Roundtable: Fixing the Predators; most exciting NHL players

Fix the Predators. Go!

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: To start, you have to move on from David Poile. He’s the only general manager the franchise has ever known, but a fresh set of eyes is needed. Poile long did wonders with the Predators on a limited budget. But as they’ve loosened the purse strings, the money spent has ended up hampering progress.

Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Matt Duchene are the three current cap hits that are restricting the Predators from building smartly for the future. Turris’ six-year, $36M deal signed in 2017 was bought out in October and $2M will remain on their cap through 2023-24. Johansen (2024-25) and Duchene (2025-26) likely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

It’s so bad that one of your better defensemen, Mattias Ekholm, is reportedly on the trade block because he has one year left on an attractive contract.

So if you’re Poile, or a new GM, what do you do? You hope the likes of Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro, Philip Tomasino, and Luke Evangelista, among others, develop into core piece over the next few seasons. The prospect pool needs to be restocked, which might be helped with an Ekholm, or even a Filip Forsberg deal. The future could be brighter, but for now it’s going to be painful.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: If there’s one overarching rule, it should be “nothing is sacred.”

During a recent intermission bit, Elliotte Friedman noted that the Predators were willing to trade all but three players: Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Pekka Rinne. I totally get that Rinne’s meant a ton to that organization, but if he’s really off limits, that, to me, speaks of an organization that’s simply not spry enough. The thing is, I feel like you could sell Rinne on a Ray Bourque-type trade: get him to a contender, give your fans a surrogate team to root for, and get a future asset for your trouble.

That sort of thing should be elementary, but the “nothing is sacred” motto applies to what’s probably most important. David Poile’s accomplished a lot during his staggeringly long run in two GM jobs, but this Predators team needs a renovation, and he’s not the person to do it.

Really, anyone too married to old decisions has to go. If there’s any hesitation to get out of difficult contracts like that of Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, and so on, then that’s unacceptable.

The overarching plan should be to yank that Band-Aid off hard and fast, rather than going the “managed decay” route. If you don’t want to blow it all up, then you at least need to get fresh faces.

Take a look at all of the coaches on “the free agent market,” especially with Claude Julien added to the mix, and tell me you wouldn’t prefer most or all of the prominent ones to John Hynes. Why not go after a Julien, a Gerard Gallant, a Bruce Boudreau, and so on?

Whether it’s a rebuild, a less dramatic retool (maybe just take it on the chin during this low-attendance season, then swing one more time?), or a desperate gasp at being competitive in 2020-21, the Predators need to do something. They’re beyond stale. Honestly, it’s hard not to feel bummed out by their total lack of positive energy. Bad vibes, y’all.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: For the better part of a year now I have been telling myself “The Predators are better than this. There are signs this can turn around.” Last year it was the fact they were such a good 5-on-5 team and getting crushed by bad special teams and goaltending. This year it is the fact they possession and shot numbers are so good and they are getting crushed by bad shooting percentages and … bad special teams. But after a year-and-a-half of that, maybe it’s not just bad luck anymore.

Maybe this is just what they are. A team that has gotten a little older, does not have a ton of players on the upswing, and has reached its ceiling. I am not saying they can not possibly compete for a playoff spot this season or next season. But I am also not sure there is a quick fix here, which leads me to believe a full scale rebuild could be on the horizon in the next year or two.

The last thing a team wants is to be stuck in the middle ground between rebuilding and contending, because that is a brutal place to be and it can be awfully difficult to get out that cycle. The longer you put off the rebuild, the longer the rebuild is going to take. So I think you ride out the rest of this shortened season, see where you end up, and then make your decision on which way to go after that.

I suspect the answer will be rebuild.

[Fresh off No. 400, Blackhawks star Patrick Kane wants more]

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: This feels like a classic rebuild situation for a team that isn’t aware it’s time to rebuild. They have some solid pieces they could move and this is a good year to do it, since nothing is real and everything is a mess anyhow.

Try to move the Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Pekka Rinne contracts for one. Everyone is going to think they have a chance by the time the trade deadline rolls around and the Preds can probably sell high on any one of them to a team desperate to make an addition.

If they want to make a coaching change Gerard Gallant is probably the best option on the market but also, wouldn’t it be a fun time to go the creative route and hire someone totally new who isn’t one of the same like 35 guys recycled in NHL coaching job conversations? A concept.

They seem like they need some change, I think this is a perfect time to rebuild with the expansion draft on the horizon and surely another weird offseason anyways.

[Hockey Culture: Grant Fuhr on how he became part of Oilers dynasty]

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The recent report from Elliotte Friedman that there “maybe only three untouchables” on the Predators roster, and that Filip Forsberg was not one of them, should give you a good sense for where things stand with Nashville. At the right price, virtually anything could be on the table for players not named Josi, Ellis, or Rinne.

If “fix the Predators” means make a proposal to get them back into annual contention for the Stanley Cup, I think any possible trades for their $8M forwards Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene should be explored as a first step. Both players are seriously underperforming relative to their salaries. Duchene has 50 points (16 goals) in 87 games as a Predator since signing his big ticket. Johansen doesn’t have a goal this season and has not turned into the caliber of number one center you’d expect when the price is Seth Jones.

It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be a market for a pair of top six players, but given the remaining term on their contracts (Johansen four more years, Duchene five), it’s also hard to imagine the potential return for Johansen, Duchene, or both, being the entire solution for Nashville.

