Elimination Eval: Nashville Predators

You know what they say, the playoffs go on With Or Without You. It may be a Beautiful Day but there can only be One, Stanley Cup Champion. As a result, the Nashville Predators Still Haven’t Found What They’re Looking For. The Predators were far from the playoff conversation for most of the season but after management canceled a team trip in Vegas to go see U2 at the Sphere, they pooled together a stretch of wins substantial enough to earn them a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. With that in mind, you have to imagine the Predators were another “just happy to be here” kind of team. They are certainly in the stages of a retool/rebuild sort of similar to Washington. The fact that they were able to squeeze into the playoffs and continue to get experience in that regard was impressive enough.

Not for nothing, but I am all for this era of Barry Trotz as General Manager in Nashville. He made it clear at the draft over the summer that he wants his group to take big swings on players and has the confidence that no matter the team he ices, they’re going to be something worth watching. Ironically, this series became some of the most “unwatchable” hockey early on in the postseason. Even so, there was no shortage of drama and that carried on right through the final seconds of the series’ final game. 

Generally speaking, this series was pretty low event in the sense that shot totals weren’t extremely high, there wasn’t a ton of fast-paced or high-skilled hockey being played but historically speaking, that’s the Barry Trotz way. When he was coaching the Predators and especially the Islanders, they would bring their opponents down with their defensive minded style of play and would typically beat you in very low scoring games. The Predators don’t have a ton of star power to begin with outside their Norris Trophy caliber defenseman and Vezina caliber goaltender which is justification enough for the series playing out the way it did. 

There was a point in the regular season where the Canucks were making a strong push to finish the season as the top team in the league and as a result, took hold of Game 1 with a 4-2 win despite Nashville getting on the board first. The Predators would answer back in Game 2 with more of a statement, 4-1 win which was enough to potentially make it a series. The Preds would go on to drop Game 3 but Game 4 would prove to be both the low point and the game changing moment of the series. 

An early goal from Filip Forsberg gave Nashville a confident 3-1 lead in the third period of Game 4 which, given their favored style of play, should have set them up perfectly to close out the game. Nevertheless, Brock Boeser picked up a goal to bring Vancouver within one with just over two and a half minutes to go. There is no reason Nashville should have lost this game. Vancouver had the goalie pulled and Colton Sissons had the game on his stick but ended up hitting the post. Sure enough, the Canucks went the other way with it and Boeser picked up a second goal with eight seconds to go in regulation. 

Blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period is bad enough but missing an empty netter to put the game away makes it that much worse. Almost as bad as Patrik Stefan’s infamous empty net fail back in 2007  Elias Lindholm would end up putting the game away early into overtime, putting the Predators at risk of elimination down three games to one. Nashville was able to pick up an imperative 2-1 win on the road thanks to some strong goaltending from Saros and a pair of goals from defensemen. All three goals in that game actually came from defensemen in the final period of the game. This brought the series back to Nashville where a Game 7 was feeling more and more like a possibility. 

Practically right out the gate you could just feel like this game was going to be 0-0 for a long time. Much like most of the series up to this point, neither team was showing signs of goalscoring and after two scoreless periods, the pressure was growing with each passing shift. In the final minute and a half of the game, Pius Suter managed to beat Saros to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead but it wasn’t over until it was over. I have to say, this series may have been filled with lots of boring hockey, but that final minute of this game was wild. Nashville gave it everything they could in an attempt to force an overtime but the Canucks were literally throwing themselves in front of the net to ensure they took care of business right then and there and sure enough, they held off the Predators. 

Given the fact that the expectations weren’t very high, you have to look at this season as a bit of an over-achievement for Nashville. Not many people saw them even making the playoffs let alone giving one of the top teams in the Western Conference a run for their money. In that regard, what they were able to accomplish should be viewed as a success but potentially sets the bar a little higher for them going into next season. They’re still a franchise in the midst of a restructure. Whether that means a full blown rebuild or more of a retool, you have to think this group showed some promise this season, making it more of a retool. 

