and started showing an uptempo, pressuring style not seen since 2017. The forwards started attacking the net front with purpose and the defense increased pressure at the blue line denying entries and forcing turnovers.
The staff identified and paired complementary players who found success working together. There has been no better example of the 4th line (or Herd Line) made up of Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin and Mathieu Olivier/Tanner Jeannot. The blend of hustle, physicality, and responsibility has been harmonious and led to that group seeing the start most games to set the tone for the team. With the special teams, the staff must be given credit for shifting the power play units to put Forsberg and Tolvanen on either wing and also for reworking the penalty kill strategy to be more structured but maintaining pressure on the puck. Overall, a coaching staff that looked like it might not survive to next season has solidified itself as potentially a long term fit.
Stock Down – David Poile’s Deadline Strategies
With the Predators ascending leading up to the trade deadline, many agreed that a full tear down was not the approach to pursue or the message to send to a team that had righted itself. That being said, there are no illusions that this team is set up to make a deep playoff run. With a roster containing multiple veterans with tradeable value, there appeared to be an opportunity to make a few tactical moves that would add future assets without giving up the possibility of making the playoffs. GM David Poile did none of that and instead chose to add veteran defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The acquisition cost was non-consequential but the idea that this team should add to the roster boggles the mind.
In his deadline day remarks, David Poile effectively stated that he had determined well before the deadline that he would not sell any roster pieces and actually considered himself a buyer. It is strange that there is such a disconnect between what the hockey media landscape and fans can see and what the Predators front office appears to believe. While a run to the playoffs is certainly exciting, it will be followed by an offseason of concern among the fanbase that David Poile will once again choose to “run it back” instead of putting the future in motion.
Stock Up – Matt Duchene
(Editor’s note: This was written right before Duchene’s limited TOI in their loss to Columbus) Nashville was supposed to be the place where Matt Duchene could settle in, fit in and just go produce. However, for the last season and a half, he has been the poster child for David Poile’s all-in mentality. A high cost paid for a name player who doesn’t produce up to the level of expectations. This season did not start much better. While Duchene was certainly creating opportunities offensively, the production again wasn’t there. Leading up to his injury he hadn’t registered a point in eight straight games. Those injuries may have proven to be a blessing in disguise as Duchene has had new life since rejoining the lineup. Three points in eight games won’t set any records but the eye test shows a player who is really skating and using his skill to make plays. In the crucial May 1st game vs Dallas, Duchene made multiple beautiful plays to set up scoring opportunities that just weren’t cashed in (looking at you Gudbranson). The improvement is there, now the question comes if Duchene can get back to producing points on the scoresheet at a high level and not just a lot of almost plays.
Down the Stretch They Come
With just a few games left in the regular season the Nashville Predators are closing on locking up the fourth seed in the Central Division. The roster is almost back to full strength with Forsberg, Carrier and Richardson already back and Fabbro close behind. The team has an identity and is regularly performing to that identity. The challenge for John Hynes and the coaching staff will be maintaining the momentum of the lineup while integrating the players that are getting healthy. The Predators are still most likely to be first round and out, especially if that first round opponent is Carolina, but there are many positives to be taken from this season. The youth in the system has proven they are ready to make the leap and Juuse Saros has proven his ability to win games as a full time starter. What remains to be seen is if this season will help create the future or be a precursor to more of the same.
Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick