The upcoming Nashville Predators season is pivotal for many different reasons. There has been an injection of youth into the lineup, and it’s primarily players that had a rough go with their previous teams and feel the need to prove something. They’re coming into training camp with a vengeance. There are also storylines about the organization, from the coaching staff to the front office. However, even with these changes, there are some critical questions that this team needs to answer. We look at a few today and more later this week.
Are they committed to Forsberg and Ekholm?
The first and most obvious one has to do with two of the star players. Of course, Filip Forsberg is going into a contract season, and considering the team's direction, both sides need to decide if they’re willing to commit to another long-term deal. He has been the cornerstone of the Predators' forward core, and seeing him go would most certainly upset the fanbase and even players within the locker room.
Anytime you go to a Predators game, Forsberg is one of the main players you are there to watch. It’s not only because of his wicked wrist shot or physical play, but also his unbelievable creativity with the puck and ability to work in tight areas with it on his stick. Forsberg’s salary is already at $6 million, per CapFriendly, and considering what he has been able to do over the last few seasons, including being a point-per-game player at one point during 2020-21, he’ll probably ask for a significant raise. Committing to another long-term deal worth around $8 million with the situation the Predators are in may not be the right idea.
The good thing is that even if Forsberg leaves, they still have Mattias Ekholm. The 6-foot-4 Swedish defender has been underrated since gaining a prominent role with the Predators, and he’s been a vocal leader and model of consistency on the back end. His contract is far more cost-controlled, which means even if he does want a raise (which he most likely will), he won’t cost as much to retain.
Ekholm is one of the most critical pieces to the Predators for many reasons, from his excellent play to his competitive nature and loud personality—which leads to outstanding leadership. The team is bringing in younger guys, and the farther down the road we go, the more there will be. Some would argue that retaining him is crucial to the rebuild simply because he can help “coach” the younger players and provide them with unrivaled advice. As someone who has been through it all—from playing down in the lineup to being a top defender on a Stanley Cup Final team—he knows what it takes to be great.
It would be a shock to see the Predators not address this early in the season. Of course, there were questions thrown David Poile’s way about it over the offseason, but there was still time to work things out. Now, that time is dwindling. If you’re not going to commit to one or both of them, put them on the market and see what you can get for them. If you are committed to both, re-sign them early before they ask for more due to production in a contract year. It will be vital for the Predators to clarify their position at the start of the season to make the other stuff smooth sailing.
When does John Hynes go?
Another person that’s entering a contract season is head coach John Hynes. Ever since the decision to fire Peter Laviolette was announced, fans have been clamoring for a coach that can get the most out of the players offensively. The team has been notoriously bad at putting up points, which they had a chance to change. Instead, the front office chose Hynes, and fans were distraught.
He struggled during his tenure with the New Jersey Devils, but he was a coach in the USA program, which Poile knows quite well. Naturally, his reputation was pretty much ruined through his time in New Jersey. Fans chanted “fire Hynes” on multiple occasions, and the players never appeared to respond to his messages. They looked dry for most of the game, and their brand of hockey was based on pure chaos. Of course, the roster certainly wasn’t doing Hynes any favors, but a good coach is a good coach. No matter how poor the roster is, a good coach can always find a way to lift their team above expectations.
Hynes’s system isn’t even a system that might be a fun brand of hockey to play to some. But in the grand scheme of things, a team can’t succeed without a proper set of plays and understanding of how they will move the puck and create open space.
So, what comes next? Does the front office believe that the Predators should renew his contract for the impending rebuild? It shouldn’t be a question, but sadly it is. Hynes has been dealt a tough hand, but if the rebuild is truly starting soon (as much as Poile may not want to admit it), he should not be the hockey team's coach. He may be, but someone like Karl Taylor gives them a better chance at developing the young players.
When does the rebuild start?
Speaking of the rebuild starting soon, I think it’s important to ask this question. Poile has had his heels in the ground for a substantial amount of years, and his inability to acknowledge the downtrend of the team has cost valuable assets. Viktor Arvidsson couldn’t even net a first-round pick in his trade to the Los Angeles Kings.
The nature of this “competitive rebuild” is good. I think everyone is happy to see change. However, the inability of everyone in the front office to acknowledge that the team is getting worse has made some fans restless. It feels as if there is a constant state of denial running rampant through the organization. There’s a fairly universal feeling that a rebuild would be best for the team, and with the next two draft classes being as stacked as they are, I wouldn’t argue against it. I’ve been on that train since before 2020. It’s time for the front office to join in, though.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned through all of this is that the Predators have commitment issues. Management and the front office need to make the team’s position clear on a variety of topics so as to speed up the process of returning to contention. Only then will this team improve.