There’s no escaping the fact that the Nashville Predators fell well short expectations. However, this team just needs minor fixes, not an overhaul.
We’ve had time to digest the disappointing end to the 2018-19 season that ended in a first-round loss to the Dallas Stars. What makes this early exit even harder to stomach is that the Stars were hands down the better team for the majority of the series. It left me frustrated, but not entirely shocked that it happened.
When you fall well short of preseason expectations, you tend to get massive overreactions from fans and media alike. I’m here to tell you that the Predators will be in the mix again next season. They’re still a vastly talented roster that needs some systematic changes and some changes in philosophy. However, I’m a firm believer that they have the current players on this roster to be in the hunt for another deep play run next season.
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You don’t have to dive very deep to see where the problems lied for the Predators. The thing they couldn’t control was the injury bug bit them hard mid-season. They never really got their chemistry back after that. They showed glimpses that got them the Central Division crown, but they never clicked like we are accustomed to. The new additions prior to the trade deadline brought mixed results, and further added to the complications of building chemistry. The biggest elephant in the room was obviously the power play that was horrendous all season, and continued into the playoffs.
Remaining optimistic about the future
Much of the problems the Predators dealt with last season can be fixed quickly over a full offseason. This is what great coaching staffs are paid to do. Head coach Peter Laviolette is heading into a make-or-break year with the Predators. The last two years this roster full of talent is heading in the wrong direction. The next step backward could mean missing the playoffs, which would be disastrous for obvious reasons. Again, I don’t see that happening, but Laviolette does have pressure to get more out of this roster.
The power play, or lack thereof, falls squarely on Laviolette and his coaching staff’s shoulders. This area will be under a microscope all season, as will how this team comes out of the gate in October. There is no excuse for a power play that finishes 33 out of 255 opportunities. That is mind-boggling, and the coaching staff has to bare the brunt of this. Changes need to be made, not necessarily the personnel on the ice. For perspective, the Predators were 12th in power play percentage at over 21 percent. Nearly a ten percent drop-off to this year.
I remain confident that some fixes in the offseason can return this important area of the game back to at least the middle of the pack. Imagine how much better the Predators would’ve been if the power play was even half of what it was the previous season. Perhaps the top seed in the Western Conference and a much better showing against Dallas in the first round? Get this improved, and I think they can, then the Predators will be fine.
Build chemistry over the offseason
This team went through a ton of shifting of the lines that I believe messed with the chemistry of the team. You can’t control injuries, but it certainly affected every line aside from the top line. It kept the Predators wildly inconsistent and forced them to lean on newcomers. Some blossomed, like Rocco Grimaldi, and others illustrated they’re not really ready for the NHL level. Still the Predators managed to claw their way to a division title, but did we every really feel that confident even after winning the division? There’s a reason for that, and for me it was inconsistency. I never felt like this team was fully comfortable with each other on each line.
Towards the end of the season I liked the emergence of Grimaldi’s line that featured Brian Boyle and a host of other wingers. Grimaldi has earned himself a spot on the opening night roster next season, and I’d like to see Boyle and Nick Bonino with him. I really liked the season that Bonino had and can see his role being elevated to the second line. Kyle Turris, on the other hand, slides down the roster for me. I can’t lean on the injury excuse for him anymore. He simply needs to be better. Boyle become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and let’s hope the Predators can hold onto him.
The disappearing act of the JoFA line is a credit to the Dallas defense shutting them down. Simply put, Dallas’ outplayed Filip Forsberg and company. I still believe that Nashville’s top line is one of the best in the NHL, and they will be back for another great year. Peter Laviollete didn’t make the necessary adjustments to respond to what Dallas was throwing at them. The coaching staff has all offseason to return to the drawing board and avoid that next season.
Minor tweaks will be made to the roster, as there always is. But having a knee jerk reaction to ripping apart a roster that brought these lofty expectations to begin with is not something you can give up on yet. Next season all of the chips are on the table for both Laviolette and certain players. They’ll be back next season and deliver another 100-point campaign. What they do in the playoffs will determine whether or not this thing starts getting burned down in the 2020 offseason. Now is too soon. Stay optimistic Predators fans. They’ll be back.