Austin Watson

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Long-term outlook on Nashville Predators: salary cap commitments, big decisions

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Nashville Predators.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

For better or worse, the Predators’ salary structure is loaded with long-term contracts.

GM David Poile made one of the biggest decisions yet when he locked down Roman Josi to a big contract extension. Josi looked like more than a $9.06M defenseman in 2019-20, but that eight-year pact doesn’t begin until next season. Josi turns 30 in June, so it will be fascinating to see if Nashville’s gamble pays off.

Matt Duchene‘s $8M AAV runs through 2025-26, one year after Ryan Johansen‘s matching cap hit expires.

For every very, very nice bargain (Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis), there are some dubious contracts for the likes of Kyle Turris. There’s talent, no doubt, but with quite a few of those players getting older, it’s fair to wonder when the window will shut with a big thud. It’s also scary since 2019-20 also inspired doubts about this group’s ceiling.

It all makes Poile’s penchant for handing term to supporting cast members that much more limiting. Nashville has Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, and Rocco Grimaldi on the books for quite some time. This isn’t to say that such moves will all backfire; they’re just worth monitoring.

The Predators also face some fascinating questions about who else is staying.

Both Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg deserve significant raises when their contracts run out after 2021-22.

Nashville deserves credit for retaining Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros without handing them frightening term. Unfortunately, that flexibility also comes with some uncertainty. Both goalies’ contracts expire after next season, so the Predators will need to solve those riddles.

Will pending UFA forwards Granlund and Smith exit Nashville? You’d have to think something has to give, right?

Long-term needs for Predators

In the grand scheme of things, it seems like the Predators will need to make the most of what they have. They’ve made a lot of long-term commitments, and while they might be able to bribe someone or find some other way to shake a Kyle Turris or two loose, they mostly have to hope that core pieces age well.

Maybe the biggest need is to find someone to optimize their roster, honestly.

I can’t say I’ve been overly impressed with John Hynes’ abilities in that regard, as I’m not among those who think it’s wise for coaches to galaxy brain things by putting star players in timeout.

From special teams struggles to forward play, there are significant signs that Nashville isn’t getting the most out of its talent. That needs to change.

Long-term strengths for Predators

The Predators rank as one of those regular contenders who show a decent knack for finding talent in crevasses despite trading away key picks. Nashville doesn’t match the Lightning in unearthing hidden gems, mind you, but they’re solid enough at it.

The result is that Nashville comes across reasonably well on various prospect rankings. Coming in at 22nd on Scott Wheeler’s system list for The Athletic (sub required) isn’t world-beating stuff, yet it points to the Predators being able to maybe fill in a crack or two with some prospects.

It paints a larger picture of solid versatility for Nashville.

Saros gives the Predators a goalie of the future, and maybe a strong one. He slipped a bit from elite backup work as Saros made it more of a platoon, but there are still some positive signs.

While their forward group disappointed in 2019-20, there’s enough to work with to be a better strength. It’s promising, in particular, that Filip Forsberg is deep in his prime at 25, and Viktor Arvidsson is 27.

Actually, that pivots to a key question: how long will some of these strengths last? If the Predators age well, it could be for a while. It depends upon how well their top defensemen (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm are all 29), Matt Duchene (also 29), and Ryan Johansen (27) age.

If the answer hems closer to the Bruins than, say, the Kings, then the Predators could contend for quite a few years. You know, if they get back to getting the most out of players again.

MORE ON THE PREDATORS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Can Hynes, Predators warm up against hot Blackhawks?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Predators both find themselves out of the playoffs, but their stories have been very different lately.

While injuries pile up, Chicago is hot by recent standards. The Blackhawks are keeping their shaky playoff hopes alive with wins in six of their last nine games, scoring enough to offset problems. Their overall record sits at 19-19-6 (44 points in 44 games).

Meanwhile, the Predators keep grasping for answers.

Predators, Hynes running out of time

Nashville fans looking for an instant success were out of luck in Hynes’ Predators debut. The Bruins dispatched the Predators by an unsettling score of 6-2.

