OTF Roundtable: The Preds at the Midway Point
Our contributors tackle the Preds’ MVP pick, trade deadline strategy, Forsberg’s future, and more!
The Nashville Predators currently have the second-best record in the Western Conference. Looking back at preseason expectations, on a scale from 1-10, how surprised are you by the Preds’ performance this season? (1 being not surprised at all, 10 being absolute shock).
Nick: I’m at a solid 5, only because I truly believed it was going to be 50/50 as to whether or not the Preds would be a solid team. We knew they had the talent needed to be successful; for whatever reason, they just couldn’t put it together the past few seasons. Guys like Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, and Mikael Granlund having career-worst seasons in such a short timeframe soured a lot of people on where the Preds were heading as a team, so I think their bounce-back seasons certainly surprised a few people. But to be honest, they’re all high-caliber players who are simply playing at the level we expected them to play at when the Preds brought them into the fold.
Jeff: I’ll be honest, I was on team tank before the season started. Am I surprised that the Predators are in this position? Yes. Can I say that I didn’t see it coming at some point? No. On a scale of 1-10, I think I’d give myself a 6. While I am surprised that some of these performances are happening, such as Tanner Jeannot’s emergence as a scoring threat, I can’t say I wa surprised about Matt Duchene for example. I wasn’t expecting this to be the result in the standings, but bounce-back seasons or improvements from plenty of players did appear to be on the horizon.
RK: I am about a 2 - I have long wanted to see this team return to the 2017 underdog, gritty, “underappreciated” vibe. It feels like there’s a bit of “we’re back” with this team.
Shaun: 7. I had this team in 4th-7th coming into this season. The GM referred to it as a “competitive rebuild”, which I think helped put some rain on my parade of hope. However, it seems like that narrative was ultimately rejected by the players and coaching staff and replaced with an increased drive and determination to make other teams (and maybe other people) regret doubting them. It’s worth noting that David Poile himself walked back the “competitive rebuild” label, as well.
Ann: 5. I hate to be “that guy”, but I couldn’t tell how much of my optimism was hope and how much was reality. The pieces that have been key to the Preds success thus far this season weren’t new to the team but had chronically underperformed up until now. There was still a bit of hesitancy to really buy in to the positives we saw at the end of last season.
Laura: I think 6 for me. I knew we had a lot of good players, but when we sent away more scoring last summer I couldn’t see who was going to pick it up. I don’t think anyone could have predicted Tanner Jeannot’s season, but I’m very happy at the play of Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen this year. I’m still not sold on how far we’ll go in the playoffs this year, but I lived in fear the whole year would go the way of the first few weeks.
What, in your mind, has been the biggest difference between this year’s team and Preds teams from the past few seasons?
Nick: The Predators have gone back to their “old-school Preds” mentality... both in terms of mindset and actual strategy. Gameplay-wise, there’s a more unified style of play among all lines and defensive pairings. As a result, the communication and chemistry is on point, the passes are crisper, the power play has more movement and purpose, and there are fewer defensive lapses. In the mental aspect, the Predators have re-embraced that gritty, scrappy, sacrifice-our-body-for-every-square-inch-of-ice attitude that made games absolute hell for opponents. It also doesn’t hurt that Filip Forsberg, Juuse Saros, and Roman Josi are all having the best years of their respective careers.
Jeff: Shooting luck and the confidence to come back no matter how much time is left on the clock would probably be the biggest differences. Matt Duchene is having a resurgent year because he’s shooting the puck more, and it’s going in. Filip Forsberg is having an incredible season in the goal scoring arena because he’s shooting well above his average. Even Ryan Johansen’s shooting has gotten better this season. It’s made a big difference that the Predators’ big-name players that were struggling to produce (or produce even more in Forsberg’s case) are producing now and scoring more. Confidence in every situation plays a big role in that too.
RK: Forechecking, physical battles along the walls, getting into the tough areas in front of the net = these are all responses you’d expect to hear from the players and from the coaching staff. While they’re right, the biggest difference is the tenacity with which the whole lineup plays. There are rarely times when a Predator is “out” of the play. The five men on the ice embody the “team” mentality in every detail.
