It’s not over ‘til it’s over: The Predators are in a Wild Card spot, baby

You’re not going to want to miss Saturday’s game. This season isn’t lost and this is my think piece.

The next two games for the Nashville Predators are ones the Smashville faithful is going to want to be in Bridgestone Arena for.

Currently, and surprisingly to many, the Predators are in a playoff spot for the first time in the second half of the season. They hold, by the skin of their saber-teeth, the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

Today, the Predators play the Calgary Flames, who hold the first wild-card spot by two points. Saturday, the Predators play their conference rival the Colorado Avalanche, who currently sit at third in the Central by nine points. If you’re itching for some conference action, start scouting StubHub for those seats now.

It’s safe to say the sudden playoff spot for the Predators is unexpected. The ‘19-’20 season is largely regarded as a disappointment across the board thus far. Before the season began, the Predators were a popular pick to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Their July pickup of top-targeted free agent Matt Duchene was an added bonus for a team that boasted of their offensive prowess. However, whatever “prowess” the Predators had had the season before and meant to build on was seemingly entirely gone once October came around.

Numbers all across the board are down for the Predators in scoring, assists, and points. As General Manager David Poile was quick to point out during a pointed press conference mid-season, captain Roman Josi is the only player having a good season — a Norris-Trophy-caliber season. GMDP tried to right his rocking ship in January by firing head coach Peter Laviolette and associate coach Kevin McCarthy. Now, the Predators have shown promise under new head coach John Hynes, but struggles and inconsistency persist.

When it came time for the trade deadline Monday, Poile was uncharacteristically quiet. There was one trade for a third-pairing defender in Korbinian Holzer from the Anaheim Ducks for Matt Irwin. His only other move was a goodwill re-signing of a tough, reliable player in Rocco Grimaldi. One of those moves sat well with fans, one of them did not. I’ll let you guess which one the fans liked. Hint: it wasn’t the trade.

I read the comments; I’ve put out polls; I see what you’re talking about, Predators fans. The majority of you seem to believe this season is a wash: the Predators aren’t making it far in the playoffs, they’re not winning the Cup. You want them to just coast into the post season—or past it. Many of you were angered by GMDP’s lack of movement at the deadline. The consensus, according to comments across social media, seemed to be that fans wanted to see GMDP sell big assets like Mikael Granlund while they’re doing well. We saw other teams dangle well-performing players for first-round picks. However, the reality is that this team — minus Holzer — is staying the same, and if they’re going to make a deep run, they’re going to have to figure it out for themselves.

What is the problem with the Predators? Is it the coaching? — That’s already been addressed by management. Is it the players? — GMDP seems to think so. Is it the general manager? — Many fans seem to think so. We, at On The Forecheck, could write a million think-pieces on this season trying to diagnose what’s going wrong — our analytics crew has been working tirelessly on their end. However, at the end of the day, it’s not over until it’s over.

One thing I am confident in saying about this season, is that everything about this team is unexpected — and it will be down to the very last game. The Predators clearly still have fight left in them, and if it’s not coming from the top, it’ll come from the ‘grinders’ on the team.

Many have pointed out the similarities between the ‘19-’20 team and the ‘16-’17 team: the scrappy nature, the sneaking into the playoffs, and the lack of faith many had in them — until the end of the season. That Stanley Cup Final team was the lowest seed in the playoffs and had not had a great season. As we all know, what matters at the end of the season is being in a playoff spot, being on a hot streak, and having a hot goalie.

If the Predators can find their footing, anything is possible and everything that led them to the playoffs no longer matters. Riding the momentum is the key — that and keeping your players healthy (Ryan Johansen’s injury is still emotionally painful for me, as I’m sure it is for him as well).

That being said, Saturday’s game will be a good indicator of how the Predators will fare in the postseason. It’s a game you’ll want to see in person, especially if the Predators can catch up to the Flames in points.

What else do you have to do on a Saturday evening? You can be frustrated, but real fans still support their team through the good and the disappointing. Hey, this is just my two cents, you can yell at me in the comments.

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