The Nashville Predators 2021-22 season ended with an expected thud Monday night as they dropped a 5-3 decision to the Colorado Avalanche, completing an opening-round four-game sweep. Nashville was always going to be a heavy underdog in this series no matter the circumstances, but when you took star goalie (and Vezina Finalist) Juuse Saros out of the equation it was pretty apparent that this was probably going to be a very, very lopsided series.
Colorado dominated all four games (even the Game 2 overtime contest was one-sided, only staying close because Conor Ingram played the game of his life), outscoring the Predators by 12 goals and owning a commanding territorial edge.
It showed two things: That Colorado is a machine when it is clicking on all cylinders, and that Nashville is not even close to playing with the top teams in the NHL. That is a problem. It is also not a new problem.
The Predators now have some pretty significant questions to answer this offseason with that knowledge in mind.
The first is whether or not they can (and will) re-sign star forward Filip Forsberg. They decided to keep him at the NHL trade deadline and try to make the playoffs, knowing the potential risk of losing him in unrestricted free agency after the season. And that is fine. When you have a chance to make the playoffs you should do what you can to get there. But it is still a major issue to address in the coming weeks and months. In terms of cap space, the Predators should have enough to re-sign the 40-goal scorer, assuming he is willing and they are willing to match his asking price. Neither is a given.
The other question is who should even be making those decisions, and whether or not more drastic measures need to be taken from an organizational standpoint.
The Predators have been in existence for 23 seasons, and during that time have had one general manager (David Poile) and only three head coaches (Barry Trotz, Peter Laviolette, and current coach John Hynes). That is an unheard of level of consistency and stability in a league and sport that does not typically have that. The teams that do have that sort of stability usually have a lot to show for it, or at least a championship or two.
The Predators, quite frankly, do not. Even more, in 38 years as an NHL general manager Poile’s teams have generally been good enough to make the playoffs, but they are not typically good enough to do anything once they get there. His teams in Washington and Nashville have advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs just 10 times and past the second round just two times. It is not bad by any means, but at some point teams and fans start to expect more than just being there.
The Predators have been around long enough and been in the playoffs enough times that they should be at that point of occasionally expecting more.
But they do not seem capable of more as currently constructed. It is a very flawed team. Forsberg and Matt Duchene both had 40-goal seasons (the first 40-goal seasons in franchise history), but it is not a particularly gifted or talented team beyond them.
They are also not a particularly young team or have a strong farm system. They are middle of the pack offensively, middle of the pack defensively, and generally middle of the pack across the board. At the midway point of the 2020-21 season the Predators looked like a team teetering on the brink of bottoming out, perhaps in desperate need of a rebuild. It was at that point that Saros went into superman mode in net and almost single-handedly carried the team to a playoff spot where they were bounced in the First Round by a better Carolina Hurricanes team.
Saros was a difference-maker again this season. Goaltending can mask a lot of flaws, and the Predators have them. With even average goaltending the Predators probably do not even sniff the playoffs. Yes, the goalie is part of the team and plays a major role in the success or failure of it. But that one aspect can only take you so far.
The Predators are now facing the prospect of potentially losing Forsberg, and hoping that players like Duchene and Roman Josi can repeat their 2021-22 performances next season (and neither is a given) just to get back to this same level. A level that was not anything close to good enough, which has been the story of this franchise for the better part of its existence with no end in sight. It might finally be time for that long-awaited rebuild because they are not getting any closer to a Stanley Cup at the moment.