The larger recent picture looks dim. Nashville only won once in its last five games, and that was a win against the lowly Los Angeles Kings. The Predators head into Thursday with a mediocre 19-16-7 record (45 points in 42 games).

While games in hand matter, the Predators also realize that they need to stop squandering them.

“We’ve been [saying] the same stuff over and over again,” Rinne said shortly after the Predators fired Peter Laviolette and hired Hynes. “[There’s] a lot of time, a lot of time, a lot of time. But time is running out. You’ve got to change the way you do things. The bottom line is enough talking, we’ve got to start playing.”

[Our Line Starts: Is Hynes for Predators?]

Early impressions

Of course, in Rinne’s case, it would help to … you know, get some stops.

Hynes endured terrible goaltending with the Devils. Rinne and Juuse Saros disappointed wildly so far in 2019-20, and the first game under Hynes didn’t provide meaningful changes on the scoreboard.

Then again, the Bruins rank as one of the league’s toughest opponents, and that first game was a rushed process. Even with that in mind, Hynes made some early impressions on the Predators. While Craig Smith pointed to some excessive complexity during Laviolette’s latter days, Matt Duchene and others describe Hynes’ message as “crystal clear.”

“It was simple and easy to grasp,” Austin Watson said of Hynes’s practice, via the team website. “I’m sure we’ll make adjustments as we go forward or add some different tweaks, but for today, I thought it was great. You back it up with some video and then go on the ice and just try to get better today.”

[Discussing some changes Hynes can make in replacing Laviolette]

Rinne mentioned that the Predators are running out of time. They’re also running out of excuses. While the Blackhawks are finding ways to win, Nashville cannot lose games like these. Thursday figures to be a significant test for the Predators and their new coach.

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call the action from United Center in Chicago. Paul Burmeister will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Keith Jones and Mike Johnson.

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.

The Buzzer: A scary night for leads in the NHL

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Three Stars

1. Austin Watson, Nashville Predators

Watson’s team didn’t get the win, but when he looks back on this Halloween, he’ll probably have fond memories.

For one thing, the Predators announced Watson’s three-year, $4.5 million extension during Thursday’s game. Watson responded with a four-point night, scoring two goals and two assists. His two helpers were the only assists on Calle Jarnkrok‘s consecutive shorthanded goals.

This outburst ended an eight-game pointless streak for Watson, which had to be a relief, even if he’s the type of gritty player whose main focus is to hit the opposition, rather than for his pucks to hit the net. Jarnkrok’s two shorthanded goals certainly put him in the conversation for a three stars nod, too.

2. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

While the main parts of what is normally the Flames’ top line in non-semi-crisis mode (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm) spearheaded Calgary’s early push back from a 4-1 deficit, Tkachuk scored the goals that helped the Flames complete an unlikely comeback.

Tkachuk scored the 5-5 tally that sent the game to overtime, and he did it with just 39 seconds remaining in the third period.

His second goal came with less than two seconds remaining in that overtime frame, and considering the circumstances, it’s almost audacious that Tkachuk could pull off such a fancy between-the-legs move. Tkachuk ended Thursday with two goals and one assist, while adding three hits and a blocked shot.

3. Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens

Much like the Flames, the Canadiens found themselves down more than one goal, in the third period, on the road.

In Montreal’s case, the Golden Knights began the third period with two goals to transform a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 Vegas lead. Tomas Tatar got some revenge on his former team to score one goal, Brendan Gallagher sent it to OT with a bit less than two minutes remaining in the third, and Domi only needed 26 seconds to put the finishing touches on the OT-winner.

Domi also had an assist early in the game, so he had two points overall. Pretty impressive stuff from a Canadiens team closing out a back-to-back. Hot take: Domi will cost a lot more than his expiring $3.15M AAV after this season.

The overtime game-winners

On a spookily unusually quiet Thursday night (don’t hockey on a tummy full of treats), there were only two games, and both went to overtime. So why not expand the highlights of the night to both?

