We gathered the staff back for another roundtable, this one discussing how we think the 2020 postseason will go for the Nashville Predators.
Given the chaotic nature of this season overall—from the coaching change to the five-month layoff—I just don’t know if we’ve really seen enough to gauge how good this Nashville Predators team actually is. There were plenty of encouraging signs towards the end of the season, and nothing from Thursday’s exhibition game stood out as a serious flaw for this team. But was that truly a sign the Preds are finding their footing under John Hynes? The sample size just isn’t big enough to say for sure.
That being said, the potential for a playoff run is there. The Predators have the best two-way defensive pair in the NHL right now in Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, and if the likes of Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, and Viktor Arvidsson can play to their potential, their Top 9 forwards are as dangerous as any other team’s in the West. Sure, there’s a big difference between “looking good on paper” and “actually having chemistry on the ice,” but you can’t deny the talent is there...if John Hynes can work out how to use it correctly.
That last bit is going to determine the Preds’ future in these playoffs. If the team gets going right off the bat, I could see the Predators making it to the conference semi-finals, and potentially further based on how the rest of the match-ups shake up. In terms of potential future opponents, they’ve now had three straight shutouts against Dallas, and are undefeated against St. Louis this season. If they get into one of their “lazy” stretches we’ve seen them fall into at times this year...well...let’s hope the lottery gods want Lafrenière in Nashville.
I tend to be a little cynical about any given team’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup in any given year, though some recent performances have given me a little more optimism—I’m specifically thinking about the Bruins’ appearance in 2019 despite the fact that they’d lost their last Cup Final in 2013, when for the last decade or so that had been a sign for teams to fall off the face of the earth instead. Still, all that means is that 2017 wasn’t an outright curse for the Preds.
So, that said, although I think things are looking better for them than I would have dared to predict seven months ago, I don’t see them winning the Cup this year. I could see them running into a Darcy Kuemper -shaped brick wall, but I could also see them making it past the Coyotes and into the actual playoffs. Unfortunately, the re-seeding makes it really hard to predict what will happen at that point. Could they take the Stars in a revenge rematch? I mean, maybe, though after last postseason I don’t want to say “sure.” Could they knock out the Blues? I don’t love their chances, but it’d be sweet if they could. The Avalanche and the Golden Knights? Mmm, nope, I don’t like either of those matchups at all.
That said, they play the games for a reason, and 2020 has not been a year to make me more optimistic.
Uh, redemption? Making a big Cup run after a season (or three) of disappointments? I’m not sure how much progress Nashville makes EVEN IF they eliminate Arizona. How the roster gets retooled when Nashville loses in the real Round 1 does not inspire a ton of optimism for me, either. Finally, I have very little hope that the hockey gods could swing a #1 pick for Nashville in the form of Alexis Lafrenière.
I think Nashville makes it into the real-deal Stanley Cup playoffs, but I am not positive they make a ton of progress past round 1 or 2. On the other hand...Nashville could get red hot and string together a ridiculous number of victories on the back of Juuse Saros. I wish I could see into the future because I have no clue how these playoffs are going to work for the boys in gold.
If anyone makes a difference for Nashville aside from Juuse Saros, it’ll be the JoFA line. I am really hoping for balanced scoring from guys like Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris, etc. Viktor Arvidsson is most definitely your offensive catalyst, and Ryan Ellis is going to lead the charge for the blue line.
Maybe I’m just tired and cranky?
There are more than a few things that go into a team having postseason success. Unfortunately, the Predators lack a few of those necessary qualities.
First, teams with veteran coaches should be expected to fare better than those with new coaches. Having someone experienced who can navigate these new murky waters is going to be invaluable. Additionally, with the run-and-gun nature hockey seems to take on at the start of each season, having a veteran voice behind the bench to settle things down will be invaluable in the chaos of this new postseason.
Credit is owed where it’s due—Predators head coach John Hynes preaches the importance of structure, and I do favor structure and detail-oriented teams in the opening round. However, Hynes has not been through the wringer with the Predators yet. The Predators have played less than half a season’s worth of games with Hynes in charge. I am unconvinced that his voice will carry the weight and respect of his more veteran counterparts.
Second, the Predators only have one “gamebreaking” forward: Filip Forsberg. That isn’t to say that other forwards on the Predators lack value—the team without Viktor Arvidsson is a very different team than when he’s healthy—but Forsberg is the only forward who can be counted on to completely take over a game. If a series is on the line and the Predators are down by one, Filip Forsberg is the only forward who can make the absurd, jaw-dropping play that should be physically impossible to get the Predators back in the game.
No other forward flashes that same level of talent, which would be fine until you realize that Forsberg was still the only forward on pace to score over 60 points this season. On top of that, Forsberg was the only Predator forward to break into the NHL’s top 100 scorers this season—the next closest, Matt Duchene, tied for 119th. Unless four or five forwards suddenly step up their game significantly, the Predators lack enough forwards that can completely take over a game.