That brings us to Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm. These are the two most “tradeable” players on the roster given their combination of proven talent and contract status (both are UFA after next season). Each of those players would net Nashville a serious haul. If the Preds don’t want to break the bank to extend them (which may not even be possible depending on whether Johansen and Duchene stay put), the optimal strategy may be to trade them too.

All of this is to say, Nashville is in a precarious position. Years of decisions while in “win-now” mode have put the Preds in limbo at this juncture. It’s possible that in one or two years this roster could look much different as the team navigates some critical decisions for its top players.

[NHL Power Rankings: Kaprizov, Zuccarello helping Wild make big climb]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: After winning four of their last five games, I don’t know if the Predators need fixing. The easiest thing to do is always fire the coach and see if that works but it looks like the Predators are coming around. I thought the Predators biggest problems would be in goal with Pekka Rinne an aging veteran and coming off a poor 2019-20 season where he was 18-14-4 with a 3.17 goals-against-average and a 895 save percentage, but he has turned around his peripherals and has a 2.52 goals-against-average with a .911 save percentage.

I was never a fan of Juuse Saros and thought Nashville made a good play in drafting Yaroslav Askarov with the 11th pick of the 2020 Draft.

On the blueline they are strong led by Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm but they are a bit short up front with Filip Forsberg being their only quality forward. Nashville has received some nice production of late from Eeli Tolvanen and if he is able to produce like he was expected to a couple of years ago when he came into the NHL with plenty of fanfare, then that will help the Preds future. They need better production from Mikael Granlund, Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson and Dante Fabbro to contend but all in all, I would just see what happens in the interim and hope that their success continues on their recent hot streak.

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Who has been your must-watch player through the first two months of the season?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’d love to get all artisanal and praise the tannins of the Carolina Hurricanes. And there’s no denying that you can lean in hipster directions. In hockey terms, that’s walking in with Kirill Kaprizov under your arm, rather than an obscure record on vinyl.

But, come on, it’s Connor McDavid. You know that time someone scored a cheesy, seemingly impossible goal against you in a video game, and you shrieked at your friend about how that goal would never happen? Your friend should just spam your inbox with McDavid highlights, adorned with the occasional “See??!!?!”

Since McDavid is smothered in the obvious — allow me to next praise the deliciousness of pizza — let me throw in some bonus insight.™

The All-Canadian North Division is the must-watch division. It gets at part of why Connor McDavid is so must-watch. Not only is he a speedy superhuman hockey player (have we definitively proven he’s not an alien?), but McDavid often needs to assert his dominance to bail out a flawed Oilers roster. And, delightfully, he’s often facing defenses totally unequipped (extra-unequipped?) to stop a scoring supernova at his level.

Beyond McDavid and his pal Leon Draisaitl, we get to enjoy Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner picking defenses apart like cats with defenseless prey. There are messy soap operas from the Flames, Canucks, Canadiens, and Senators to sort through. And it’s not as though there are many dull moments with the Jets, either.

Somehow, that division’s been more captivating than we even expected, and you could say the same for McDavid, the greatest player in the world.

[Contender or Pretender: Goaltending, injuries will determine Blues season]

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: We know what Connor McDavid can do on a nightly basis. We have years of evidence to tell us he’s the most exciting player in the league. But… I’m all for new content, so give me Kirill Kaprizov, and then give me some more.

It’s been some time since I wanted to stall on a Wild game as I flip through the NHL Center Ice channels, but here we are. “Dollar Dollar Bill Kirill” is the bolt of electricity that that organization has needed. The Calder Trophy favorite is a big reason why they’re a threat in the West Division.

Kaprizov is so good you could be entertained by watching him just skate:

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Obviously Connor McDavid chasing 100 points in a shortened season and Kirill Kaprizov single-handedly turning the Minnesota Wild into a must-watch team are at the top of my list. But Mathew Barzal has also been standing out to me. When he is at his best he is a top-five player to watch with the puck in my eyes because of his speed and the way he can stickhandle his way out of a phone booth. He has had that going on a lot this year. It has also been fun to see Marc-Andre Fleury playing at a super high level again. But if you are going to make me pick one and only one, I think I have to go with Kaprizov just because new talent and skill in the league is always exciting and because he has just been that good.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Maybe it’s basic but Cale Makar. Maybe it’s also because I watch too much college hockey and when Makar was at UMass he was my favorite player to watch then, too.

I appreciate a player who can do what everyone wants to do and do it so much better than anyone can even dream to be, and that’s what Makar does as a dynamic, two-way defensemen. Today’s game has a ton of “puck movers” and defensemen who can skate well or who can serve as like a fourth forward on the ice, but Makar makes offense happen and is legit still one of the best defenders in the game.

It’s early for award conversations and yeah Charlie McAvoy and Jeff Petry are looking great too but Makar is a shoo-in for the Norris now, for me, barring anything weird in an all-too weird year.

He ranks behind just John Carlson and Victor Hedman in points per game for a defenseman. Just a super fun player to watch night in and night out.

[Examining Mika Zibanejad’s stunning slump for the Rangers]

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: That’s easy. Kirill Kaprizov. The Minnesota Wild rookie is a supremely talented player that produces a “wow” moment pretty much every time he’s on the ice, even when he doesn’t score a goal or set one up. Kaprizov is an elite skater with incredible hockey sense, and he’s helped turn the Wild into appointment viewing each and every night. Give him the Calder Trophy already!

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: My must-watch player is the same as it has been since the start of the 2015-16 season. Connor McDavid. He is a pleasure to watch and seeing him combine his speed and talent to make so many players look like minor leaguers is what makes watching the Oilers so good every night they are on the schedule.

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