Is this the last stand of the Nashville Predators’ core?
As trade rumors circle Ekholm, McDonagh, and others, the next few weeks will determine the future of the Preds’ roster.
David Poile handles the Nashville Predators like they’re The Goonies; the Goonies never say “die.” If there’s even the slightest inkling the Preds can make the playoffs in a given year, no matter how far-fetched it seems, Poile will go full Han Solo, scream “NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS” at the fanbase and writers, and go light-speed-ahead towards a playoff push.
This season likely won’t be any different. If the Predators are anywhere in the playoff conversation come March — regardless of what conventional wisdom says he should do — Poile is going to keep this team intact, and perhaps even add some pieces to help their chances.
Of course, the million dollar question is, WILL the Preds be in that playoff conversation come March? The latest odds from The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn give Nashville a 22% chance of even making the playoffs, and, perhaps the bigger hot-button odds for fans, only a 5% chance of getting past the first round. The Predators’ play of late, while improved, still raises plenty of concerns about whether the team can stockpile valuable points in what’s right now a brutal January and February schedule.
Projected 2022-23 NHL standings and playoff chances as of January 4, updated daily at @TheAthleticNHL https://t.co/FfOqPyKyhE pic.twitter.com/ITlGQ2zlEf— dom 🕰️ (@domluszczyszyn) January 4, 2023
The fact that we’re even having this discussion at this point in the season is not good news for Poile. Not only did he keep the core of the team intact this summer, he doubled down. He gave Filip Forsberg one of the most lucrative contracts in team history, he took a major long-term risk by taking on the remaining four years of Ryan McDonagh’s contract, and he committed a decent amount of cap space to bring Nino Niederreiter into the fold. That’s not to mention the long-term deals for Mattias Ekholm and Jeremy Lauzon that begin this year.
The message from Poile was clear, whether you bought into it or not. This year’s team was expected to win. This was the team the Preds hoped to ride back into contendership with, and Poile would do whatever he could in his power to make it happen.
Instead, the Preds find themselves treading water in the standings, and facing uncomfortable questions about a seemingly bleak future. The Predators have big money tied up in players who, in general, are not playing to the level the Preds are paying them to be at. Others relied on to take big steps forward have either become stagnant in their development or, in worse cases, have taken steps backwards. Fans have watched with frustration as younger players expected to be long-term pieces of the Preds’ future have been unceremoniously shuffled out of town.
If that doesn’t change, major changes will likely be in the pipeline. That includes the dismantling of the Predators’ core as we know it.
There are already whispers surrounding long-time fan favorites. Mattias Ekholm, per Frank Seravalli, will likely be a trade deadline target if the Preds don’t improve, as would new addition McDonagh. Dante Fabbro’s name has also been the subject of trade talk. Conventional wisdom would also say players like Mikael Granlund and Colton Sissons (both with somewhat manageable contracts despite their remaining term) would interest teams, while a player like Alexandre Carrier, a pending RFA, would net a big return. And if the Preds are dead-set on a fresh start, one would have to ask what it would take to move either Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene’s contract off the books this summer.
If history shows us anything, it’s that Poile won’t make those moves in-season unless he absolutely has to. Poile has a history of standing pat at the trade deadline, sometimes to a fault, and instead opting to give his players every possible opportunity to turn things around. As mentioned previously, if the Preds are anywhere close to the playoff this year, expect Poile to give his core that same long leash.
Who knows? Maybe this is the rallying cry for this core. Perhaps all the pieces the Predators wanted to have finally click; perhaps they rack up impressive win after impressive win for the rest of the season en route to their first long playoff run in years that becomes the catalyst for a more positive outlook on this team’s future.
However, the Predators are running out of time to make that happen, and the big guns on the team are running out of time to prove they can be the centerpiece of a winning team.
If they do run out of time, and the Preds find themselves out of the playoff picture at any point in the next few months? Well... buckle up for a wild few years, folks.