You can successfully argue that the Nashville Predators didn’t live up to expectations during the regular season despite loads of veteran experience.
Now the Nashville Predators have the opportunity to right the wrongs of the regular season with a core veteran group of players who can hopefully zero in and focus on the task at hand.
When you look over the 24 teams that will be playing in this modified NHL postseason, you see a couple teams that are easy favorites to pick. Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals are popular choices.
Then you have another tier of teams that are also dangerous in this format, and I throw the Predators in this group. Along with the Predators I have teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Las Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins.
Obviously there are others, but the point is that this thing is wide open. A lot of teams from both conferences you can make arguments for. The Predators are one of those teams, thanks in large part to their veteran core.
Here’s the problem that gives me pause in being overly optimistic, and that’s the fact that some of these veteran players just simply didn’t play up to their potential in the regular season.
Are these players ready to push reset and come back refreshed, and in return make the Predators just as dangerous of a team as any other team? Time will soon tell if we do indeed get to see live games next month.
Veterans who will play critical roles
Matt Duchene instantly jumps to mind first. There’s no denying his talent and his hockey IQ. He’s a very smart player that border elite status when he’s locked in. The problem is the elite level of play has been rare during his first season with the Predators.
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I know that Duchene has that ability to tap back into an elite level of play. If he finds that level of his game for this stretch run of the playoffs, then the Predators will be transformed into a much more efficient team offensively.
The Predators need Duchene to be more than just a role player. In other words, he didn’t play enormously bad hockey. But he also didn’t live up to the level of play I know he can reach.
Let’s just throw the trio of the old JoFA line into this conversation. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen were once the engine that fueled this team into a top Western Conference contender. Can they find that magic again?
They may not be grouped on the same line anymore, but the Predators collectively need all of these veterans to return to old form. Forsberg actually had a quality season, but that needs to at the very least continue. He can’t come back flat.
Arvidsson needs to show he’s back to 100 percent in the health department and that defenses haven’t figured him out, and Johansen just has to find that crafty ability to generate offensive opportunities for the top line that he’ll probably be anchoring.
On the defensive side, I obviously have no qualms with how Roman Josi or Ryan Ellis played this past season. They continued their positive trajectories in their respective careers. Not worried about them in the slightest.
Mattias Ekholm wasn’t bad by any means, but we can expect more from him on the second pairing with Dante Fabbro. Ekholm is another key veteran to keep the Predators strong defensively in a postseason situation.
There’s just not too many young and inexperienced players on the Predators roster that they’re relying on to grow up fast. Fabbro is one to a certain extent, but most of the roster has already been in tough playoff scenarios before.
Then there’s the possibility of handing the starting role back over to Pekka Rinne, who’s the ultimate veteran of this team. If you believe strongly in veteran experience in the playoffs, then you’re probably going to lean towards Rinne as the starter over Juuse Saros. Even if Saros was playing so strongly before the pause.
Why veteran experience matters more now
Nothing is normal about this season. That’s not a secret. Some fans don’t even want the 24-team postseason to occur. Players know that, and also won’t have that fan energy to feed off of. That matters in a passionate and high-energy sport like hockey.
It’s going to be very hard to focus for some players. I can’t say exactly which ones because I can’t climb into their heads and know exactly what they’re thinking. All I know is they’re humans, and this can’t be an easy situation to be put into.
With that being said, it’s my belief that veterans are going to have a more effective time at locking in and doing what needs to be done more so than younger players who may not have much playoff experience.
Maybe these more youthful teams have all the talent they need to be better than some of the veteran counterparts, but not the mental makeup to succeed in a bizarre situation like this.
I like the chances of teams with heavy veteran experience more so than the teams with younger talent. Under normal circumstances with fans in attendance, I wouldn’t feel as strongly about the weight of veteran experience. It’s still important, but youthful teams that play exciting brands of hockey can get the crowd energized in a hurry and run a veteran team out of the building with momentum.
Momentum is going to be hard to come by. It’s going to take disciplined teams to succeed in this neutralized format. The Predators have smart veterans who know how to play disciplined hockey. They should come into this situation understanding that they can really make the most of this opportunity with a roster built to play smart hockey.
There’s still no exact date one when the first games will happen, but the thought is somewhere in the first week of August. Training camps are due to start July 10th, and the NHL and NHLPA are making strides towards agreeing on Phase3/Phase 4 plans.