NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators are pretty confident considering their season came to its earliest end since missing the 2014 postseason when Barry Trotz was allowed to leave.
The Predators insist they liked how they played despite losing their best-of-five qualifying series to Arizona in four games. They have been on a downward spiral: losing the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, slipping to a second-round loss in 2018, a first-round loss in 2019 and now unable to reach the first round after the NHL’s pandemic restart.
Foward Filip Forsberg said they earned their first-round exit a year ago but played well enough to win against Arizona.
”We’ve got to find the way to win these close games …,” Forsberg said. ”Everybody came ready to play for this short season, whatever comeback, and we got to find a way to win. But we definitely did enough good things for it to fall our side.”
The Predators have some contract and roster decisions to make before the next season starts. Their early loss also gave them a 12.5% chance at the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, a pick this franchise has never had. The chance at Alexis Lafreniere would make some moves easier.
”I love our core, love my teammates,” captain Roman Josi said. ”There’s a lot of belief in our room.”
At least Nashville won’t be dealing with another coaching change with John Hynes hired in January.
DAVID POILE IN CHARGE
The only general manager this franchise has ever known faces his biggest challenge after building this team from its expansion start to Western Conference champ in 2017. The NHL’s winningest GM has several players signed to long-term contracts.
The last was Josi, who’s under contract through June 2028. Goalie Pekka Rinne, who lost his net in March and never got it back, is under contract for another season at $5 million. Combined with what’s expected to be a very short offseason, Poile will be limited in the moves he can make.
Juuse Saros appears to be the Predators’ goalie moving forward after starting every game against Arizona. He will be a restricted free agent after next season. Nashville also must decide if Rinne, who turns 38 in November, should continue as the backup another season.
BIG MONEY, BIGGER EXPECTATIONS
Poile gave Matt Duchene a seven-year deal worth $56 million last July, finally landing a center the Predators had been linked to for a couple years. But Duchene followed a disappointing season with an underwhelming performance in the qualifying series. He had one goal and an assist with a minus-4 rating. He also was caught offside erasing a go-ahead goal by Kyle Turris in the Game 3 loss.
Duchene has company. Turris, who also hit a post in Game 3, also was a minus-4 with no points. He’s under contract through 2023-24 at $6 million a year. Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund, who combined for one assist, will be free agents.
The Predators fixed at least one area. Shut out on the man advantage in their first-round playoff loss to Dallas a year ago, they ranked fourth through the qualifying and round-robin rounds scoring an average of 28.6% on the power play.
But they gave up 3.5 goals a game to Arizona after being 20th during the regular season allowing 3.1 goals a game. That’s a high number for a franchise originally built on defense from the net out.
The Predators all agreed they are much closer to playing how Hynes wants. He took over Jan. 7 after Poile fired Peter Laviolette, and the NHL’s restart gave Hynes the training camp he missed as a midseason replacement. He reunited the JOFA line, and Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson came through with 13 points in the series loss to Arizona.
Defenseman Ryan Ellis believes the Predators are mentally tougher under Hynes than they used to be.
”We were our own worst enemy at times,” Ellis said. ”If it was the old team, and a lot of the situations we were put in, we wouldn’t have played as hard as we do.”