The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Nashville Predators.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 31-23-2 (64 points) fourth place in Central Division
• Postseason: Lost in first round in six games to the Hurricanes
• Offensive leader: Roman Josi (48 games, eight goals, 25 assists, 33 total points)
• Free Agent Additions: Cody Glass (trade with Vegas), Philippe Myers (trade with Philadelphia), David Rittich
• Free Agent Subtractions: Ryan Ellis (trade to Philadelphia), Calle Jarnkrok (Seattle Kraken), Pekka Rinne (retirement), Erik Haula, Viktor Arvidsson (trade to Los Angeles)
Biggest question facing the Nashville Predators?
• What is their overall direction?
It is not really a question of an individual player or position, but a big picture outlook and what this team is hoping to accomplish in the short-and long-term. Nothing about their offseason approach seems to suggest they believe they are a contender right now. If they did, they would not have traded Viktor Arvidsson for draft picks. They would not have traded Ryan Ellis for two young players. They would not be entering the season with more than $10 million in salary cap space.
This is a team that has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years now, and as recently as the halfway point of this past season looked like a team in desperate need of a total rebuild. Then Juuse Saros started to play out of his mind and carried the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, pretty much by himself.
If they are going to rebuild, they need to commit to that. If they want to contend, they need to act like it. Being stuck in the middle with a “competitive rebuild” does not do anybody any favors and only pushes the next window for contention further down the road. No team wants that.
What’s the salary cap situation?
The Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen contracts are not giving them a great return on their investment at the moment (more than $8 million per season each), and Roman Josi makes $9 million against the cap. Those are three significant contracts taking up space, and even with that the Predators still have more than $10 million in salary cap space this offseason.
Filip Forsberg‘s contract is up after this season so a decision needs to be made there, and a couple of other players will be due raises as restricted free agents (specifically, Luke Kunin). Finding a way out of Duchene and/or Johansen’s contracts would be helpful, but the salary cap situation is fairly manageable right now.
• Cody Glass
Glass is one of the players acquired in the three-team Ryan Ellis trade, and he is getting a fresh start with the Predators. He showed a lot of potential in parts of two seasons with the Golden Knights and produced respectable numbers given his lack of ice time and limited role. The talent is there, and he should get an opportunity on a Nashville team that says it is looking to get younger.
Eeli Tolvanen is another player worth watching. The Predators have been waiting for him for a couple of years now and he showed signs of breaking out in his first full season. So while the long-and short-term future looks unsettled with this team they do have a couple of young players worth keeping an eye on.
It all revolves around Saros being able to duplicate his 2020-21 performance and play not only like a franchise goalie, but also one of the best goalies in the world. That is what got Nashville in the playoffs, and that is what it will need again. Without Ellis the defense is definitely taking a hit, and Pekka Rinne is no longer there to share the workload. All of that puts even more pressure on Saros. If Saros can play at a high level, and they get a boost from a healthy Forsberg, and maybe some big steps forward from Glass and Tolvanen they might have a shot to be a playoff team. Making the playoffs and a First-Round exit might be this team’s ceiling right now.
They have had lousy special teams for two years now and lack impact players beyond Forsberg and Josi. If Saros regresses even a little bit it is going to expose all of the flaws that were hidden in the second half of last season. This is a tough division with Colorado, St. Louis, Dallas, and Minnesota at the top, and what should be an improved Chicago team all competing for playoff spots. Nashville does not have much margin for error here. Most goaltending dependent teams do not.
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