NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators believe general manager David Poile has found the right combination that means a reset and not a complete rebuild for the franchise.
Forward Filip Forsberg is all-in on the changes.
“Obviously there’s been some changes this offseason,” Forsberg said. “But the guys that we brought in … I believe a lot in. And I’ve seen them play obviously for their previous teams and also during pre-camp here when we’ve been skating together. So I’m really excited, and it’s going to be a fun one.”
After Nashville fought its way into the postseason, the Predators lasted six games before being eliminated. Then Poile went to work.
The GM traded forward Viktor Arvidsson for a couple draft picks, then sent 30-year-old defenseman Ryan Ellis to Philadelphia for younger players and goalie Pekka Rinne also retired after 15 seasons. Calle Jarnkrok was claimed by Seattle in the expansion draft.
Those key players from the 2017 Western Conference champs are now gone, creating space for younger, cheaper players. The players who remain include captain and 2020 Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, Forsberg, center Ryan Johansen, defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forward Colton Sissons.
“Yeah, this team looks a lot different than the team that went to the finals in ’17, but it’s not necessarily uncommon or a bad thing because it happens so often,” center Matt Duchene said. “And those changes are necessary sometimes.”
SAROS IN NET
The biggest change is in net with Rinne retired. Juuse Saros is coming off a career-high 21 victories last season and was at his best down the stretch carrying the Predators to the playoffs. He led the NHL over his last 23 games with a .945 save percentage and his three shutouts since March 23, second-most in the league in that span.
Johansen called Saros the “Juice Box” who has his teammates’ trust.
“It’s definitely different, but we’re excited to move forward and start the new chapter.”
Forsberg and Ekholm both are going into the final seasons on their current contracts. Poile has made clear he wants to sign both to new deals, but nothing had been done by the time they reported for training camp.
Forsberg is making $6 million this season and prime for a big payday at the age of 27. Ekholm, 31, is making $3.75 million and brings much-needed size at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds to the defense corps.
JOHANSEN AND DUCHENE RESET
Both Johansen and Duchene hope to benefit from a full training camp. Johansen says he tweaked his diet and meal plan and workouts to be faster and more flexible after finishing eighth on the team in scoring last season with 22 points in 48 games.
“That’s my mindset is a big bounce-back year as with my standards and what I expect of myself,” Johansen said.
Duchene had just 13 points with injuries limiting him to 34 games. He’s had just 50 points in 100 games since signing a seven-year, $56 million deal in July 2019. He had three points in the playoffs and believes he can build on that performance. Duchene said it’s been bizarre all that’s happened since he signed.
“I’m excited to hopefully get some continuity and again kind of get to the level I want to be at to help this team win,” Duchene said.
Forward Eeli Tolvanen is among the young Predators expected to get more playing time. Defenseman Philippe Myers brings size at 6-5 in his role in the Ellis trade, and Nashville hopes the change of scenery helps 6-3 forward Cody Glass, the sixth-overall pick in 2017.
BACK TO THE CENTRAL
Nashville has to be grateful to be back with its usual Central Division schedule. Yes, the Predators will be playing Colorado, St. Louis, Winnipeg and Minnesota once again.
But they will only have to play defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay and Carolina twice after losing the season series to each 6-2. The home game with Tampa Bay will be Feb. 26 in the first Stadium Series game in Nashville at Nissan Stadium.
They open the season Oct. 14 hosting expansion franchise Seattle.