There’s plenty of work for Barry Trotz and management to take care of this summer. As far as pending UFA’s go, the Predators have quite the list consisting of Jason Zucker, Anthony Beauvillier, Kiefer Sherwood, Tyson Barrie, Alexandre Carrier and Kevin Lankinen. For RFA’s, they have Philip Tomasino, Jusso Parssinen, Spencer Stastney, Egor Afanaseyev and Jaret Anderson-Dolan in need of new contracts moving forward. 

Interestingly enough, you can make a pretty decent case to bring at least one or two of those names back on shorter term deals. Alexandre Carrier being the most likely name on that list to have a longer term future in Nashville. Despite all the trade deadline drama, I do feel like Tyson Barrie sticking around Nashville could make sense, mainly given where he’s at in his career and how much bouncing around he’s already done. However, with all the games he was a healthy scratch, especially down the stretch you have to imagine he’ll walk. 

In terms of forwards, Jason Zucker’s another guy who fit the script for what this team could use, especially with so many younger players. He’ll be a popular name around the league this summer but if he enjoyed his time in Nashville I don’t see why either side wouldn’t be interested in a potential extension. The Predators are set to have roughly $19 million in cap space for next season. If all the UFA’s walk, they’d still be left with enough to ice a full lineup but would absolutely benefit from some improvements in the off-season. 

Forsberg - O’Reilly - Nyquist

Jankowski - Novak - Evangelista

Parssinen - Glass - Tomasino

Smith - Sissons - McCarron

Josi - Fabbro 

McDonagh - Schenn

Lauzon -  ?


As far as building this roster internally, there are a couple of questions that need to be answered. For starters, are guys like Philip Tomasino, Jusso Parssinen, Luke Evangelista and even Cody Glass ready and fully capable of being full time, middle-six forwards at the NHL level? This is a team that has some cap space so in the event they do some shopping on July 1st, guys could get pushed down to the AHL. Players like Mark Jankowski, Michael McCarron and Cole Smith aren’t necessarily the most established NHL players so there is certainly lots of potential to move some pieces around in an attempt to ice a more playoff oriented line-up. 

As far as the “biggest” question for this team moving forward goes, believe it or not it’s surrounding goaltending but not for the usual reasons. Unlike many of the team’s I’ve written about following the end of their postseasons, the Predators have two highly coveted netminders capable of being this team’s number one for several years ahead. The question comes down to, do they sell high on Jusse Saros and roll with Yaroslav Askarov? Or shop their younger goaltender who is among the top goaltending prospects around the league? 

Realistically, they don’t need to move either of them. They could absolutely run a tandem of Saros and Askarov at least to start, if not for most of the season. However given how many team’s around the league need goaltending, Barry Trotz would be silly not to at least entertain a couple of offers. I mean, Nashville could be the perfect change of scenery team for Mitch Marner.. Whether they go the trade route or spend on the open market, this team needs to find some goalscoring. Outside of Filip Forsberg, there aren’t really any star studded forwards on this team. If a guy like Steven Stamkos, Jake Guentzal or especially Sam Reinhart officially become free agents, Nashville should absolutely be all over it and they have the money to do so. 

They have a bunch of returning cast, they have the cap flexibility to spend over the summer, they have some pieces they could shop around and to top it all off, the Predators are among the top ten teams in the league in terms of prospects. On top of Askarov between the pipes, they have Matthew Wood who was among one of their big swings in the Barry Trotz GM era. They also have Joakim Kemmel, Tanner Molendyk, Zachary L’Heureux, Fedor Svechkov and Kalan Lind among several others. Just another reason why the future of this team is not only exciting, but going to be fascinating to keep an eye on. 

The Predators are in a real interesting spot where it isn’t crystal clear that they’re going to be an elite team down the road, but the pieces are certainly there for Barry Trotz to get them there. I keep singing his praises but there’s enough reason to believe he has what it takes to be a potential cornerstone for this franchise. Keep an eye on the Predators this summer as the moves they make could pave a very bright future in Nashville.