The 2019-2020 Nashville Predators season could be summed up with one word: disaster. Nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the hockey club. From major injuries that caused key players to miss significant time, to a mid-season coaching change, to an all-around lack of line chemistry and scoring, the Predators struggled to string wins together.
Nashville’s season came to a disappointing end during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers Aug. 7 in game four against the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators showed promise in a great Game 2 win, and then again in the final seconds of Game 4 when Filip Forsberg scored the tying goal to send the two teams to overtime. However, the Predators’ season was not meant be prolonged.
General Manager David Poile held his end-of-the-season press conference Thursday, where he made his thoughts clear on how this team played and hinted at his plans for the roster’s future.
Poile called the season “unacceptable” and said it was “very clear” the team needed to make some changes. He did say he still believed the team had “plenty of good players,” but said roster changes would be made in the hopes of fixing whatever problems are keeping the Predators from victory.
During the press conference, Poile was also complimentary of his leading core—captain Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, Pekka Rinne, and Juuse Saros.
Now that the offseason is upon us, the question for the Predators is: who stays and who goes?
Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund — the duo are the top two unrestricted free agents heading into the offseason. Smith is a beloved fan favorite, appreciated for playing a grinder’s game. Granlund was the trade piece meant to be a high-scoring forward that never blossomed in Nashville.
Though it’s probably painful for Poile to lose a forward with untapped potential like Granlund for nothing in return, the cost would not be worth signing him to a new contract to look for a trade or hoping they figured out how to unlock his scoring abilities.
Smith, a longtime Predator, has value for being a veteran leader on the team and for playing a more solid and reliable style of game on a bottom line. In a season where the Predators experienced success, Smith would more than likely be signed to a shorter, less-expensive contract. However, heading in to an offseason full of frustration and disappointment, Smith is an easy contract to lose in order to give younger players a chance to prove themselves.
Korbinian Holzer, Yannick Weber, Colin Blackwell — the three remaining UFAs on the Predators’ current roster are unlikely to see a new contract. Holzer came to the Predators as a throwaway pickup at the trade deadline for Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber was scratched multiple times this season, and Colin Blackwell had an up and down season as an extra man/call up from Milwaukee.
Of the three, I’d say Blackwell has the best chance to earn a new (but short and cheap) contract. At 27 years old, the Predators might be looking to give a younger prospect a shot instead, but Blackwell didn’t see enough ice time this season to determine his full worth. Regardless, the three would be easy goodbyes for the Predators to free up roster space for players from their AHL affiliate.
Kyle Turris — the writing was on the wall from the moment former head coach Peter Laviolette scratched Turris for multiple games near the beginning of the season. Regardless of Turris’s improvements with the team this season and his willingness to play whatever role the team asked of him, his time in Nashville is all but over.
I could see GMDP buying out Turris’s contract if he couldn’t find a trade for the troubled forward. None of this is Turris’s fault, not really anyway, but it’s a relationship that just never worked out.
Nick Bonino — with one year left on his contract, coming off a standout year for the Predators, his trade value has never been higher. If the Predators are looking to make significant moves in the offseason, Bonino will be their best best for a decent return.
The Bigger Picture
I don’t believe this is the offseason NHL fans see Nashville say goodbye to any of their core players. The JoFA line was the most productive line during the Qualifiers, Josi is nominated for the Norris Trophy, Duchene is only one year into his $8 million contract, and Rinne will be a Predator until he retires with Saros as his heir apparent. A healthy Ryan Ellis paired with Josi is a solid first line combo, Fabbro is still young enough for Poile to want to see if he can grow into a future top pairing, and Ekholm is satisfying Poile’s expectations as a second-pairing piece.
That being said, I think the 2020-2021 season is the final year for this group to prove their worth, with the exception of Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne.
Based on GMDP’s exit interview, it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to completely overhaul the team. It appears he’d rather clear potential roster spots for Admirals players like Eeli Tolvanen, Rem Pitlick, or 2019 first round pick Philip Tomasino. It might not be the flashy offseason Predators fans are looking for from Poile, but with their current salary cap and a new coach, John Hynes, who got less than half a season to show what he can do with the team, patience could be Poile’s mantra through the next season.