Inside The Box: Is a rebuild looming large for the Nashville Predators?

The Nashville Predators (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Nashville Predators (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s daily news bulletin, covering all the latest news and providing unique analysis and insight, while highlighting the content you need in your lives.

Is it the end of the road for the Nashville Predators? Is a mass rebuild on the way? We are going to delve into those questions and try to come up with answers for a franchise that continues to punch below its weight on today’s Inside The Box.

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Just what is going on with the Nashville Predators? It seems that ever since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17 they have gone backwards, despite investing huge amounts of dollars into an offense that has enough firepower to sink a small fleet of battleships. They have the star power and the weapons, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Now, some may feel that we are reacting to the Predators’ 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Friday night, or rather the fact that they are 5-6-0 on the year and are seventh in the Central Division having played a game less than the Detroit Red Wings who sit below them. You could also argue that the Central is a bit of a mess with a couple of teams hit by COVID-19 outbreaks and there is still plenty of time for the Preds to hit their stride and climb up the standings, but the fact of the matter is that this isn’t a new problem nor are we reacting to a small sample size.

John Hynes
Head coach John Hynes of the Nashville Predators. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Big changes could be on the horizon for the Nashville Predators

We mapped out here why the same-old scoring problems still exist for the Nashville Predators, despite the fact that they have been getting shots on goal when you look at the stats. But the eye test is still important and the top stars, players in the ilk of Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen who are getting paid the big bucks, just aren’t doing nearly enough to justify their star status on this team.

They should be one of the most potent teams in the entire National Hockey League given the weapons they have at their disposal, but instead they rank 26th in Goals For Per Game (2.55) and they also have an Expected Goals For of just 6.9 at even strength. You won’t win hockey games if you can’t light the lamp on a frequent basis, and the Predators also suffer at the other end of the ice given that they rank 23rd in Goals Against Per Game (3.27), while their Expected Goals Against is currently 14.5.

Basically, they struggle in two of the most important aspects of the game – scoring and keeping the puck out of the net – and they’ve suffered from bad goaltending for a while now with Pekka Rinne in the back nine of his career, although he’s been pretty good this season, while the jury is still very much out on Juuse Saros who is 3-3-0 this year with a 3.31 Goals Against Average and a .893 Save Percentage.

The defense, which has long been a source of pride for this franchise, also isn’t as formidable as it once was, despite boasting the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Roman Josi, who has six points (2 G, 4 A) in 11 games so far this season, but the overall unit aren’t without blame when it comes to why they have struggled this season.

Plus, some of the intangibles aren’t there either which is incredibly concerning. For instance, they won a thriller against the Panthers on Thursday but failed to follow that up, instead going down without a fight to Florida the following night. They lacked spirit, they lacked hustle and there is just an alarming lack of consistency with this team. They seem devoid of ideas at times which is worrying.

So, what’s next? Well, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile has tried nearly everything to try and get the best out of this team, including sacking Head Coach Peter Laviolette last season and replacing him with John Hynes, which looks a sidewards move at best so far, and also adding another star to this forward group last year in Matt Duchene, who hasn’t looked the same player since signing a seven-year, $56 million contract.

Poile was also aggressive this offseason, signing depth players in the ilk of defenseman Mark Borowiecki and forwards Brad Richardson, Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund while trading for forward Luke Kunin in order to try and bolster the depth up and down the lineup and take the pressure off the team’s big guns.

Roman Josi (59)
Roman Josi #59 of the Nashville Predators. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

However, none of those moves have seemed to work and the bottom line is that the Predators have been in free fall since taking the hockey world by storm thanks to their trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. They’ve regressed each year, apart from making the Western Conference Semi-Finals in 2018, but they crashed out in the First Round in 2019 and they lost in the Play-In Round to the Arizona Coyotes last year.

It is clear this team’s Stanley Cup window is rapidly closing and this year could be the death knell for this roster as it is currently constituted, because something has to be done if the Predators continued to be mired in mediocrity. Poile has tried to shake things up by making a huge splash in Free Agency with Duchene, he’s tried to make depth signings and now the only thing left to do may be to blow everything up.

Now, as the New York Rangers have proved, rebuilds don’t have to take forever and the Nashville Predators have the assets to get back some high draft picks and elite prospects in order to ensure that the rebuild job only takes a couple of years. Plus, they have franchise cornerstones in Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg that they can build around, while they could perhaps opt to deal the likes of Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen in order to both clear cap space and stock up on valuable draft capital.

Who knows what the front office will do but it does seem as though big changes could be on the way if the 2020-21 season completely spirals out of control for the Nashville Predators, and the only remaining solution appears to be to blow everything up and start again while retaining some key pieces. I mean, they do have some hope in the form of phenom goalie Yaroslav Askarov who is probably a couple of years away from being NHL ready, so starting to rebuild and put the pieces in place to ensure that this team is ready to compete again by the time their potential franchise goalie of the future is ready could be a smart idea. But, there is no doubt that the Nashville Predators have been spiralling for a while and it wouldn’t be a surprise if ownership decides to pull the trigger on some drastic changes sooner rather than later if things don’t turn around and quick.

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