What’s next for Predators after offseason changes?

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The Nashville Predators said goodbye to two prominent players this offseason when they traded defenseman Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers in a three-team deal, and also sent forward Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings.

Their return in all of those trades is Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, some draft picks, and a lot of salary cap space that, to this point, has gone unused other than to re-sign a couple of returning players (starting goalie Juuse Saros and forward Mikael Granlund).

So what does this mean for what the Predators front office thinks of this current group and its current long-and short-term potential?

Earlier this offseason the words “competitive rebuild” were mentioned by general manager David Poile, and that is something that should usually give fans a healthy dose of fear. Competitive rebuilds do not tend to work out as you envision them to work. The idea, in theory, makes sense. You restock the cupboard for the future, you accumulate long-term assets you can build around, but you do not totally sacrifice the present and at least try to make the playoffs.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

The reality is that “competitive rebuilds” tend to result in an even longer rebuild and even more down years because you are never actually good enough to make the playoffs and never bad enough to finish with the best lottery odds to get that franchise-changing superstar at the top of the draft. At some point a team has to pick a direction: Are you competing or are you rebuilding?

The fact the Predators did opt to get younger and trade two significant players — and Ellis is the shocking trade here — is a pretty good sign that the Predators have an idea of what their team is. This group hit its peak in 2017 and 2018 with a Stanley Cup Final appearance that was followed by the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. But it has been a steady, gradual decline in the couple of years since then. Things looked so bleak at the halfway point of the 2020-21 season that it looked like a team that was on the verge of a complete teardown and full rebuild.

It was not until Saros turned himself into an unbeatable brick wall and carried the team to a playoff spot that things started to turn around for the Predators. While he is certainly capable of playing at that level consistently, it is never good when a team’s plan has to revolve around a goalie stealing games all the time. Both special teams units have been lousy for a couple of years now, they lack goal scorers, and their most expensive players have not played to their contracts. The nature of their offseason approach seems to indicate the Predators are at least aware of that.

So what do the Predators need for this “competitive rebuild” to work?

For starters, Saros needs to play like a top-tier goalie. Especially with Ellis no longer being a significant part of their defense. Without that, there really is not much of a chance for the “competitive” part of the equation.

[Related: Will Hurricanes’ goalie changes pay off?]

A healthy Filip Forsberg (only 39 games this past season) is also a necessity because he is the one big money forward on the team that has not been a major disappointment the past couple of years. You could also add bounce back years from Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene to this equation, but I am not sure anybody has much confidence in either development at this point. At least not for both of them.

The real X-factor though will be the development of Eeli Tolvanen and Glass. The Predators do not have an especially deep farm system, but these are the two young players that at least have the potential to be difference makers. Nashville has been waiting for Tolvanen for what seems like an eternity at this point (it has only been a few years) and he showed some flashes of that potential during his first full season. He scored at a 20-goal pace over 82 games and was a factor on the power play.

Glass, meanwhile, was one of the key parts of the return to the Ellis trade and has shown flashes of being a good NHL player. They are both 22 years old and are probably at a point in their careers where they need to take a significant step forward if they are going to be impact players.

Finally, what are they going to do with all of that unused salary cap space? Not every team is going to spend to the cap — and not every team can right now — but being $12 million below the cap is a lot of available money. Tolvanen still needs re-signed this offseason, while Forsberg and Ekholm are both unrestricted free agents after this season. Even with that, there is still a window there to add somebody if your goal is to remain competitive.

The problem with this is the more “ifs” you have for a team to be successful the more likely it is that some of those are not going to go the way you want. Not everything goes perfectly. So it seems likely that the Predators are destined for another season where they remain on the fringes of the NHL’s playoff race, especially given the subtractions from the 2020-21 roster that already had its share of flaws. That seems to be the outlook for at least the foreseeable future until they really have to decide if they are rebuilding or are going to be competitive.

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

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    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

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    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

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    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

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    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.