That said, the Tkachuk OT winner would take that spot if there was only one:

But, hey, Domi’s OT goal counts the same in the grand scheme of things:

Factoids

  • Max Pacioretty scored the 500th point of his NHL career on an assist, and he did it against his former team in Montreal. He didn’t get the last laugh, however.
  • Johnny Gaudreau reached his 400th career point with two assists, and only needed 409 games to get to that milestone. My expert math skills make me aware that he’s pretty close to a point-per-game.
  • Actually, he wasn’t alone in Flames milestones:

  • Via NHL PR, this is only the seventh time the Flames have faced a third-period deficit of three goals or more and won that game in any fashion.
  • Also via NHL PR, Calle Jarnkrok is the second Predators player to score two SHG in one game. The other was Scott Nichol. Remarkably, both did so in the same period, too.
  • Based off of Sportsnet’s earlier tweet, it looks like the Flames improved their Halloween record to 10-2-0. Save those boos for November, Calgary fans?

Scores

CGY 6 – NSH 5 (OT)
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Tkachuk tricks buzzer, treats Flames to comeback win

It really only makes sense that one of the NHL’s greatest trolls had the last laugh on Halloween night.

For a while, it looked like Thursday’s Calgary Flames – Nashville Predators game would be about Nashville winning a laugher at home, while Austin Watson celebrated his contract extension with a four-point night.

After all, the Predators carried a 4-1 lead into the third period, and the second period was especially embarrassing for the Flames, as Calle Jarnkrok scored twice — both times shorthanded. Nashville also generated a convincing 27-9 shots on goal advantage through the first 40 minutes.

Whether you chalk it up to Flames head coach Bill Peters berating his team in the locker room during the second intermission, the Predators possibly sitting on their lead, or any number of other factors, things got wild — perhaps spooky and ookie – during the third period, and didn’t stop until the dying seconds of overtime.

The Flames rattled off three consecutive goals to quiet the crowd in Nashville and tie things up 4-4, but that didn’t represent the end of the twists. Instead, Watson scored a pretty one-timer goal to make it 5-4 for Nashville two minutes after Alan Quine tied things up for the Flames … and that didn’t represent the end of the twists.

Calgary put relentless pressure on Pekka Rinne and the Predators with the Flames’ net empty late in the game, and those pushes to score paid off when Matthew Tkachuk scored the 5-5 goal to send the game to overtime. Then, with less than two seconds remaining in OT, Tkachuk found the net with a nifty between-the-legs shot, tricking the buzzer in the process.

(Check out that specific goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

The Flames had squandered third-period leads to lose their last two games, and had also lost three of their last four, only managing a shootout win during that span. With a back-to-back set looming on the weekend to close out their current four-game road trip, things could have been pretty tense if Calgary didn’t manage this remarkable comeback.

You could call him Tka-clutch on Thursday, if you’re into that sort of thing:

The Predators at least get a “charity point” for their struggles, and maybe a wakeup call that, if there was even a subtle push to sit on that 4-1 lead, they might want to keep their foot on the gas instead of trying to go into cruise control in similar situations down the line.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Watson to return to Predators for first time since suspension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson is returning to the lineup for the first time since he was suspended by the NHL more than two months ago for alcohol abuse.

Coach Peter Laviolette announced Watson will play in Nashville’s game Tuesday night in Buffalo. The decision comes two days after Watson was recalled from the minors, where he scored four goals in two games with AHL Milwaukee.

Watson has missed 27 games since being suspended on Jan. 29. He entered the second stage of the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program because of what the NHL and the players’ union described as ”ongoing issues with alcohol abuse.”

Watson began the season serving an 18-game suspension after pleading no contest to a domestic assault charge in July. His girlfriend issued a statement in October taking blame for the incident in the parking lot of a gas station.

Nashville has three games remaining and entered the final week of the regular season in a three-way race to win the Central Division title.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports