The Nashville Predators were swept for the first time in franchise history as the Colorado Avalanche dominated in the Stanley Cup playoffs’ first round. Maybe it’s time for the organization to move in a new direction, but not just because they were defeated by one of the top teams in the NHL. How did the club get to the point of accepting mediocracy and what’s next for the future of Filip Forsberg?
The Competitive Rebuild
You might remember the words “competitive rebuild” being used to describe future roster changes following the 2020-2021 season. They saw a few changes with the roster as Pekka Rinne, Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson, Erik Haula, Calle Jarnkrok and others either moved on or were moved. From the outside, it looked like the team was moving toward adding youth to their veteran core group.
With this in mind, not many expected the 2021-2022 roster to be competitive in the playoffs. The Predators ended the regular season with 45W-30L-7OTL and 97pts. They almost did not punch their ticket into the post-season, but a point in their overtime loss against the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars win over the Vegas Golden Knights meant they had clinched.
Several players had career, record-breaking years. This team had two 40+ goal scorers in Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, a Vezina Trophy finalist in Juuse Saros, a James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist in Roman Josi, and ranked as high as the leader of NHL rookies with goals scored and as high as second-most in points.
Out of their last 20 games in the regular season, they lost 11 of those games. They allowed 4+ goals against in 12 of their last 20 games. The team only won six games in the last 10 of their regular season schedule. Five of the last 10 went into extra hockey, but they also suffered a shutout, 8-3, and 6-2 losses while looking to clinch a ticket into the playoffs. Having momentum going into the playoffs is necessary, especially when you don’t have a roster that is built to be a contender.
On April 26, 2022, Saros left the game early with less than four minutes of the final frame. He was later ruled out with a lower-body injury (ankle) and could be out for four to six weeks, according to reports. Saros started in most of the games for the season, which made it even more devastating that he would miss the playoffs that he helped the team earn.
The Predators went into the playoffs with David Rittich and Connor Ingram as their goaltending tandem.
Roman Franchise Record-Breaker Josi
According to Preds PR on Twitter, Josi became the eighth defenseman in NHL history to record at least 93 points in a season since 1992-93 and the eighth defenseman in NHL history to have at least 71 assists in a season, dating back to 1993-94. The captain has broken several franchise records just this season, such as the longest point streak by a defenseman with 13 games, assists in a career, assists in a season, and goals scored in a season. Ryan Johansen called him, “Roman Franchise Record-Breaker Josi”, earlier in the season. He’s just one example of individual success within the roster.
Forsberg and the Future
Forsberg has officially reached the end of his contract as Nashville’s season came to an end on Monday night. He enters as an unrestricted free agent (UFA), essentially meaning he could walk away from the organization with no return. It would be a massive hit to the club if he walked, which is why fans expected him to be either re-signed or traded before the trade deadline day.
After Forsberg took a seemingly extra bit of time to wave to fans following their season-ending loss on Monday night, many felt they had watched the last moments of his Predators career.
A few things about his scenario were made clear following media availability held on Tuesday, May 10th. The “business” side of things came up in conversations with Forsberg, Josi, and Mattias Ekholm. Duchene did offer some reassurance when he said, “I try to weigh in my opinion, or my experience I should say, of when I was a free agent… He’s thinking about re-signing with the current team he’s on.”
Forsberg said that progress was made up until the trade deadline and he’s sure talks will start progressing soon. When I asked about his proudest moment as a Predator so far, he said, “Hopefully the best is yet to come.” Forsberg’s teammates were quick to support him and expressed hope his future lies in Nashville.
While there’s still uncertainty about where his future will be, I believe it comes down to if he will decide he wants to win a Stanley Cup in the next two years or be a leader for a team that looks to be a contender in five years or so. If he believes the organization will look to not settle for mediocracy going forward. The Predators have cap space to re-sign, but the market is strong for offensive talent that has proven to produce throughout the years. It doesn’t hurt his case that he’s coming off a career year, either.
The Big Picture
It is okay to be upset or frustrated with this organization. The 2016-2017 Stanley Cup run was not supposed to happen, but they made it to the Final when the franchise has never moved beyond the second round. In 2017-2018, the team was awarded the Presidents’ Trophy but exited in the second round after losing in game seven to the Winnipeg Jets. The team hasn’t moved beyond the first round since. In a year with great individual success, they were swept for the first time in franchise history.
It’s safe to say that the window to earn a Stanley Cup has been closed. It’s frustrating to be in the position of losing Forsberg with zero return, but his decision will be vital to the future of the Predators. If he chooses to sign elsewhere, I believe Nashville will be forced to commit to rebuilding. However, if they can agree to a deal, I think ownership still must show him they’re going to be strategic in making offseason additions to the roster that will enhance the core group before he re-signs.
The Forsberg decision needs to be the priority, in my opinion. By not setting or parting before the trade deadline, they’ve put themselves in a position where their fate is in his hands.
The Forsberg deal and offseason moves will tell a lot about if this organization truly wants to be a competitor in the NHL come playoff time. Head Coach John Hynes’ contract has also come to an end, so the franchise may see a fourth head coach take over. General Manager David Poile likely isn’t going anywhere.
Time will tell if the Nashville Predators will continue to have average performances or if they can build.