Ryan Johansen

Long-term outlook for Predators Duchene Johansen Forsberg
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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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Predators

Predators disappointments Rinne Duchene Johansen
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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 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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Nashville Predators

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Nashville Predators.

Nashville Predators

Record: 35-26-8 (69 games), fifth in the Central Division, eighth in the Western Conference
Leading Scorer: Roman Josi — 65 points (16 goals and 49 assists)

In-Season Transactions:

• Acquired Michael McCarron from the Montreal Canadiens for Laurent Dauphin.
• Traded Miikka Salomaki to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Ben Harpur.
• Acquired Korbinian Holzer from the Anaheim Ducks for Matt Irwin.

Season Overview:

Even though they went from Shea Weber, to P.K. Subban, to Steven Santini over the last few seasons, the Predators still have one of the stronger group of defensemen in the NHL. Captain Roman Josi was having a season to remember, as he was leading the team in scoring at the time of the pause. They still have Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm on their blue line and Dante Fabbro has become a full-time NHLer. That’s a solid group.

There’s a couple of issues with their roster though. First, they’ve invested some good money into some of their forwards and some of them just aren’t delivering consistently enough. Last summer, they gave Matt Duchene a seven-year deal worth $8 million per season. In his first year with the Preds, he managed to pick 13 goals and 42 points in 66 games. Not enough production there, but it’s his first year with a new team. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The other forward that seems to under-achieve every other year is Ryan Johansen. To acquire Johansen from Columbus a few years ago, it cost general manager David Poile Seth Jones. Yeah, that trade hasn’t panned out too well. Johansen had 14 goals and 36 points in 68 games. Despite his disappointing campaign, you can’t give up on a 27-year-old center with the kind of size that he possess.

The bottom line is that they need more offense from their forwards. It’s a must. It’s odd to see that two of their defensemen are listed among their top four scorers this season. And Ellis, who has 38 points in 2019-20, missed 20 games due to injury.

The other problem was Pekka Rinne‘s dip in play between the pipes. Look, Rinne was a terrific goaltender for a number of years, but he was going to take a step back at some point. The 37-year-old has an 18-14-4 record with a 3.17 goals-against-average and a .895 save percentage.

Those are the two biggest issues and it’s the reasons why their position in the playoffs was far from safe. Technically, the Preds would get into the postseason if it started today, but only because they had one more regulation win than Vancouver. They were that close to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14.

Big decisions will have to be made whenever the off-season starts. They let go of head coach Peter Laviolette during the season and replaced him with John Hynes, but more changes might happen. Who do they keep? Who do they unload? The roster is getting older.

Highlight of the Season:

As much as Rinne has struggled this season, we can’t deny that he had the highlight of the year for the Preds. It occurred on Jan. 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks when he fired the puck into an empty net.

Goalie goals are always the best.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Alex Ovechkin passes Steve Yzerman in Capitals’ loss against Predators

Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators skates past Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals
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The Nashville Predators overcame several turnovers and a one-goal third-period deficit in a 5-4 win against the Washington Capitals.

Yannick Weber scored the go-ahead goal at 15:23 of the third period and Juuse Saros added 29 saves as Nashville won for the second time in three games. Jarred Tinordi, Mikael Granlund, Rocco Grimaldi and Ryan Johansen also scored for the Predators while Filip Forsberg recorded two assists.

Alex Ovechkin scored a milestone goal and Richard Panik scored twice but the Capitals’ four-game losing streak came to an end.

Ovechkin surpasses Yzerman

The Capitals captain eclipsed another NHL legend in his quest to join the 700-goal club. Ovechkin buried a loose puck late in the first period Wednesday and passed Steve Yzerman for sole possession of ninth place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list with his 693rd goal.

Ovechkin is one goal away from passing Mark Messier and seven goals from becoming the eighth player in NHL history to score 700.

“You’ve had a tremendous career to date, and it looks like you’re going strong and might play forever,” Yzerman said in a video played inside the arena. “Best of luck and continued success. I’ve really enjoyed watching you play and watching you fill the net.

“One more thing, if you ever do break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record for most goals in the league, after watching your Stanley Cup celebrations, I want to be invited to your party.”

[RELATED: Alex Ovechkin honors late Kobe Bryant with No. 24 jersey]

What in the World?

Each goalie made a crucial mistake and Nick Bonino managed to score an own-goal in a wacky back-and-forth game between the Capitals and Predators.

Ovechkin pulled the Capitals to within one goal late in the first period when Juuse Saros misplayed a puck behind the net that resulted in an easy tap-in opportunity for the Russian forward.

