Mattias Ekholm

Long-term outlook for Predators Duchene Johansen Forsberg
Getty Images

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

1 Comment

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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Predators

Predators disappointments Rinne Duchene Johansen
Getty Images

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 surprises and disappointments for the Nashville Predators.

Rinne ranked among biggest disappointments for Predators

After a midcareer hiccup, Pekka Rinne skyrocketed back up the goalie ranks in recent seasons. Rinne won the 2018 Vezina Trophy as the highlight of this rebound, but was quite strong (.918 save percentage or higher) from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Things weren’t pretty in 2019-20 … at least beyond the goal Rinne scored.

After a splendid start (7-0-2, .920 save percentage in October), Rinne plummeted to a sub-backup level. In the 27 games since, Rinne went 11-14-2 with a dreadful .887 save percentage. (That ties Rinne with Carter Hutton for the fourth-worst save percentage among goalies with at least 10 games played during that span.)

Juuse Saros stumbled to start the season, too, suffering through a .895 save percentage before the All-Star break. Luckily for the Predators, Saros turned things around in a big way, managing a .936 save percentage in 17 games following that break.

If the 2019-20 season resumes, it might be a disappointment if John Hynes chooses Rinne over Saros — at least if the two goalies continue on opposite trajectories.

Top Nashville defensemen found another gear?

While goaltending failed Nashville in some unexpected ways, you could argue the Predators’ defense somehow got stronger. At least if you’re grading the top guys.

Roman Josi cannot be ignored as the most obvious standout. Josi easily topped all Predators scorers with almost a point per game (65 in 69 contests). He also cleaned up his defensive game quite a bit, which silenced many of his doubters.

You could argue that in some ways, Josi surged off the charts. I had to raise the y axis of his Evolving Hockey RAPM chart to four deviations to account for his Corsi For/60 in 2019-20. (Translation: Josi was fantastic in 2019-20, and didn’t just ride a hot hand.)

Roman Josi not among Predators disappointments Evolving Hockey

When you consider all-around play, Josi may just be a better choice for Norris than John Carlson. That’s a debate for another day, though.

Injuries limited Ryan Ellis to 49 games played in 2019-20, yet he still managed to place fourth in team scoring with 38 points. That sandwiches Ellis between two $8M centers (Matt Duchene at 42, Ryan Johansen at 36).

Mattias Ekholm completes the Predators’ tremendous trio, sitting at 33 points with sound all-around work.

Considering P.K. Subban‘s sad 2019-20 season, the Predators hit a lot of the right buttons on defense. That was huge, because you could argue that almost every other facet of this Predators team hovers over the “disappointments” category.

Forward group remains on list of disappointments for Predators

When it comes to investing in goalies and defensemen, the Predators have consistently received good to outright fantastic value. That’s part of what made Rinne’s 2019-20 slump one of their surprises.

But it seems like no matter how much money the Predators pump into adding forwards, they end up worthy of the same gestures: a shoulder shrug, if not a shoulder slump.

After chasing Matt Duchene for quite some time, the Predators got what they wished for. Paying Matt Duchene $8M per year doesn’t automatically make him anything more than Matt Duchene.

And, hey, Duchene is … fine.

Yes, managing a modest 42 points in 66 games is underwhelming. Especially when you attach the phrase “for an $8M center,” which some understandably can’t resist.

Duchene checks out reasonably well in underlying stats, providing some of the better numbers of his career in that area. That $8M price tag will only look worse as he ages, yet Duchene really isn’t the problem. He just doesn’t solve many of your other problems.

Because, honestly, Duchene isn’t even the Predators’ most disappointing $8M center. That goes to Ryan Johansen. Johansen isn’t a bad player by any stretch — like Duchene, his underlying stats are respectable — but he can be frustrating. It’s one thing to be a playmaker. It’s another to become one-dimensional, which feels like a fair way to describe Johansen. Johansen averaged just 1.49 shots on goal per game this season, basically falling in line with his career-low from 2011-12, when he was 19.

An expensive committee

That “fine … but expensive” feeling hangs over others. Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, and Mikael Granlund pitched in 30+ points each, helping the Predators score by committee .. but a very expensive committee.

It was a relatively tough season for Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, too. They both still rank as big bargains, mind you, but it was that kind of season for Nashville’s forward group.

Such widespread disappointments make you wonder if there’s something systemic going on for the Predators. While they addressed that by firing Peter Laviolette, I’m not so sure John Hynes will end up being the answer.

All things considered, it might be a pleasant surprise that this team entered the pause in playoff position. Maybe the Predators could generate bigger surprises if those disappointments turn around?