Shaun: Mindset. Head Coach John Hynes has preached the concept of a positive mental state and the right mindset to approach each game the unique challenges each opponent presents. It seems like this iteration of the team is the one that has been able to embrace his concepts effectively. Assistant Coach Dan Hinote has discussed the idea of doing all the little right things for the entire game (finishing checks, for example) that should pay off toward the end of the game by wearing the other team down. We’re seeing more “full 60” efforts on a regular basis. Therein lies the difference.
Ann: It feels like the players are all on the same page and very clear about what needs to happen for the team to be successful. I’m not convinced John Hynes had 100% buy in from some of the veterans when he arrived in Nashville. Between the energy and enthusiasm of the “youth movement”, the success of key veterans with a clear understanding of what is expected, and—I hate to say this—the loss of players who may not have bought in or fit as well in the system Hynes wanted the team to play, the team is seeing success.
Laura: Physical play. We are back to a “gritty” team and I like it. Also, John Hynes upsetting all the apple carts in terms of earning ice time has shaken some of the complacency that had settled in to the team. The way the team is playing now, if they lose in the playoffs it won’t be because they’re getting pushed around.
Who do you think has been the Predators’ MVP so far this season?
Nick: There are about four to five players for whom you could make a legitimate case. And you know what? That’s a pretty darn good sign that your team is having a great season. For me though, Juuse Saros has been the constant every game. He’s flat-out stolen wins from games the Preds had no business being in, while also helping close out tight contests that easily could have gone either way. The Preds have been a good team this season, but with Saros in net, they’ve been GREAT.
Jeff: There are so many good choices. Juuse Saros is an obvious one, but I think the forward lines function at their best when Filip Forsberg is in the lineup. Therefore, he’s my MVP. Forward scoring has been an issue for years, and Filip Forsberg putting up gaudy numbers in goals and points, especially at even strength, has catapulted the Predators to another level. Their power play has improved greatly in part due to Forsberg’s complete dominance with the puck on his stick. When he was out, the forward core just felt...different.
RK: Mikael Granlund.
Shaun: Juuse. MF. Saros. If you subtract any other single player from this roster, the team still succeeds. Subtract Saros and things go south.
Ann: Matt Duchene. While Duchene may say he is playing the same game he played in previous seasons in Nashville, it is very clear the results are vastly different this time around. His transformation into the player fans thought they were getting when he signed back in 2019 has been a catalyst for good things across not only his line, but the rest of the team as well.
Laura: Although I could name three or four great contributors, Juuse Saros has to be the man. As he goes, the team goes.
Tanner Jeannot is starting to get some recognition as one of the best rookies in the NHL this season. Where do you think he winds up in the Calder Trophy race?
Nick: He deserves every bit of kudos he’s starting to receive. However, I just don’t see voters putting him ahead of Lucas Raymond, Trevor Zegras, or Mortiz Seider, unless one of them falls off a cliff in the last three months of the year. This year’s rookie class is stacked, and the fact that Jeannot is even in the Calder conversation should tell you everything you need to know about his season.
RK: Jeannot will come in third place in the Calder Trophy race and then go on to play an MVP-worthy playoff round or two. Jeannot is the kind of player who can absolutely break open a series for Nashville.
Jeff: Jeannot will be top five, and that’s where he should be. Moritz Seider, Trevor Zegras, and Lucas Raymond have been the top-three contenders as of now, and they’re all proving their value to teams that were still in rebuild stages. With the emergence of players like Anton Lundell and Seth Jarvis as well, it’s hard to imagine Jeannot gets mentioned unless he goes on another unrivaled tear.
Shaun: He will not win. Not because he doesn’t deserve it. But because the voters want flash, not bang.
Ann: No matter what Jeannot does statistically, he isn’t the prototypical Calder Trophy winner in style. While he will be mentioned in the running, it would be shocking if the powers that be actually seriously considered him.
Laura: He should end up one or two. He will end up in the bottom of the top five. Don’t get me started on how the Norris and Calder have turned into scoring contests.
How do you think GM David Poile approaches the trade deadline? And what do you think he SHOULD do?
Nick: I can see Big Trade Dave certainly being somewhat aggressive when it comes to a high-impact rental guy. I don’t think we’ll see him dangle a first rounder or a top prospect (which may take him out of the running for someone like Claude Giroux), but I think he may be willing to part with a second or third and/or a mid-level prospect for the right person. Someone like Phil Kessel may be an intriguing possibility given his playoff history and the fact that his style of play seems to gel well with the Preds’ identity. Defense isn’t a pressing need, but I could also see perhaps adding one more bottom-pair guy for insurance purposes.