Third and finally, it’s one thing to have a goaltending controversy where two goalies are both playing excellent hockey, as is the case in Columbus. It’s another thing entirely when one is an aging, underperforming pillar of your franchise and the other is a young stud who significantly outperformed his veteran counterpart. The Penguins got it right back in 2016, opting for Matt Murray over Marc Andre-Fleury. Will the Predators make the right call and start Juuse Saros, or risk the series with franchise stalwart Pekka Rinne? I appreciate how challenging of a decision this can be, but the numbers speak for themselves. Saros has a .914% save percentage this season to Rinne’s inexcusable .895%. More in-depth statistics paint the same story. I fear that the Predators will start Rinne, only to realize it was a mistake once their hole has been dug too deep.
Those three points said, anything can happen in a five-game series. This will be the the most random round of NHL hockey played in decades. With hockey being the low-scoring game it is, all it could take is one Arizona penalty for something random like too many men and an ensuing power play goal to completely change the look of the series. Of course, I’ve been analyzing the special teams and I have serious doubts about the Predators’ power play this series, but that’s beside the point. Anything can happen. I simply believe the smart move is to, well, curb your enthusiasm.
As the great Michael Scott once said, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.”
I have mixed feelings about making a prediction for the Predators postseason hopes for fear of jinxing the team. I’ve been groomed to remain impartial in journalistic matters, but I’d be lying if I tried to pretend like I didn’t have a vested interest in the Predators doing well.
I’ve written quite a bit about the high stakes this postseason carries for the Predators. I believe this is a make or break situation. They heard the warning given by GMDP, they feel frustrated by the disappointing regular season, they know they have to do better. This team had four and a half months to heal, get their headspace right, and prepare themselves for the tournament.
A healthy Ryan Ellis on the blue line to help Norris Trophy finalist/team captain Roman Josi could make all the difference. A healthy Viktor Arvidsson reunited with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen could spark JoFA line magic. An angry Matt Duchene, who has not yet lived up to his big contract, could be the scoring change the Predators need. A lot of factors play into the Predators’ chances of success.
Though the exhibition game was just one game, it was one against a bitter rival in the Dallas Stars who’ve had the Predators’ number for the majority of the season. Nashville played strong and found the back of the net—two of the biggest issues during the regular season. I’m not saying one exhibition game will determine an entire postseason, but there is promise. If the Predators can play Arizona like they did Dallas, they could go a long way. However, if they fall apart when the Coyotes start scoring like they’ve been known to do this season, it’ll be over quick.
TL;DR—I liked what I saw against the Stars and I think the team is healthy, angry, and ready for battle. They’ll at least make it past the Coyotes.
This is the most difficult post-season prediction to make. Last year was far easier (I mean, it was a gimme—finished first in the Central division—of course they were going to make it deep into the playoffs). There are a number of factors that go into my postseason predictions, although several have zero basis in science or statistics. With the absolute absurdity of this season, all of my eye of newt and toe of frog go out the window, and I am left with a whole new untested brew in my conjecture cauldron.
The problem is that the Predators have the ability, but it was served with a side of inconsistent execution in the regular season before the pause. All of that potential is still there for some serious postseason success. The Predators go into the post season with a rested and recovered team—especially Viktor Arvidsson, who is key to any chance of a real run the Predators may make.
The exhibition game against Dallas was better than I dared hope for, although not perfect. True confession: I kept waiting for the team to fall apart. But the goaltending was solid from both Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne, Arvy’s speed was a spark for the previously benign JoFA line, and the Predators stayed focused and strong in the defensive zone. And a power play goal? What is this special teams magic? When (not if) the second forward line gets hot and the Smithbaldi line reignites, the Predators have considerable offensive threats. But all of this factors mean nothing if the Predators fall back into the inconsistent execution trap that buried them in the shortened regular season.
Honestly, the hope I have rests on the ability of relatively new head coach John Hynes to get the best out of this team. The glimpses I saw in the Dallas game are encouraging. Ryan Johansen looks like a far better version of his previous-season self, the defensive coverage left few opportunities for Dallas, and the energy and motivation for the Predators appeared to be at a good post-season level. But is Hynes able to consistently get the best from this roster? I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but...there may be some magic with Hynes at the helm.
So, prediction. I have tried not to let hope get the best of me, but here I am. Hoping. I believe the Predators—IF they play consistently like they did against Dallas—will make it past the Coyotes in four games, and—IF they play consistently—have another playoff round victory in them. At that point, injury and mental toughness will decide the rest. Could they make a serious Cup run? Yes. Will they? My tea leaves say (quoting Hilda Lewis in The Ship That Flew), “There is no magic when one no longer believes.”