MORE ON THE PREDATORS

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.

Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg rally Predators past Devils

Matt Duchene scored in regulation and the shootout-deciding goal in the Nashville Predators’ 6-5 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Filip Forsberg scored twice and lit the lamp in the opening round of the skills competition as the Predators erased a third-period deficit for the second straight game. Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bonino also scored. Pekka Rinne added 27 saves.

Despite two goals from Pavel Zacha and two points from Nikita Gusev, the Devils picked up their fourth loss in the previous five games.

Predators ready for playoff push?

If Nashville has its eyes on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, now is the right time to climb up the standings. After an impressive win against the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals Wednesday, the Predators collected another important road victory and are currently two points out of the wild card with two games in hand on both the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes.

Even though the Devils are near the bottom of the NHL standings, the Predators should be proud of their effort which resulted in two points in the second leg of a back-to-back on the road.

“We are showing a lot of character right now,” Duchene said on the NBCSN telecast following the win. “We didn’t have any passengers tonight, everyone was going.”

If the Predators can string a couple of victories together, they can erase a disappointing first half in a hurry. Nashville will take on Vegas at Bridgestone Arena Saturday before embarking on a critical four-game road trip through Western Canada.

Can Zacha turn the corner?

Zacha became the first Devil since Mike Cammalleri to score a shorthanded goal and power-play tally in the same game per Devils’ statistician Craig Seiden. The 22-year-old forward showed off his silky hands when he converted a nifty deke to even the score at 1-1 early in the first period. He would later benefit from a deflection when he knotted the score again in the middle frame.

The Devils invested a lot of draft capital in Zacha when they selected him with the sixth overall pick of the 2015 draft. The Czech forward has been largely inconsistent throughout his brief NHL career and has failed to live up to his draft status thus far.

There is not a magic formula for player development in the NHL. Each individual improves his ability and adjusts to the demands of the sport at a different rate. Will Zacha’s performance Thursday be a building block toward his path to stardom? The Devils have a few of the right pieces with Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and others, but Zacha’s maturation could be an X-factor in the Devils’ quest to turn things around.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL on NBCSN: Time for Predators to make their move

Predators
Getty

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This season has not gone as planned for the Nashville Predators.

They enter Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in 10th place in the Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot, and in the middle an ugly stretch that has seen them lose three out of their previous four games.

It is all very unfamiliar territory for the Predators. After being one of the league’s best teams over the previous five years but always falling just short of climbing to the top of the NHL mountain, they tried to shake things up this season. They dealt from their depth on defense by jettisoning P.K. Subban‘s contract to create salary cap space to add another impact player at forward. Matt Duchene ended up being that player.

On paper, the roster looks like a contender. They still have a deep defense even without Subban thanks to the presence of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. And while they may not have a superstar forward, but they are very deep and have seen their offense dramatically improve from where it was a year ago. They are sixth in the league in goals per game, and even though the power play is still not very good, it is not as historically inept as it was a year ago.

The two big issues that have held them back are a lack of a consistency, a struggling penalty kill, and a shocking decline in their goaltending.

The latter issue is no doubt a big driving factor in the first two.

Entering play on Sunday the duo of Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saraos has the second-worst all-situations save percentage in the NHL, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings’ duo of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier. In no situation are they worse than on the PK where they have stopped just 79 percent of the shots they have faced, a mark that is by far the worst in the NHL and well below the league average.

Goaltending is always going to be the one position that makes-or-breaks team’s season, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that if Rinne and Saros had spent the first half playing up to their normal levels that the Predators would be in a dramatically different in the standings. That’s also something that should give Predators fans optimism that this season isn’t yet lost. Even though they find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture at the halfway point and a few points back, they still have games in hand and have a lot of key ingredients in place to win. This is a team that is probably significantly better than its record indicates. If their goaltending can ever get itself back in track in the second half this is a team that may not go away quietly given the improved offense.

Now would be a pretty good time for that to start happening.

A four-point deficit in the playoff race may not seem like a huge gap to make up, but only about 20 percent of the teams facing such a deficit at this point in the season actually end up overcoming it. Points are hard to make up in the standings, and games in hand don’t necessarily equate to “wins” in hand. So it’s time for the Predators to try and build on Saturday’s big win in Los Angeles and try to stack some wins together to begin making up that ground, and the schedule certainly creates quite an opportunity for that.

Starting with Sunday’s game in Anaheim, seven of the Predators’ next 10 games for the rest of January are against teams that currently reside in the bottom half of the league standings.

If they are going to get back in the playoff picture and gives themselves a chance to make some noise, that process has to start now.

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.

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.