But the Predators were not finished with mind-boggling mistakes as Bonino’s outlet pass ended up in the back of the net early in the middle frame. Nashville’s center paid the price for a bad pass through the crease when the puck deflected off Saros and the Capitals tied the game at 3-3.

However, in order to even things out, Braden Holtby had a costly turnover early in the third period that directly led to Johansen’s game-tying goal.

All in all, these mistakes are not what would you expect from highly skilled NHL teams.

 


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.

PHT Face-Off: Frk’s heavy shot; Rough year for Johansen

At the start of each week, the PHT Face-Off breaks down some of the topics and trends around the NHL. This week’s topics include: A crazy slapshot, four forwards on the power play, and much more.

Here it is:

• What a Frkn shot

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber won the Hardest Shot Event at the NHL Skills Competition on Friday night. Weber actually fired the two hardest shots of the night, with the fastest one coming in at 106.5 mph. That’s impressive. But we can’t ignore what Martin Frk did at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition over the weekend, either.

Frk set a new record by blasting a puck into a net at 109.2 mph. The 26-year-old forward has played four games with the Los Angeles Kings this year and he’s found the back of the net three times. Maybe it’s time for the Kings to give him another look? He’s also put up 20 goals and 30 points in 33 games with AHL Ontario this year.

The record previously belonged to Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who registered a 108.8 mph shot on the radar gun in 2012. Hockey players seem to be getting bigger, faster and stronger every year, so we’ll see how long Frk’s record holds up. Are we really going to see a human being shoot at over 110 mph in the near future?

• Four forwards on the power play becoming a trend

Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen the number of four-forward power plays increase significantly. Obviously, teams that have more high-end skill up front will use four forwards more frequently. As you can tell from the tweet below, the Capitals and Avalanche use four forwards on the man-advantage 95 percent of the time.

For what it’s worth, the Caps have the 14th ranked power play in the NHL at 20.3 percent. The Avs have the 21st ranked power play in the league at 18.6 percent. Those are two really talented teams, so how much of their power play “struggles” are based on personnel and how much is on the scheme? It’s hard to say.

But it’s interesting to see just how much of a copy-cat league the NHL is today:

Alex Killorn‘s killer season

When the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to off-load some salary during the summer, it was reported that general manager Julien BriseBois was unwilling to part ways with Killorn. That was interesting news considering the fact that he’s not really part of the core. He’s an important part of the team, but he’s not Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman or Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Killorn is making $4.45 million per season through 2022-23. It would’ve been easy to ship the veteran forward elsewhere. Instead, they decided to hold on to him. How has it worked out?

Pretty well, so far.

The 30-year-old hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career right before the All-Star break. He’s now on pace to find the back of the net 35 times and he’s flirting with a 70-point season right now. Whether they want to continue holding on to him or not, there’s no doubt that his trade value has increased.

Interestingly enough, Killorn’s advanced numbers are down from previous seasons, but he’s been more productive than ever. His CF%, his XGF% and his FF% are all down from the last few seasons.

• Tough year for Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the Nashville Predators’ highest paid forward at $8 million per year (tied with Matt Duchene), but he’s certainly not producing up to expectations.

Over his last 12 games, the 27-year-old has just two points in his last 12 outings. That’s nowhere close to being good enough. Prior to the start of this season, Johansen 60-plus points in two of his last three campaigns. This year, he has just 10 goals and 27 points in 47 games.

“When Ryan’s playing his best, he’s moving his feet and playing with speed,” Predators coach John Hynes said, per The Athletic. “I’ve seen pockets of it here, where he’s had the puck coming up the middle of the ice and through the neutral zone with speed and then making good decisions. He should be a very competitive player on the puck with his size and his skill to be able to be a hard player to play against offensively.”

Hynes mentions that he’s seen his centerman play well in spurts, but the Predators need him to be way more consistent. If the playoffs started today, they’d be on the outside looking in. That’s a problem. They’re currently six points behind Vegas for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They’re seven points back of Dallas in the chase for the third seed in the Central Division.

They need him to step up.

What’s coming up this week?
Matt Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET and Sat. Feb. 1, 8 p.m. ET.
• Battle of Pennsylvania resumes as Penguins host Flyers, Fri. Jan. 31, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBC
Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby for the 50th time, Sun. Feb. 2, 12:30 p.m.

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Stars, Mon. Jan. 27, 8 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET
• John Hynes returns to New Jersey as Predators visit Devils, Thu. Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Predators vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.