Mattias Ekholm

Previewing the 2019-20 Nashville Predators

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: Dumping P.K. Subban‘s contract for little return to clear salary cap space for Matt Duchene is an interesting move because it deals from a position of strength (defense) to fill a position of need (forward). The Predators had one of the worst power play units the NHL has seen in quite some time and desperately needed another playmaker up front. Duchene’s contract carries some long-term risk, but it satisfies a short-term need and they still have a really good defense even without Subban. Duchene’s addition, combined with a full season from Mikael Granlund (who should be better than he was after joining the team from Minnesota at the trade deadline) makes this forward group significantly deeper. That probably makes the team a little better overall.

Strengths: It is still on the back end. Even without Subban the Predators still have an outstanding defense with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm as the established veterans, while also having 2016 first-round pick Dante Fabbro starting to emerge. Behind them, the team has No. 1 caliber goalies in Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Rinne is 36 and is going to start passing the torch to Saros, but he hasn’t really slowed down much and is still capable of playing at a high level.

Weaknesses: Until proven otherwise it is the power play unit because there was nothing productive about this unit a year ago. They finished the regular season 31st in success rate, were one of the worst power play units in the league at getting shots on goal, and then followed up that performance by getting completely shut out in their Round 1 loss to the Dallas Stars. You don’t need a great power play unit to win, but you still need to get something from it. The Predators received nothing from theirs all year.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Peter Laviolette is an outstanding coach with a great track record of success in the NHL. He wins a lot, he has taken three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, and his name is on it once. You can do a heck of a lot worse than him behind the bench, and if you are going to fire someone with that resume you better be darn sure you are getting a clear upgrade. But coaches like him get fired all the time, especially if ownership thinks the team has become stale. The Predators may not be at that point just yet, but the 2018-19 season was a bit of a regression and a small (emphasis on small) step in the wrong direction. Because of that we will put Laviolette’s hot seat rating at a 5, with a chance to move in either direction.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Juuse Saros, Mikael Granlund, and Viktor Arvidsson are three players worth watching.

Saros just because he is going to start seeing more playing time in net. He is probably already good enough to be a clear No. 1 on a significant number of teams around the league and gives the Predators a great 1A and 1B situation with Rinne. He has a .920 save percentage so far in the NHL and is the team’s long-term solution in goal.

Granlund was a huge addition at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild but really struggled after the trade, managing just two goals and five assists in 22 games (regular season and playoffs combined). He is better than that and has shown the ability to be a 70-point player in the league. If the Predators can get that version of him it could be a game-changer for their offense.

Speaking of game-changers on their offense, Arvidsson has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers in the league since he became a regular in the Predators’ lineup. The 2018-19 season was his best performance to date, scoring 34 goals in only 58 games. That is close to a 50-goal pace over 82 games. Can he repeat that performance this season?

Playoffs or lottery: Definitely the playoffs, it is just a matter of what kind of playoff team they are going to be. On paper, this still looks like a Stanley Cup contender and potentially one of the best teams in the NHL. They had the same look a year ago only to take a small step back during the regular season and then quietly exit in Round 1 of the playoffs.

More
Predators being bold with term, but are they being smart?
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Where it went wrong for Predators, and how they could fix it

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There has been a changing of the guard in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins? Out without winning a single game between them.

The Winnipeg Jets, a Western Conference Finalist a year ago and a popular Stanley Cup pick this season? They are finished.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now the Nashville Predators, one of the top teams in the Western Conference for a couple of years now, have joined them. Just like the Jets, it probably should not be a huge surprise to see them go out as early as they did because something just seemed to be off with this team for much of the season, and especially in the second half.

It’s not hard to find the biggest culprit in their demise this season, either, and it begins with an inconsistent offense that was dragged down by the league’s worst power play unit. It was a unit that hit rock bottom in their Round 1 loss against the Dallas Stars.

To say it was bad would be an understatement.

It wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. The type of performance that would make even an objective third party with no rooting interest scream at the TV at its overall incompetence.

After finishing the regular season converting on just 12.9 of their power play opportunities, one of the worst marks the NHL has seen over the past 15 years, the Predators went 0-for-the-series against Dallas, failing to score on even one of their 15 power play attempts. This is not something that just happens. The NHL has tracked power play success rates as far back as the 1933-34 season, and the Predators were just the 11th team during that time to get at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and fail to score a single goal. You probably will not be shocked to learn that none of those 11 teams advanced beyond Round 1. You don’t need a great power play to win the Stanley Cup, but you need to get something out of it on occasion.

The Predators got nothing, continuing what turned out to be a season-long trend.

Dallas’ PK deserves a lot of credit here, and especially starting goalie Ben Bishop, but Nashville’s struggles on the power play weren’t a new thing in this series, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest it wasn’t just a run of bad luck — it was simply a bad unit that needs drastically improved.

Not only did they have the NHL’s lowest success rate, but they were only 19th in the league at generating shot attempts on the power play and even worse (24th) at actually getting those attempts on net. If you can’t generate shots, and if you can’t get them on net when you do, you’re not going to score many goals.

Now comes the question on how to address it.

