Some Notes on the End of this Year and the Coming Offseason

As we lament our Predators' abrupt, if not untimely, elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and slowly wean ourselves from the bottle to enjoy the rest of the hockey-ing, allow myself to make a couple of observations on the team's run, the elimination, and a few basic expectations for the offseason.

How Did We Get So Far?

It wasn't our 1B line, that's for sure. The trio of Forsberg, Smith, and Ribeiro that played so well through the second half of the regular season was effectively shut down all playoffs. Even after the line was split up, the three created little offense.

Pekka was a big reason why this team advanced. In all but one of the team's seven wins, Pekka's GAA was 2 or less. While his ability to steal games seemed to be fading away during the regular season, he came up big in April and May. Going forward, Poile needs to decide which side of Pekka Rinne we should expect the most in future.

Speaking of fading away in the regular season and then exploding in the playoffs, Colin Wilson did everything he could to push this team through. He was one of the few, if not the only, consistent scorer against the Ducks, and then combined forces with James Neal and Mike Fisher to be a wrecking crew the last five games of the Sharks series. This is the second appearance of Playoff Colin Wilson, but we've yet to see if he can overcome his alter-ego Regular Season Colin Wilson. What should we do? (I'll talk about it later).

Why Aren't We Playing Anymore?

Well, we could attribute the atrocious Game 7 loss to anything and then debate about it for months, so I'm not going to try to blame that one game on anything. Those flukes can happen, even though it was clearly an inopportune time if it was a fluke.

A big weakness was the depth. While some might more specifically cite depth scoring as a problem, I would disagree. The bottom lines frequently looked outmatched in every zone, especially in the SJ series. The vast disparity between the home results (two OT wins and a blowout) and the road results (4 losses by a combined 18-5) show that this team still doesn't have the capability to perform consistently well against great teams with four solid lines.

Where the team was really missing offense was from where they typically expect it. (Injured) Flip Forsberg had only 1G/1A the entire postseason. Johansen did score two goals in the SJ series but they were both once the result had already been decided. Neal played well against SJ but only scored one goal. The D-men are a big piece of our offensive machine, but they were silenced by the Shark defense.

I have to mention the crazy travel and schedule as at least an indirect factor. While it couldn't be at fault for the Game 7 debacle, as we finally had two nights off before the match, the fatigue had to be playing a role in how the team played in the series, especially in San Jose. Injuries and soreness took its toll on the entire time, whether they will admit it or not.

Now What?

This team has few glaring holes but many places in which some upgrades would greatly help. My checklist, in order of priority:

Fix the Bottom Lines

We could do this many ways. Do we go out and find a depth player who can score? Do we upgrade our top lines and move players down? If Neal, Playoff Colin Wilson, and Fisher could serve as our third line, we would certainly be a force to be reckoned with.

I think the fourth line would be fine with the removal of Paul Gaustad, who is a free agent this July, and replacing him with Austin Watson. Salomaki, Sissons, and Watson all played well in the grinding role in Nashville this season. Bourque, who might be a more offensive option and could provide scoring in the 4th line (remember when he was second on the team in scoring? #grit), is also a free agent and can't shake the injury bug. I wouldn't be opposed to keeping him on the roster, however, especially over the likes of Nystrom and Gaustad.

Ribeiro/Ribeiro's Spot

Many here think Ribeiro's fate should be sealed after his miserable playoff performance. I wouldn't be so fast to such a judgment. His regular season performance was quite impressive, and he, Forsberg, and Smith had great chemistry together. If another 2C arrives on the market, then the jump should definitely be made; Ribeiro's contract is not quite that miserable as we like to think it is, however, and if he can be trusted to perform as he did in the regular season, one more year at that level can give Poile more time to develop a Kamenev or find a permanent 2C.

Does Calle Jarnkrok Have a Spot on this Team?

Is he a top-3 forward? Well, the obvious answer is no. He lacks the natural scoring ability and potentially some size to consistently produce against that level of competition. With the emergence of Viktor Arvidsson as a solid third line player, Jarnkrok may no longer have a spot in the lineup, especially if a legitimate top winger comes to Nashville. I still believe that even Fiala could jump into Jarnkrok's incumbent spot next opening night, discipline problems and all, and perform very well with Johansen and Neal, maybe even better than Jarny could.

If Jarnkrok is brought back, a potential solution is to again try 9-92-18 as the top line, then place Jarnkrok on the second line, potentially with Smith and Ribeiro. While the 1st line would be a bona fide scoring machine, we might lose the punch of having a 1A/1B as we had for much of 2016. Let's also not forget that Jarny played well with Johansen and Neal. He also gave the line a balanced offense/defense approach. Perhaps, until the potential for an upgrade arises through trade or free agency, Jarnkrok on the first line is the best decision for the team as a whole.

Will the Real Colin Wilson Please Step Forward?

Two straight years of a poor regular season followed by a remarkable postseason has made Colin Wilson somewhat of a mystery man. Some on the site have pointed out that his consecutive playoff runs have inflated his trade value. While that is certainly true, and I do think any trade offer for Wilson should be considered, I'd prefer to try and bottle up that playoff magic and put it to work in the fall and winter. In most scenarios, Colin Wilson will line up on the third line. Playoff Colin Wilson would easily improve our depth scoring, a major weakness for this team.

That Backup Goaltender Spot...

Carter Hutton played much, much better this year. I will say that much to his credit. However, with his contract expiring this summer, it is most likely his time to try and find a place where he can compete for a starting job. That being said, Poile has seemed reluctant to bring Mazanec or Juuse "Little Bear" Saros into the backup job, seemingly grooming both of them for the starting job by giving them plenty of playing time in Milwaukee. But with Pekka in dire need of consistent rest during the regular season, we need a solid backup that can play a decent number of games.

I don't think finding a backup through free agency is worth Poile's time or money, although we certainly have plenty of $$ to go around. I believe the backup spot should go to Saros. He's been the presumed heir-apparent to Pekka practically since he was drafted. He's smaller than most Predator goaltenders, but he has a lot of potential (and is playing well in World Championships right now). He'll do well to learn a little bit from Pekka before overthrowing his goaltending kingdom.

If We Were to Trade Weber...

Hopefully the return would be defensemen. In the past the Weber trade has always been for that coveted #1 Center. With Seth Jones now gone, and Ryan Johansen now here, a Weber/forward trade would stack our skill forward lines but would really put a damper on the blue line. When Ellis and Jackman were hurt near the end of the year, we saw just how shallow our D depth had become. Take Weber out of the picture and the defense becomes the clear-cut weakness of this group unless an established, young defenseman comes to Nashville in the trade.

Before I Go

This has been a great year for the Predators, with a franchise-record 7 playoff wins, but until that number is stretched to 16, there is still work to be done. I hope this FanPost (and the OTF Mailbag that discusses many of these issues as well) pushes that discussion. Also, in a few weeks I will post the 2nd edition of a fun little summer roster-building game. Here is the link to last year's Fanpost.


This FanPost was written by an OTF reader, and does not represent the views of the editorial staff. Got something you'd like to share? Post your own!

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