The 2021-22 offseason for the Nashville Predators is in full swing. While the most immediate roster decision is still up in the air GM David Poile has already made it known he intends to add to the roster. The most pertinent addition(s) will be to the forward corps, where the Predators were an exceptional finishing team but were merely middle of the road at even strength in terms of puck possession and generating offensive chances. While lack of consistent chances was an issue for the entire lineup, it was particularly evident with the second line. The rotating cast of wingers including Luke Kunin, Eeli Tolvanen, Nick Cousins and Philip Tomasino simply did not have enough impact.
Given the nature of the Predators roster, contracts and cap space the team is better suited to build up for a run than to tear down however significant additions are needed to create a cup-contending offense. The necessary build will require multiple steps to take a forward corps with some good pieces and establish a unit that can compete with the elite of the NHL. So let’s work through what is needed to create the perfect Nashville Predators offseason that moves forward as a true contender.
Part 1: Re-Sign Filip Forsberg
Obviously. The Predators went all in and now need to get this done to prevent delving even further into no-man’s land. Also, replacing him would cost even more than an inflated contract. Recent reports from Frank Seravalli at Daily Faceoff would suggest the hang-up is once again around trade protections and not salary/term.
To maximize this roster, the Predators do need to re-sign Filip Forsberg. His skill set blends with both the makeup of the lineup but also with the identity that coach John Hynes has instilled.
Part 2: Clear the Roster Glut
The Predators have long prized steady play in the middle 6 over pure talent. However to rise up to the level of the Avalanche or Lightning the Predators will need to make space both in the lineup and the salary cap for greater talent. To accomplish this, there are two forwards in particular that GM David Poile will need to move on from: Nick Cousins and Luke Kunin. Cousins is a useful player in many situations but does not provide enough offense for a top 6 role. Additionally, multiple prospects have advanced enough to occupy regular depth roles which makes Cousins an expendable UFA. Kunin’s case is a little more complicated. He is an arbitration-eligible RFA coming off a difficult season. Kunin’s scoring fell off and his penalties taken were way too high which would harm his trade value. However his age, talent and the fact that the Predators paid assets to acquire him make it unlikely that David Poile would simply not qualify Kunin. While Kunin’s arbitration case would not be very strong for a raise on his 2021 salary of $2.3M, whatever award he would receive would be too high for the likely bottom 6 role he would occupy. The Predators would do well to acquire whatever value they can from Kunin and open up both the cap space and lineup space for a more proven contributor.
Part 3: Get a Big Name Scorer
Laine (24 y/o, 56 GMS, 26G, 30A, 56P, 14PPP, 167SOG, 45.8CF%, 39.9xGF%)
Nylander (26 y/o, 81 GMS, 34G, 46A, 80P, 31PPP, 256SOG, 53.6CF%, 55.8xGF%)
Boeser (25 y/o, 71 GMS, 23G, 23A, 46P, 17PPP, 195SOG, 53.2CF%, 49.4xGF%)
As stated above, the Predators’ top 6 was lacking in overall quality and it really showed how mediocre the team was in terms of generating offense. Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg more than held their own regardless of whether Ryan Johansen or Mikael Granlund was centering them. However, the second line simply could not find any consistency. To hold their own against the best in the league, the Predators need a true scoring threat on the second line. Outside of Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri the UFA landscape is short on consistent high-level scoring threats so GM David Poile will likely have to go the trade route. Looking across the potential trade landscape I picked out Laine, Nylander and Boeser as particular targets given how they could fit into the Predators’ lineup, as well as their needs matching with what Nashville has to offer (more on that later). These types of players don’t come cheap, obviously, so it would probably take a 1st round pick and a high prospect or young roster player. The first big trade of the offseason with Kevin Fiala going to the Kings makes for a solid precedent in terms of cost. In this case, I would consider using defenseman Dante Fabbro as the young piece. It is not that I believe he isn’t a good player, quite the opposite in fact, but his trade value as a young, right-handed defenseman may be greater than his value in the Predators’ lineup. In a year where so many top-level talents are seemingly available, it is the right time to make the big swing.
Part 4: Get A Low-Cost Play Driver
Neiderreiter (29 y/o, 75 GMS, 24G, 20A, 44P, 5 PPP, 144 SOG, 58.4 CF%, 58.2 xGF%)
Domi (27 y/o, 72 GMS, 11G, 28A, 39P, 4 PPP, 144 SOG, 50.0 CF%, 48.2 xGF%)
Puljujarvi (24 y/o, 65 GMS, 14G, 22A, 36P, 7 PPP, 160 SOG, 58.6 CF%, 59.8 xGF%)
As I’ve mentioned above, the Predators had significant problems generating offensive chances. While adding another top 6 talent would likely ease some of this burden there would be an interesting possibility to also add another proven play-driving winger into the forward corps. The idea is to give more lineup flexibility and depth without assuming a significant cost. Each of the three players above go about their offensive game differently but provide strong contributions in terms of possession. My caveat to this is the development of Glass, Tomasino and Tolvanen. If they reach another level then this may not be a necessary add but especially Puljujarvi could be a very interesting addition to the mix up front.
Part 5: After Trading Fabbro, Sign Josh Manson or Jan Rutta
Trading Dante Fabbro is difficult since the Predators are not exactly swimming in right-handed defensive prospects however there are ways to replace his spot in the lineup next to Roman Josi. Fabbro provided a few distinct capabilities that helped to facilitate Josi’s monster offensive season, namely excellent blue line defense and the ability to make a first pass to spring Josi’s incredible zone exit ability. If Fabbro were to be used as a trade chip, David Poile would not need to break the bank to replace him. Manson and Rutta have both proven to be valuable performers defensively who can also make the simple plays to get the puck moving and trigger transition offense.
So what does the final lineup look like?
If the Predators were to pull off each of these opportunities, the lineup for the ‘22-23 season could look very interesting. First off we start with the forwards:
That forward corps creates an interesting mix of proven scoring and an injection of youth while maintaining the identity that John Hynes wants the team to embody. Now for the defense:
The overall structure of the defensive corps remains similar. Keep in mind that prior to the slippage in team performance down the stretch, the Predators had been one of the stingiest teams in the entire NHL in terms of allowing chances. Adding Manson provides a steady performer alongside Josi while Ekholm and Carrier resume their role as the shutdown pair.
This lineup, combined with Juuse Saros in net, would certainly put the Predators in a better position to compete for the top of the central division and in the playoffs. The forward group has more play-driving and scoring talent while the defense can continue to suppress chances while allowing Roman Josi to be the all-world offensive defenseman that he is. While it is unlikely that David Poile pulls off all of these opportunities, I would certainly love to see it.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com, capfriendly.com, naturalstattrick.com, icydata.hockey, @ARHockeyStats