RK: Go after a big-ticket item, like Matthew Tkachuk. Juuse Saros is hot right now, and the Preds should run with that hot goalie. Assuming injuries are handled, how about Tyler Toffoli? What about Jake DeBrusk? I’d also like to see a righty added to the blueline...John Klingberg? If everyone remains healthy, the Preds have just the right combination of veteran skill, youthful vigor, a steamy hot goalie, and a coach who knows how to push the right buttons. One or two pieces should do it. Don’t add a depth blueliner for the sake of adding one—guys like David Farrance, Matt Tennyson, and Frédéric Allard should be given additional looks in gold.
Jeff: The Predators buying at the deadline scares me. The only player I would accept coming to the Predators without hesitance is Johnny Gaudreau, but Poile would have to pay a king’s ransom to afford him, and it seems pretty unrealistic that he gets moved at this point, so it’s just a pipe dream for now.
Shaun: I’m afraid of signing someone long term and I’m not sure what I’m willing to give up for a short-term acquisition. Realistically, this team relies on chemistry and the later date of the trade deadline raises concerns for me solely because I’m not sure if an incoming player (or players) will have time to gel with the rest of the team.
Ann: With everything the Predators have going right at this point in the season, this is clearly a team worth investing in. I’m not sure they need much, but a nice offensive snag that could compliment the second line with Johansen and potentially help jump-start Tolvanen would be worth exploring. Phil Kessel, anyone?
Laura: It all depends on Fil Forsberg. If he’s signed, maybe pick up an affordable rental or two for depth. If he’s not signed, Poile either trades him for a haul and hopes for the best or keeps him as the rental and looks for another piece for a longer term. Which of the last two happens is going to be a photo finish.
On that note, what do think the future holds for Filip Forsberg’s tenure in Nashville?
Nick: Cap space isn’t an issue yet, and Forsberg has proven he’s a game-changing forward for Nashville. I think Poile’s certainly comfortable shelling out $9-9.5 mil a season, so the ball will almost certainly be in the Swedish Prince’s court.
RK: 8x8 = $8 million for the next 8 seasons. Fil remains with the Preds. In a dream scenario, Filip Forsberg rewards the Predators with a Stanley Cup and he himself hoists the Conn Smythe.
Jeff: I think the Predators re-sign the Swedish forward. If Poile can get him to sign for less than $10 million a year, I think it’s a win overall.
Shaun: 10x6. They have the space with a lot of big pieces locked in for the next several years. Might as well give him “stay here” money and a term that allows him to re-explore free agency while he’s still got some tread left on his tires.
Ann: Show. Him. The. Money.
Laura: Not sure. I think he’ll stay for high but reasonable money if he has trade protection. He’s going to be starting his marriage and probably soon a family and I’m sure he would like the security of trade protection. I believe hope, hope, hope David Poile will work it out for Fil to be a Nashville Predator for a long time.
Finally, how do you think the Predators finish out the season? Is there a deep playoff run in their future?
Nick: I’m going to predict at least a second-round appearance. I look at the Western Conference, and I don’t see a team that makes me say “the Preds are going to be grossly outmatched in that series” (yes, even Colorado). Hot goaltending and strong depth across the board have been the recipe for almost every Stanley Cup winner over the past 30 seasons, two things the Predators have this season.
RK: The Central, with the exception of Colorado, is kinda hit-and-miss. I think the Predators could easily get to the Western Conference Final, and I also think that conference final would be either Nashville or Colorado against Vegas.
Jeff: I can’t say that I think the Predators will beat the Avalanche or even the Wild in a seven-game series, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.
Shaun: This team loves being doubted and loves being an underdog. There’s enough grit and skill on this team to turn some heads and make a deep run.
Ann: I think the Preds are the sleeper pick in the NHL this season. They’ve been able to eke out wins over Colorado and could match up favorably against most everyone in the Pacific. I’m planning for a hefty postseason run.
Laura: At least to the second round, but after that it will depend on the seeding. The Central is still very close and who knows where we’ll stand after the hell that is the April schedule.