For the first time in years (possibly ever), the Nashville Predators have a bunch of young, potentially talented players waiting for their chance to suit up full-time on the big stage. The only problem is there isn't anywhere to put them.
Even with shipping Taylor Beck to Toronto, there are too many regular NHLers on the bottom two lines to accommodate the rookies in waiting. The bridge that separates the prospects from the NHL is about ready to collapse under all the weight of those loitering on it.
So what's going to happen to them? And is there any way for them to make it to Nashville?
Now that everyone is signed let's assume David Poile is done wheeling and dealing this offseason, and the top-six is set as Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Craig Smith, Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson and Mike Ribeiro. Who fills out the final two lines? We'll look at returning players, ones that were recently signed, and the rookies that are knocking on the door for a callup.
|Calle Jarnkrok||Cody Hodgson||Austin Watson|
|Paul Gaustad||Steve Moses||Colton Sissons|
|Eric Nystrom||Kevin Fiala||Viktor Arvidsson|
|Gabriel Bourque||Miikka Salomaki|
The Most Likely Lineup
|Calle Janrkrok||Cody Hodgson||Steve Moses|
|Eric Nystrom||Paul Gaustad||Gabriel Bourque|
The most likely scenario sees Ironhook and Moses flanking Hodgson, and Nystrom and Bourque flanking Goose. It's simple, the incumbents reclaim their seats, and the Preds get to see what $2 million bought them for each of Steve and Cody. If those two play anywhere close to what management and fans hope, Jarnkrok gets an immediate boost in linemates.
Wait a second, one name in particular is conspicuously absent...
The biggest question mark is what happens to Kid Swiss. Fiala seemed poised to be on the opening night roster, and even said with confidence he'll be on the team next year. Now he's been seemingly bumped from his spot as a result of Jarnkrok being bumped from his.
Both Poile and Peter Laviolette seem very high on Ironhook, and likely aren't planning on nuking his role or ice time unless he has a dreadful training camp. If they stick with their plan of playing Hodgson at 3C and switching Jarnkrok to the wing, Fiala is essentially competing with Moses for a spot.
Just like the ruble, goals don't have the same weight in Russia as they do in the US. Still, it seems unlikely the Predators would sign the 36-goal scorer without even giving him a real look on the team. (Again, unless he has a dreadful training camp.)
Could Fiala skate on the fourth line for experience minutes? Sure, but ask yourself if you would rather see him start the season in Milwaukee getting first-line minutes, or start the season in the NHL getting Trotz'd. Of course, we said the same thing about Forsberg last year, and now look foolish for doing so.
Fiala Time isn't cancelled, but it's looking very murky right now. But when he shows up and has an excellent training camp (and he certainly has the talent to exceed expectations), it's going to be hard to reconcile sending him down. The Preds should ice the best team available, (whether that's with or without Fiala), but they also need to do what's best for his development.
The Other Rookies
No one else is really challenging for a spot out of training camp this year, but there are a few who should be at the ready for a call up. Though it will take some injuries to get Watson, Sissons, Arvidsson or Salomaki back with the team in 2015-16. It's too bad for guys like Sissons and Watson, who've been in the organization for about 1,000 years now. Sissons hasn't seen NHL action since 2013-14, and Watson even longer.
But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Every player currently slotted into the bottom-six (save Nystrom) is some form of free agent at the end of this year. If any of Moses, Jarnkrok, Bourque or Hodgson flame out, and/or they decide not to bring Goose back, that's a lot of roster spots potentially available.
Salomaki and Sissons are RFAs after this year, while Arvidsson and Watson (with his new contract) are around for two more. They have some decisions to make, but it's not in the urgent pile just yet. Without any more roster moves, none of them are looking at full-time duty this season.
Still, even though the crowd may be dispersed at the end of this year, there are a few players that are really hampering Nashville's ability to promote from within.
In the Way
Gaustad is expensive, but he's cemented in his role for a reason. Like it or not, he's not going to be replaced unless it's a temporary fix because of injury, or they let him walk next year. So... sorry Watson and Sissons. The other two fourth-liners, Bourque and Nystrom, are a little more questionable.
Fresh off a new (and cheap) contract, Gabriel Bourque should be better this year. His three goals in 69 games looks awful, but he only shot 3.9% on 76 shots. That's not the type of thing to continue into next season, so he should (knocks on wood) perform much better next year. He shouldn't be expected to score goals, but he'll need to chip in a handful if he has any hope of sticking around. Bourque still has the skill set to be a decent bottom line player, but the heat is on for him to prove it, lest he be replaced.
Then there's Nystrom. He of the $2.5 AAV for two more years. He missed the last quarter of the season due to injury, and the fourth line performed better (both offensively and defensively) without him than at any time with him. Character and locker room presence are one thing, but did him not skating 12 minute a night affect the team that much? No, it didn't.
The thing to ask yourself is this: which do you think would be as/more productive? Eric Nystrom, or one of the Predators projected bottom-six prospects making $2 million dollars less than Nystrom.
Garcia's Bottom Six
The Hodgson and Moses signings may have gummed up the works but, while not necessary, it certainly isn't damaging to the team long term. And the positives outweigh the negatives.
Depending on how you feel about players like Watson or Arvidsson, the Preds are really looking at seven players for six spots. There could certainly be an argument made for revamping the fourth line with younger, cheaper players,
|Kevin FIala||Cody Hodgson||Steve Moses|
|Calle Jarnkrok||Paul Gaustad||Gabriel Bourque|
Fiala is more of a pure scorer than Jarnkrok is, so it makes sense to me to put him next to Hodgson. Moses seems like he's a goal scorer, but again there's no telling how he'll play in the NHL or how he'll have to adjust his game. Give them some easy minutes and they may rectify the scoring woes the third line saw all season.
The problem with this combo is it relies entirely on the potential of players that could turn out to be major flops.
Ironhook and Goose can eat up the defensive zone stars, and Bourque gets a chance to skate alongside a talented player again. The drawback to that fourth line is it's a little undersized, but it has a bit more skill on it to be able to be a threat.
In my fantasy land, they magically sent Nystrom away, and have Watson on deck to fill in for a center, Arvidsson for a winger.
Your turn? You have six skaters to fill out the Preds' bottom two lines. Who do you choose? Who's your first call up?