Do you like understatements? Here’s one for you: it’s been a really tough season for Nashville Predators fans. I don’t mean to sound too simple, but it’s been a hard one to follow for several different reasons.
For one, the team’s personality has shifted all over the place this season. First they’re great defensively but can’t score. Then they can score at will but have trouble stopping even the league’s worst offenses. The last half of the season has seen them find a way to do both multiple times in a single week. It’s been nearly impossible to tell which team is going to show up on any given night, and not just in the tenor of their play. The injuries the Preds have suffered this season have been staggering in their frequency and their length – and I’m just talking about Paul Gaustad here. Eight players who started the year in the minors are currently on the NHL roster for Nashville, enough that it’s sometimes hard to process who’s on the ice because of the lack of familiarity. And Colin Wilson, who was having the breakout season fans have hoped for, played his last game in early March and most likely won’t be returning this year.
The compressed schedule has made the terrible nature of this Nashville Predators season even worse. In a normal year there would be time to digest the losses, time for the new additions to the roster to jell with the team, time for practice to work on the things that aren’t going well. With none of those things the worst aspect is that we still have a few more weeks of games to watch when we already know how things will turn out. If the new standard for the rest of the season is going to be last night’s 1-0 loss to St. Louis, in which the Preds managed just 15 shots, it’s going to be painful to watch this team finish out the schedule.
But now that we know how this ends, we can start looking forward to next year. That’s where there’s room for optimism: not in selling playoff tickets during broadcasts of a bruised and battered team begging to be put out of its misery, but in the promise of what happens after it is finally given the chance to rest. Almost every franchise has a bad year here and there. It’s actually pretty hard to build a true contender without seasons like this. The trick is to make the most of the opportunities they present.
First comes making the most of a high draft pick. This year’s draft class has a handful of NHL-ready talents and several more players who could develop to that level quickly. That’s not the case every year, so in a sense this is the perfect season for the Nashville Predators to have come up short. Next comes resigning RFAs like Patric Hornqvist and Roman Josi to deals that put the team in a good cap position moving forward. Both have become core players for the Preds in a short amount of time and having them locked up will give the team stability in key positions. If David Poile could add a top-six forward and a reliable sixth defenseman through free agency, the team will have plugged its biggest leaks.
If Poile handles the off-season properly, Nashville should be able not only to compete again in short order but to be significantly better than it was before this down season. And the best part of it all will be that we didn’t have to sit through 82 games of a bad hockey team. With only 48 games to suffer through, we’ll probably just mark this season with an asterisk in our minds – as long as things go well. There’s always the potential for it all to fall apart, I suppose. But I feel a lot better knowing that Nashville’s general manager is David Poile and not, say, Jay Feaster. He’s done builds and rebuilds plenty before, and he has a golden chance to make his team stronger without first suffering through a total teardown. I’m looking forward to watching how he takes advantage of it.