The Nashville Predators began the season with +1450 odds to win the Stanley Cup, which had them placed with the eighth-best odds to win hockey’s most coveted prize. Ahead of them in sixth and seventh place, respectively, were the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues, the last two teams to win it all.
If the world worked the way the bookies in Vegas say it does, all three of those teams would be still playing today in the second round, instead, none of them are. Let’s look at what went wrong for the Predators and where their areas of focus should be for next season.
Roman Josi led the team in scoring this year. Not Filip Forsberg (48 points) and not Matt Duchene (42 points), but defenceman, Josi. In fact, Ryan Ellis, another defenceman, followed the previous trio up at 38 points. It’s never a good thing when your fourth-leading scorer is in the 30-point range, unless you’re talking about goals only, but we’re talking about points here.
This is not to say the Predators didn’t score goals or even stop goals from being scored on them. They were 17th out of 31 teams in both categories. Not good, not great, just meh. I don’t think the Preds were thinking of “meh” when they locked up Duchene to an $8 million yearly cap hit last July, though.
Nashville wasn’t the only team that whiffed on throwing that kind of money at a free agent this offseason. Sergei Bobrovsky laid an egg for the Florida Panthers this year after earning his big ticket, failing to fill the much-needed hole in the crease for Florida. Unfortunately for Nashville, the man they paid to fix a major need failed to live up to expectations as well. Nashville fans can take solace in the fact that a 29-year-old scoring forward is much more likely to rebound than a 31-year-old goaltender. That’s about where the optimism ends on the Duchene front, though.
Elite Company, Less Than Elite Results
There are 36 players in the NHL that carry a higher cap hit than Duchene and seven who carry the same cap hit. Out of that 36-player sample size, Duchene out-produced only seven of them. Of those seven, four are defencemen. The other three? Phil Kessel, Jeff Skinner, and Jamie Benn. Duchene out-produced them at a points-per-60 rate but Benn however, is currently captaining his team to a Game 7 and is on the cusp of a Conference Final berth.
Last season was eighth among Duchene’s career point totals and ninth in terms of points-per-60, which is encouraging if you want to believe this year was the exception and not the rule. Duchene is a player who plays more than 70 games a year, doing so all but three times in his career (this year being one of them but was due to a shortened season). Consistency wouldn’t be the word to encapsulate Duchene’s career so far, but in regards to showing up to work, it certainly applies.
The verdict? The contract is a gross overpayment, but Duchene will likely put up a better season than his first in Nashville, although he could sure use some help.
The Other Guys
While we are on the topic of overpayments, we can talk about Kyle Turris real quick. I say real quick because if you read my Philip Tomasino article, you will know that I believe he should have Turris’ spot in the lineup next year.
Turris posted a minus-0.2 wins above replacement number this year, and if you’re unfamiliar with the stat it essentially gives you a number above or below zero to assess a player’s value above or below a replacement-level player (replacement-level meaning any average NHL player at all can plug and play that spot – they’re just a guy). At a $6 million cap hit, you can’t have a replacement-level guy in your lineup.
If you’re a Predators fan reading this, the story is pretty grim so far, so let me brighten your mood. I’ll start by saying Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are just fine. Forsberg only put up 48 points, yes, but in an 82-game season, you will see him get closer to what you would expect from him at around 60 points.
Arvidsson failed to play 60 games for the second season in a row and posted an underwhelming 28 points in 57 games. The flip-side is he put up 31 goals as a 24-year-old in 2016-17, has been a 60-point player twice, and, at 27, is just entering his prime. Nashville’s offence is underwhelming, but with the addition of some youth, a bounce-back from the guys listed above, and their stars staying in the lineup, it’s a far less grim sight than the numbers would dictate this year. (from ‘Poile, Hynes high on Tomasino making Preds’ roster,’ Nashville Post, 09/02/2020)
The Bread and Butter
Ok, I ended my piece on the forwards in a positive spin, but get ready, because here’s where I really feel good about this team…the defensive side of the puck. I’ve talked before about how Nashville has an identity for being a defensive powerhouse and it’s no secret they might embody that now more than ever.
First off, Josi might be the best defenceman in the league
Josi is also up for the Norris Trophy this year and is the favourite to win it, which is evidence enough in case Bryce’s charts don’t do it for you. Behind him on Nashville’s depth chart? Just Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro. I don’t need to go into the details, this is an A+ backend and it doesn’t need to be touched, as I expect Fabbro to step into a bigger role next year, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
For a further breakdown on the goaltending situation and my thoughts onto who will be the starter, what Pekka Rinne will do, and that general situation, refer to my latest article.
Hottest In The League
No, I’m not talking about male model and Swiss dreamboat Josi. I’m talking about the hottest goalie in the league to end the regular season, Juuse Saros, who finished the season on a tear with four shutouts, including two in back-to-back contests.
When you consider the 24-year-old the 1A to Rinne’s 1B next season, I think you’re looking at a top-five tandem in the league.
Can They Run It Back?
Can the Predators do nothing and again start the season off as a top-eight favourite to win the Stanley Cup? Well, no – the first two paragraphs should be evidence enough of that. They also have to, at bare minimum, hire some new assistant coaches to join John Hynes behind the bench.
Beyond their coaching room, the only clear hole is a game-breaking forward. Since I don’t think Tomasino will be that as early as next year, they could use some help, and that top-line clearly needs assistance. My suggestion would be to hit the free-agent market again.
With the likes of Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov available, and the big fish this year being defencemen and goalies, the market could be just right, where the Preds don’t end up overpaying as they did with Duchene. As far as who they should sign? That’s a story for another day. If they can succeed in bolstering their forward group, I don’t see any reason why they can’t enter next season with hopes to compete and get this city a Cup.