A lot of discontent came to a head this week when the Nashville Predators were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
For the second-straight year there will be no trip to the postseason for Nashville. A franchise that prides itself on consistently qualifying for the playoffs, two consecutive years without a postseason ticket likely means significant changes are on the horizon.
Here’s the first part of a list of possible events that could play out in the Predators most important offseason since the team nearly relocated in 2007 (part two coming tomorrow).
Head Coach Barry Trotz resigns or is let go.
Why it will happen: The Predators only head coach in franchise history, Trotz’s message and system has grown stale in Nashville. The bench boss was the ideal candidate to grow the organization from its infant stage in 1998 to a perennial playoff participant. But now that the Predators want to reach a higher level, Trotz’s defense-first model and inability to develop a reliable scoring forward are his downfall. (See Trotz’s intriguing argument for the team-defense system after last night’s game). Plus, the organization needs some kind of sacrificial lamb to show they are frustrated with recent results and Trotz fits that bill.
Why it won’t happen: When Nashville’s superstar goaltender Pekka Rinne missed the majority of season with a hip infection, the season effectively was lost. At least that’s an excuse you’ve probably already heard and will hear again. It shouldn’t be underestimated how many years Trotz has taken a team that shouldn’t have had any business making the postseason and sneaked them into the playoffs. Qualifying for the dance seven out of eight seasons prior to the recent pair of misses is enough to earn Trotz another free pass.
General Manager David Poile is fired.
Why it will happen: This likely would come as a part of a package deal with Trotz being let go as well. The ownership group looks at the downward turn in season ticket renewals, hears the long list of fan complaints and decides to make a humongous culture change. Several of the free agents Poile signed this past offseason–and the contracts he signed them to–just didn’t make sense, and they still don’t (e.g. forward Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Hendricks). Deciding they’ve seen enough, the Predators ownership group decides to kill the “Predator Way” and dismisses the only GM the franchise has ever had.
Why it won’t happen: Firing Poile isn’t quite as easy as letting Trotz go (unfortunately for the head coach). Using the same Rinne excuse mentioned previously and the recent “one-sided” trades for up-and-coming forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg, Poile has enough credibility in the organization to stick around.
Goaltender Carter Hutton is re-signed:
Why it will happen: One of the few unrestricted free agents for the Predators this offseason, things seemed to click for Hutton after the start of the new year. Goaltender coach Mitch Korn (one of Nashville’s most important assets) has done a remarkable job transforming Hutton from an unknown rookie to a serviceable backup at the NHL level. Look for a two-year, one-way deal for the 28-year-old goalie.
Why it won’t happen: Fellow rookie netminder Marek Mazanec showed some flashes of brilliance when he took his turn in net while Rinne was out. The franchise has shown a pattern of pushing young goaltenders through the system rather than committing to “older” backups. Also, even with Hutton’s extended time in goal his save percentage still ranked outside of the top 30 goaltenders (52nd).
Forward Viktor Stalberg is traded:
Why it will happen: If you’re looking for a winner for “worst free agent signee in recent memory” Stalberg’s four-year $12 million deal inked this past summer has to be near the top. Headed toward a sub ten-goal season, the Swedish winger has been a far cry from the first line forward Nashville hoped he could be for them. This deal has to come off the books if Nashville is able, and the Predators will ship him off to another team if at all possible. Stalberg could thrive under a different system with another team, and a new club may believe he can return to the 22-goal scorer he was with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-2012.
Why it won’t happen: For almost all of the reasons the Predators would like to part ways with Stalberg, those reasons double as hindrances to a possible deal. Few (if any) teams would like to take on a pretty large contract with three years left on it for a player with less than 20 points who spent a lot of time on Nashville’s fourth line this season. With that in mind, the Predators decide to play the law of averages and assume Stalberg’s shooting percentage (and breakaway success) will bounce back next year and keep the forward on the roster.
That does it for part one. Check back tomorrow for part two and details on defensemen Ryan Ellis, Michael Del Zotto, forward Mike Fisher and more.