A year or two from now when Nashville Predators fans look back on the 2021 season, they will instantly think of a pandemic. It hasn’t been just the COVID pandemic that significantly affected the divisions, the schedules, and the protocols this season, but the injury pandemic that has swept through the Predators roster this season. Not since the Stanley Cup run of 2017 has the team seen so many key players injured.
So which injury has had, or could have, the greatest impact on the 2021 season? What player returning from injury could make the biggest impact in this last stretch of the season? The staff at OTF weighs in with some thoughts.
With a plethora of injuries to choose from, it took some time to sort through the options, but for me the answer was pretty clear. Choosing Mathieu Olivier’s 4-6 week absence may seem like recency bias, but hear me out.
When the season started, the team was really struggling to find a consistent identity, and the first line to solidify and consistently play the way John Hynes has wanted has been the “Herd Line” of Oliver, Sissons, and Trenin. The line plays a hard, physical game. While there have been instances of opposing teams taking advantage of mistakes with this line, there are very few games when this line has been truly outworked.
With eleven of the next thirteen games against either top three teams or teams the Preds are battling for the remaining Central Division playoff spot, Olivier’s physical play will be missed, but here is hoping he can come back early enough to help the team finish the season with enough points for a playoff series.
I really, really miss Eeli Tolvanen. Come back, #28! The young Finn was FINALLY hitting his stride, putting up solid points and POWER PLAY GOALS in his last 10 or so games. Tolvanen isn’t the game-breaker that Filip Forsberg is, but Forsberg himself hasn’t been a game-breaker like we’d want him to be. Tolvanen has a chance to really establish himself as a power-play sniper from either circle, and his return from injury should hopefully result in more than a few power play goals.
The easy answer for me is the extended absence of Ryan Ellis. With the loss of Nashville’s two best defenders to injury, the Preds had to get creative and were forced to play young players that they (for some reason) didn’t feel were ready. Alexandre Carrier and Jérémy Davies surprised in a good way, the team benefitted from their presence, and—most importantly—the lack of elite talent on the blue line led to an offensive mentality that was considerably less funneled.
The Predators are a better team with Ellis on the ice, but they benefitted from him missing some time, if only because it forced them to shed the Peter Laviolette tendencies that had made the team’s offensive approach stagnant.
I would have to echo Rachel and say Eeli Tolvanen. The Predators’ power play unit thrived with him and floundered without him, both before he was added to the first unit and again after his injury. Vets and rookies have come on and off of IR, but the on-ice results have been able to maintain their course. The power play is the lone part of the game I feel needs to be at peak performance for any potential postseason success, and as it stands, without Tolvanen, the power play is just a chance to pass the puck around. Having Forsberg wouldn’t hurt, either.
I’d also have to agree with Eamon about the team benefitting from rookies stepping in and playing Hynes hockey and allowing the rest of the veterans to cast off Laviolette chains that have bound them.
With a long injury list to choose from, what Predators injury do you think has affected this team the most this season? Let us know what you think in the comments!