For just the second time in their franchise’s history, the Nashville Predators advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five games, which is no small accomplishment, but they wanted more.
It was fair for their fans to expect more too after they made this season a priority by trading for Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill, and Paul Gaustad. They also got Alexander Radulov back, who skipped town to play in the KHL after the 2007-08 campaign.
Still, despite all those additions, the Predators didn’t get any further than they did a year ago, so let’s begin the dissection…
Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith certainly deserves a fair amount of credit for limiting the Predators to just one goal in their final two games. However, Phoenix’s best players never rose to the occasion in this series.
It’s also worth noting that Nashville was the best team in the NHL with the man advantage during the regular season, but they only managed three power-play goals in the second round.
Who takes the blame?
Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will take the lion’s share of the blame. They were suspended for Game 3 over a team rule violation, which incidentally was the only contest Nashville actually won in this series.
Even when Radulov played in the second round, he wasn’t the star that they needed him to be. In fact, he might have actually done more harm then good. Kostitsyn got two goals in the second round, but his off-ice activities were a distraction.
What will they do about it?
The Predators have some tough decisions to make. Andrei Kostitsyn is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and do they really want to re-sign him after what happened? What about Alexander Radulov, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent?
Who knows if Radulov even wants to stay in the NHL, but it wouldn’t be shocking if neither of them are wearing Predators’ uniforms at the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
Of course, we’re sidestepping the elephant in the room because the truth is Kostitsyn and Radulov will not be the big summer stories in Nashville. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will be.
Weber is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, but the Predators will probably want to sign him to a long-term contract. The only question is if he’ll agree to be tied down to Nashville. His decision might depend largely on what happens with Suter.
If Nashville can’t re-sign him, Suter will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Their decision to go out and acquire players for a playoff push was probably largely motivated by a desire to show Suter that they’re serious about competing.
However the trades didn’t produce the desired results. They may have in fact only hurt the Predators in the long-term seeing as Kostitsyn, Gill, and Gaustad might all walk as free agents. So will Suter factor that into his decision this summer?
For that matter, is it really the beginning of the end for Nashville if Suter leaves? They have two very talented young blueliners in Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum. Maybe the Suter/Weber era is drawing to it’s close in Nashville, but all hope is not lost for the Predators.