Injuries were a big problem for the Predators throughout the season, with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K, Subban, and Kyle Turris all missing significant action, and when Turris was on the ice, his production took a cliff dive. It is worth wondering if they are in need of another big-time forward. Forsberg and Arvidsson are outstanding, but they might still need another impact player up front. Maybe a full season from Mikael Granlund will help (he was mostly silent after coming over from the Minnesota Wild in a pre-deadline trade), but even he is not really a player that is going to put the fear of God in an opposing defense. He is very similar to what the Predators’ forward group is already made of — really good and really productive players, but not really a game-changing, impact talent.

If there is one thing to be said about general manager David Poile it is that he is not afraid to swing for the fences in trades. He has made several blockbusters over the past few years and it has played a significant role in building the roster the Predators have today. Would he be willing to make another one, and would he consider dipping into his pool of star defenders and flipping one for another impact talent up front to help strengthen an offense that went stale this year and a power play unit that collapsed on itself from the very beginning of the year?

He already did it once when he traded Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, and it might be worth at least considering again. It is a delicate balance to strike because the Predators’ defense, especially their top-four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm is a huge part of what has made the team so good. But it is also a very clear strength and could be used to maybe help address what is now looking like a pretty significant weakness.

The other option is to keep your All-Star defense, shed salary elsewhere on the roster (Turris, if you think he is done as a top-six performer; maybe a Craig Smith or Nick Bonino?) and try to position yourself for a run at an Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner in free agency.

Whatever path they choose, it would be awfully difficult to come back next season with the same collection of forwards after they struggled so much this season and helped assemble such a dreadful power play unit. They simply need another finisher somewhere on the roster that can bring a level of consistency to the offense and improve a power play that failed the team all season.

Related: Stars eliminate Predators in overtime thriller

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wilson requests $4.25M in arbitration, Predators offer $3M

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Restricted free agent Colin Wilson is going to get a significant raise this summer and soon he’ll know exactly how big it is.

With his arbitration hearing set for Tuesday, Wilson has filed a request for a $4.25 million salary while the Nashville Predators have countered at $3 million, per Elliotte Friedman. He earned $2.5 million last season in the final campaign of a three-year, $6 million contract.

The 25-year-old forward set new career-highs with 20 goals and 42 points in 77 contests in 2014-15. He went on to score another five goals in Nashville’s six-game first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

He’s the last of the three Predators RFAs to file for salary arbitration to be dealt with. Nashville traded Taylor Beck to Toronto and inked Craig Smith to a five-year, $21.25 million contract.

Barring another trade or signing in addition to Wilson’s, Nashville will likely enter the season with more than $10 million in cap space, per General Fanager. It does have some significant players eligible to test the restricted free agent waters next summer though, including Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm, and Seth Jones.

Roundup: Jackman to Preds, Moore to Devils, Parenteau to Leafs

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Some smaller signings to pass your way…

Nashville has signed veteran d-man Barret Jackman to a two-year, $4 million deal with an average annual cap hit of $2 million. Jackman, 34, had previously spent his entire NHL career — 14 years, 803 games — with the St. Louis Blues and, though it was a while ago, is still one of just four defensemen in the last 25 years to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

In Nashville, he’ll provide a veteran presence in the club’s top-six defense alongside Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.

New Jersey has signed former Blue Jackets, Rangers and Coyotes defenseman John Moore to a three-year, $5 million deal with an average annual value of $1.67M. Columbus’ first-round pick (21st overall) at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Moore had a pretty decent ’13-14 campaign with the Rangers (15 points in 74 games, 21 playoff appearances) but was sent to Arizona as part of the Keith Yandle trade, and wasn’t given a qualifying offer by Coyotes GM Don Maloney.

• Just days after Montreal bought him out of his contract, P.A. Parenteau has signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Toronto.

Parenteau, 32, has struggled to find the form that saw him score 67 points in 80 games for the Islanders in 2011-12 — when he played on a line with John Tavares — but less will be expected of him now that he’s no longer pulling down a $4 million cap hit.

Preds, Volchenkov have discussed new deal

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Sounds as though the door may be open for Anton Volchenkov’s return to Nashville.

Volchenkov’s agent, Jay Grossman, told PHT on Monday he’s had discussions with the Predators about re-signing the pending UFA for a second season in the Music City, but added there’s “nothing further to report.”

Volchenkov, 33, signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Preds last summer after the Devils amnestied the remainder of a six-year, $25.5M pact signed in 2010. The veteran Russian was brought to Nashville as a depth defenseman and filled that role throughout the regular season, appearing in 46 games while registering seven points and averaging 13:11 TOI per.

Volchenkov then appeared in just one postseason game — a series-opening loss to Chicago, in which he played 13:51 in a double-OT affair.

It’ll be interesting to see if Preds GM David Poile opts to return Volchenkov in a similar capacity next season. The team has six defensemen under contract for next season — Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Seth Jones and Victor Bartley — and trade deadline pickup Cody Frason won’t be brought back.

Of course, the Preds could opt to promote one of their young d-men from AHL Milwaukee to fill the seventh blueline spot, rather than re-sign Volchenkov.