For the first time in several years, the Nashville Predators are entering a season without lofty expectations placed upon their shoulders. Trading big names such as Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis shows that they are no longer committed to their 2017 core, and they are thinking primarily about the future.
As such, this team should not have Stanley Cup hopes, nor should they automatically assume that they will make the playoffs, as has been the case for about the past half-decade. But that is not to say that there is nothing to be excited about for the Predators.
The youth that helped galvanize the team last year is still here, and new youngsters such as Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, Philip Tomasino, Rem Pitlick, and maybe even Egor Afanasyev are building blocks looking to make a good first impression. The hopes for this core to blossom are high, but this year is going to be one of transition and ups and downs.
How will the offense fair?
It is no secret that the Predators have struggled mightily to get the best out of forwards throughout their franchise history. This year, they will once again struggle to score goals, but it will most likely be due to their youngsters developing and adapting to the league.
The only line that looks set right now is the “herd line” of Yakov Trenin, Colton Sissons, and Tanner Jeannot. Even then, they are a bottom-six group that is out there to mostly provide physicality, and they should not be expected to produce many goals.
Everything else is all over the place right now in terms of what to expect. I personally think that putting Luke Kunin and Mikael Granlund together on a line would be smart because of how much chemistry they had last year, but I would not treat that as a given.
Maybe the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Matt Duchene will reunite since they showed flashes in the playoffs. But they did not perform well enough to absolutely necessitate that connection continuing.
Ultimately, the line combinations are going to depend on where John Hynes sees the youth being the most comfortable. And that might cause some of the veterans to see a temporary decline in their production.
There is not one youngster outside of the herd line that you can come in and immediately expect to perform up to their potential just yet. Even Eeli Tolvanen, who was in the conversation for the Calder Trophy for a brief time last year, has more than a few areas to improve in.
Expect the Predators to be near the bottom of the league in terms of offense yet again this year.
Can the back end stay sturdy?
There is no need to spend much time covering the goaltending. Juuse Saros is still progressing admirably and David Rittich is expected to be solid as a backup. The Predators will have many weaknesses this year, but this will not be one of them.
And neither should the defense, which has always been a strength of the team. Despite a few new faces, veterans such as Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are some of the better defensemen in the game and will provide much-needed structure and stability.
We know what we are getting from those guys, but one of the big things to look out for is to see if Dante Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier keep taking steps forward. Seeing how Philippe Myers fits in will be another interesting storyline, as well watching out for when David Farrance gets his first legitimate shot at the NHL. Yes, I said when not if.
Like the offense, the blue line definitely still has room to improve, but the continued improvement of Fabbro and Carrier should help make this unit a formidable one yet again.
What will John Hynes show us?
Let me begin this section by stating that I am not a fan of John Hynes, but there is no realistic way that David Poile could fire him due to the limited opportunity that he has gotten with the Predators. 2021-2022 will be his first 82-game season with the club, but it would still be difficult to justify firing him after.
That is because the team he has to work with is raw and underdeveloped. You cannot expect him to not struggle with the cards he has been dealt, but because of that, he would be wise to take some risks.
Why not have the team spend less time in the defensive zone and sell out down low in the offensive zone at times? Why not roll a line of all youth players to see what they can do? Heck, why not play most if not all of the highly touted youth at the beginning of the season?
Oh, and find a way to fix or at least improve the power play, even if that involves firing Dan Lambert.
The truth is, Hynes should know that he has little to lose this season, and he should at least take some chances with his approach. He would have to finish as badly as he started last year in order to potentially lose his job, so hopefully, he takes advantage of this opportunity.
The Predators are going to face their fair share of adversity this season, but you will not be able to look at just the end result in order to gauge their performance. What is going to be looked at is if they show improvement throughout the course of the year, and if they do, then the season will be a success.
As flawed as this team will be, do not expect a last-place finish either. They should still do a good job of keeping pucks out of their net, and they will be physical, which will make them a tough team to play against.
Besides coaching, the biggest question for the Predators will be offense, and if the youth can hit their stride at some point, they may finish better than people think. But once again, they are young and raw, and patience will be required.
There are a lot of “what-ifs,” but this team is still going to make a good effort and win some games on the back of Saros. In terms of a total points prediction, anywhere from the mid-80s to early-90s is reasonable. Goaltending can go a long way to team success, so I am going to be generous and say that the Predators finish the season with 91 points.
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