With the 2021-2022 season in the rearview mirror, the Nashville Predators face a conundrum. The Predators experienced unforeseen highs with career seasons from Duchene, Forsberg, Josi and Jeannot plus a Vezina finalist season from goalie Juuse Saros. However, even with those individual performances, the Predators were the second wild card doomed to a fate of Thanos level inevitability at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. So how does the team improve, while understanding that all of those career performances are unlikely to happen again in the same season? Not to mention there is the continually looming cloud of the Filip Forsberg contract negotiations that do not appear any closer to a resolution. Additionally, the Predators team performance had some critical flaws that will need to be addressed. In no particular order:
- They were average to below-average generating offensive chances
- They took the most minor penalties in the entire NHL
- The second line (yes, this again) did not produce with any consistency
While there are a number of different methods that the Predators could use to regain their contender status I will focus on three that seem the most likely. Without further ado, let’s dig in!
Option 1: Run It Back
Concept – The Predators improved on an individual basis and even though repeating record setting performances isn’t realistic, the growth from the depth players will round out the roster.
Assumed Transactions – Retain John Hynes, re-sign Filip Forsberg,
Analysis – Of all the options, this would rightfully send the Predators fanbase into an absolute tirade. Even with the record-breaking seasons, the team was a fringe playoff team and depth improvement alone won’t cure the most critical issues. If this is the plan, then some very serious questions need to be asked about GM David Poile, as well as the front office staff, about their ability to properly assess the roster talent. So to put it simply, it’s an option but it’s a bad one.
Option 2: Run It Back Plus a Big Free Agent or Trade
Concept – The current roster alone isn’t enough but an overhaul isn’t necessary. Add one piece to the top-6 forward group to provide an extra boost offensively and take the pressure off the first line, defense and goaltending.
Assumed Transactions – Retain John Hynes, re-sign Filip Forsberg, TBD forward via trade/free agency
Analysis – This approach would at least be a step in the right direction. The Predators roster does have plenty of talent but one of the biggest flaws was generating offense. Adding a forward via trade or free agency (Gaudreau? Nylander? Fiala? Laine?) who can drive offense in a top 6 role could make the Predators an even more dangerous lineup. The caveat is that those players don’t come cheap, and anyone younger than Kessel will have or require term. Adding a sizable contract on top of Forsberg’s extension might put the team right back into an overload of veteran players on sizable contracts. There is also an alternate version of this where Forsberg leaves via free agency and Poile has to make multiple significant moves.
Option 3: The “Filip Forsberg walks” scenario
Concept – Forsberg decides to leave via UFA which leaves the Predators even further from contender status. This puts the team in a transition from competitive to rebuild. In this scenario, it’s time for a new look from the front office down to the locker room.
Assumed Transactions – David Poile moved to solely President of Hockey Ops, New GM brought in, John Hynes not retained, New Head coach brought in, trade as many veterans as possible for picks/prospects
Analysis – For the Predators as an organization, this is really the worst-case scenario, even if portions of the fanbase see this as the necessary option. The Predators are not actually in a very good position to rebuild as many of the veterans they would need to move to facilitate the rebuild (Johansen, Duchene) still don’t have significant value league-wide relative to their contract. It’s certainly better than the 2021 offseason where the Predators would have had to pay incremental assets to move contracts but the returns still would not be significant.
Which will actually happen?
With the Predators making the playoffs and Forsberg claiming his preference to stay in Nashville, it would seem that some version of option 2 is most likely. With a significant amount of cap space (even with a Forsberg extension) David Poile can go big game hunting for another impact forward. That would also give John Hynes a second full season (seems odd, but yes it’s true) to prove his ability to coach to a higher level of achievement.
Poile taking the “one more year” approach is certainly possible but that feels even more risky (more below) than taking a big swing. We expect we will learn something more when he addresses the media on May 19th. Unless things really go south a continuation of the wider roster turnover seems unlikely at present.
First and foremost, this Predators team cannot afford to stand pat. The record-breaking performances and trophy-worthy seasons barely got them into the playoffs and running that back are asking for a real regression below mediocrity. Stylistically, the Predators were a great counter-attacking team but that puts so much pressure on the defense and goaltending to not only hold their own end but initiate the offense going up ice. If that was stifled then they had no other way to create offense. Then the near-constant penalties ruined the game flow on many nights.
If the Predators are going to continue to move forward with this core, which pretty clearly looks to be a “good, but not good enough” group, there needs to be the addition of another impact player who can consistently generate offense outside of the counterattack. The ownership group, the roster and the fanbase need to see that the front office recognizes these issues and has a clear plan to address them. The plan for the 2021 offseason was to get younger, and the Predators achieved that plan. Now the plan must be to become better. If the plan doesn’t reflect that next step, then it might be better to have a new vision for the team and a new person at the helm of making it a reality.