What’s wrong with the Predators?: A Hockey Whodunnit

Who should be charged with killing the hockey hopes of Smashville?

Ed.: We’re running a point/counterpoint look at the Predators’ start this morning, with the less optimistic look following this one at noon.

Less than a dozen games into the Nashville Predators’ season, it is already the time of year when speculation over what has happened to this team has begun again. After their success in the 2017 Stanley Cup run and the 2018 Presidents’ Trophy season, the demise of the Predators has been reported earlier this year than usual. A mere eleven games into the 2021 season, fans have already named their top suspects in the death of this year’s Stanley Cup hopes. Here are the leading suspects in this hockey whodunnit.

Is it Roman Josi in the media room with the microphone?

Although being the reigning Norris Trophy winner gives the Predators’ captain a solid alibi, some fans speculate that lack of leadership is to blame for the attempted murder of hockey hopes in Smashville. Unlike his predecessors Shea Weber and Mike Fisher, Josi adopts a more gentle, less pointed narrative when it comes to critiquing the team’s play. Taking the “snitches get stitches” approach, he does not rat out offenders when asked why the team struggles. Fans have equated his quiet nature with weak locker room leadership, but remember, correlation does not imply causation.

Could Josi use the microphone and his media availability as captain to rally the gang or stir up an insurrection? Perhaps. But it is just not his leadership style. I doubt we will find much more than pure speculation with this accusation.

Is it Matt Duchene in front of the net with his misplaced abilities?

Much finger-pointing places Duchene at the scene of the crime, but further investigation may lead to reasonable doubt.

It is no secret that Duchene has only found the back of the net twice this season. You’d be hard pressed to find an impartial juror in Smashville. For a player recruited to add an offensive kick, the lack of production is damning. There is irrefutable video evidence that Duchene whiffed on several key opportunities that may have affected game outcomes.

What fans would see if they examined the entire body of evidence is that Duchene is doing so many things to help the Predators outside of (albeit necessary) goal scoring. He is consistently in front of the net, drawing penalties, and moving the puck well. At some point it stands to reason that he is going to exonerate himself. Will it happen before the jury convicts? Perhaps a continuance is in order.

Is it John Hynes (with accomplices Dan Hinote, Todd Richards, and Dan Lambert) in the meeting room with the expo marker?

The other obvious suspects appear to be Head Coach John Hynes and whichever assistant coach(es) are responsible for directing special teams (generally accepted to be the murder weapon of the season). The X’s and O’s aren’t adding up.

The Predators have often held their own at 5v5, but it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this team barely clings to life on the penalty kill. Despite seven teams having more penalty minutes than the Predators so far this season, Nashville ranks last—dead last—in the penalty kill, with an incriminating 64.86% on the PK.

Special teams struggles have raised suspicions well before these eleven games, and the pattern of behavior suggests that until the penalty kill (and a less than potent power play) change, the team will continue their uphill battle. Fans have been able to identify special teams as the culprit out of a lineup of potential issues, but the Predators coaching staff seems hesitant to act on the charge.

Although the statute of limitations on patience is quickly running out among Predators fans, right now Hynes and staff could face, at minimum, charges of defensive indecent exposure.

Is it David Poile in the executive conference room with the free agency board?

David Poile has been under heavy surveillance since the team lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the second round of the 2018 playoffs. Predators fans are ready to be judge, jury, and executioner these days. Poile hinted during the offseason that fans could expect to see young talent on the ice consistently this season, and fans charge that he acted mala fide by not only bringing in several players via trade/free agency (Luke Kunin, Erik Huala, Nick Cousins, Brad Richardson, Mark Borowieski, Matt Benning), but then giving those players precedence in the starting line up.

Hearing there is an impending youth movement changes the way fans prepare for a season. Accepting some losses for the sake of player and program development is a very different experience than watching a team with veteran players struggling on the ice. Seeing eight-year NHL veteran Haula average 20 mediocre shifts per game biases a jury when it comes to the “veterans over youth” defense.

While some Predators fans charge Poile with fraud, a growing number are pushing for arson—under the belief that Poile has burned all his bridges and needs to step away from the franchise.

Is it Predators fans in the Twitterverse with their keyboards?

This is the Law and Order plot twist in our game of Clue. With statistical evidence of failing special teams, lineup changes causing doubt of the coaching staff, and players aiding and abetting opponents with poor execution, how could Predators fans actually be guilty of embezzling expectations? I think I can make this case.

The Predators are eleven games into a fifty-six game shortened season. On one hand, this does make each game feel more valuable because there isn’t the typical margin for error. But I submit—this team is 5-6. Four out of the team’s six losses are against Stanley Cup finalists, and the loss against the Carolina Hurricanes was one turnover or one off the post shot away from a different verdict while the loss to the Florida Panthers was blighted by awful refereeing as well as subpar play.

It would be foolish to claim the Predators don’t have issues. The team must improve their special teams. Key players—not just Duchene, but also Johansen, Forsberg, and the veterans brought in during the offseason—need to raise the quality of their play. Players have got to stop serving sentences in the penalty box. Maybe Roman Josi needs to gavel a lackadaisical locker room into order.

But could it be that perhaps these deficiencies are correctable with lighter sentences than the Twitterverse is handing down? Is it possible the team’s troubles are a collection of misdemeanors more than one giant capital offense? Could minor corrections make a major difference in the season? Is it really already time to throw the book at the 2021 Predators or can Twitter allow a plea deal a mere eleven games in?

Jurors are not to be swayed by emotions. Since that rule doesn’t seem to apply to Twitter, it might be time for a brief recess. Yes, there is circumstantial evidence that this season may end up being a disappointment to Predators fans. Perhaps the accusation could wait just a few games more, though. If the team can’t turn around the obvious issues in the next several contests, then it may be time to convict. Until then, the “this season is already over” declaration is as rational as “Professor Plum did it in the library with the candlestick.”