Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Nashville Predators.
Let’s examine three key questions for the Predators next season …
1. Is this really a better winning formula?
The Predators could have a deeper offense by adding Matt Duchene, while still having one of the best defense corps in the NHL if Dante Fabbro can make up for enough of what Nashville lost in P.K. Subban. By subtracting from a strength in hopes of bolstering a weakness, maybe the Predators will find a perfect balance.
There’s an uncomfortable possibility that David Poile might have outsmarted himself here, though.
For one thing, what if the Predators sold low on Subban, whose struggles were a bit exaggerated in 2018-19, and was a Norris finalist as recently as 2017-18? It’s difficult to ignore that Subban’s still someone who wins the shot share battle, while Duchene’s possession numbers have regularly been negative/average.
It’s possible that Fabbro might stumble considerably, considering he’s only played in four regular season and six playoff games at the NHL level. It’s also possible that the Predators have overrated both Duchene as a difference-maker and Roman Josi as a defenseman.
One must also wonder if this team’s just made too many changes over the years. They’ve traded for Subban and traded him away, brought in Kyle Turris in a big trade, were fairly bold in trading Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund, and so on. If you’re a stickler for “chemistry,” aren’t you a touch worried?
Duchene hasn’t been on a ton of winning teams during his career, but this is the best roster he’s ever joined … so we’ll see if this works out. At least you can’t accuse the Predators of being too timid.
[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]
2. What kind of goaltending will they get?
Pekka Rinne‘s had his critics over the years, yet he’s shut most of them up. But speaking of years … Rinne turns 37 on Nov. 3, so there’s a real threat for a decline.
If that drop-off comes in a dramatic way, will promising young goalie Juuse Saros be able to hold down the fort? The 24-year-old was fine in 2018-19 (.915 save percentage), but did stumble a bit at times. Where Rinne is a towering presence, Saros bucks the trend by being a smaller goalie. Might that get exposed with more reps?
If you forced me to choose a duo to roll with in 2019-20, this one would be one of the top options, but as we’ve seen with goalies, that doesn’t mean strong play is a guarantee. With Subban gone and Duchene not exactly a perennial Selke pick, the Predators goalie job could be tougher than ever, and there have been certain stretches where the Predators’ defense already depended upon their goalies more than some might think. (Example: they were middle-of-the-pack in high-danger chances allowed in 2018-19.)
3. Did they fix their power play?
Duchene changes the Predators’ personnel options, and they changed to a new power play coach in Dan Lambert.
Ideally, those tweaks will modernize a Predators’ man advantage that relied far too much on point shots from defensemen, and sputtered to the tune of a league-worst 12.9 percent success rate.
With Subban gone, that’s one less force pressuring the Predators to play that way, and maybe lean more toward a three-forward, two-defensemen setup, compared to the wider league trend toward four forward, one defenseman setups.
Will those changes be enough to improve that woeful unit? Maybe positive regression would have taken care of some of that bad production, anyway?
The Predators might flat-out need a better power play if their new-look team isn’t as impressive at even-strength, so we’ll see.
There are a lot of questions swirling around Nashville, but the most fascinating one is: are they actually better than they were last season? The Predators certainly are gambling a lot on that being the case.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.