Predators aren’t really rebuilding or contending

Predators aren't really rebuilding or contending
Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A troubling thought was truly cemented with the Mattias Ekholm contract extension: the Nashville Predators are in rebuild denial.

No, they’re not unique in that regard. There are other teams with older, borderline-lifetime GMs who remain stubborn to accepting short-term pain for long-term gains.

Unfortunately, the Predators join the Sharks as teams uncomfortably likely to experience a lot of pain both now, and later.

To some extent, the damage has already been done. That said, the Predators can get their rebuild back on course. They just have to make some difficult choices — and one of those might involve removing that borderline-lifetime GM.

Troubling lack of vision for Predators in recent months

Break down three phases of recent Predators’ decisions, and you’ll wonder whether the team should give David Poile the old Glen Sather “promotion” out of the GM position.

Balking at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline

Heading into the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, many wondered if the Predators would trade Ekholm.

In retrospect, they at least should have considered trading Ryan Ellis and/or Viktor Arvidsson around that time. After all, they traded both for very meager returns during the offseason. Were there better offers during the trade deadline? Such thoughts should give Predators fans serious pause.

Either way, the Predators didn’t accelerate their rebuild during the trade deadline. This Poile quote sure makes it feel like the Predators’ process would change with moods, a streak, or maybe a gust of wind.

“[My philosophy on the deadline] certainly changed game by game,” Poile said, via the Predators’ website.

What did the Predators leave on the table because Poile went with his heart, not his head, at that trade deadline?

Either way, the dominoes kept falling, making a shaky situation mostly look worse.

Selling low

Early in the offseason, the Predators made gestures toward a rebuild. Unfortunately, they stumbled instead of leaping forward.

A package of Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, a second-rounder, and a third-rounder might be OK for one of Ryan Ellis or Viktor Arvidsson. For both? That’s painful.

In the grand scheme of things, moving on from Ellis, in particular, made sense for a would-be rebuilder. But selling low on both Ellis and Arvidsson after they dealt with injuries that might not repeat in 2021-22? That hurts.

And then a few gusts of wind dampened even those modest returns.

Digging in

If there’s a move that captures the spirit of how lost the Predators feel, it might be re-signing Mikael Granlund.

Don’t get it twisted; Granlund can play. It’s just that the 29-year-old’s not at the point where he’s likely to move the needle. After all, the Predators stalled out with Ellis and Arvidsson; why hand out such term for diminishing returns?

Between Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, and Granlund, the Predators devote $21M in cap space for four seasons (plus one more with Duchene). They’re all 29-or-older, and it’s hard to imagine the ceiling going much higher.

[Preview for 2021-22 Predators season]

Once Ekholm’s extension kicks in, the Predators will invest about $15.3M in Ekholm and Roman Josi. In 2022-23, that could be a steal. Unfortunately, both Josi and Ekholm are 31, and carry serious term (Josi’s $9.059M cap hit runs through 2027-28).

If the Predators’ long-term commitments fall victim to Father Time, a bad situation could get downright dire.

Still some hope for a Predators rebuild

To some extent, the damage has already been done.

It’s hard to imagine the Predators trading away the twin $8M nightmares of Ryan Johansen (2024-25) and Matt Duchene (2025-26). Most likely, they’re stuck with them. Frankly, if there’s a deal out there, it might not be worth bribing a team with precious draft picks.

A stomach for short-term pain, long-term gains

But the Predators could still make waves with a rebuild. Doing so might require a brave soul, though, and waving goodbye to favorites.

  • Filip Forsberg, 27, is in a contract year on a $6M cap hit. Don’t pull an Ekholm and extend Forsberg. Instead, think big picture. He’s a very good player, but the timeline isn’t right for him to be that guy for the Predators.
  • Saros, 26, is a gem. In the grand scheme of things, his greatest potential value might come from a future trade. A Predators team with a clear vision is penciling in Yarsolav Askarov, 19, for the top spot eventually anyway … right? Hopefully?
  • Whenever the Predators get a reality check, few things should be sacred. That means being open-minded about trading almost anyone, including Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Head over heart

To aim higher than the middle of the road, the Predators might indeed need to move on from Poile as GM.

Simply put, Poile might be too close to what he’s built with the Predators. A more objective set of eyes would see a mess. But, for the person who made those choices, it may simply be too difficult to acknowledge defeat.

It’s crucial to strike while the iron is hot, and that’s where there’s a concern with Poile running a potential (partial?) Predators rebuild. The Predators seemingly missed the ideal window to trade the likes of Arvidsson and Ellis. Will we see the same with Forsberg?

[PHT’s Central Division predictions]

Again, some damage is already done. But there’s a lane to go from middle-of-the-road to having a brighter light at the end of the tunnel.

Elite Prospects ranks the Predators’ prospect pool as 10th-best. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman places them 16th.

From Askarov to Philip Tomasino, the Predators boast some solid pieces. They just need more of them, even if it means suffering more now for better things later.

The Predators might prefer living in the playoff bubble, while hinting at a rebuild. The way things are going, though, they might not have much of a choice. The Predators might as well embrace the rebuild now.

They certainly haven’t been doing so lately.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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