Many fans were in fear of the rebuild coming as the regular season unfolded for the Nashville Predators, and the early exit in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers confirmed it.
The Nashville Predators are no longer legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. That window slammed shut at the hands of an average Arizona Coyotes team.
Now the question is just how bad the Predators may end up being whenever the next regular season gets underway.
Whether it’s an 82-game regular season or it gets abbreviated yet again, I’m in fear that the Predators will flirt with last place in a stacked Central Division.
The Central Division keeps showing vast improvement from top to bottom. Just look at the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild. Two teams that made relentless playoff pushes and appear to have bright futures.
As for the Predators, they seem to be one of the only teams in the division that are trending backwards. You can throw the Winnipeg Jets in there with the Predators in terms of teams not showing improvement over the past couple of seasons.
So is there anything the Predators can do to reverse their fortunes and put together another strong regular season that ends in a playoff berth? It’s going to take a very creative and successful offseason from GM David Poile to make that happen.
What’s it going to take to avoid last place?
I realize I’m probably coming off as extremely negative regarding the hopes for next season. This isn’t necessarily me predicting that the Predators are destined for last place in the division, but I do have a bad feeling that a rebuild is imminent.
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Until the Predators go through their offseason process and test the free agency market and the 2020 Entry Draft, I’m not going to make a sweeping proclamation that the Predators are going to be horrible.
However, there’s not a whole lot that makes me confident in this projected lineup for 2021 as it sits right now. The Predators are going to most likely lean on a lot of young talent that has minimal NHL experience.
Poile has never shied away from making bold moves in the offseason, so I’m not counting him out to do something gutsy that suddenly makes this roster look a lot more competitive.
We’ve seen other teams go through this process and it usually takes growing pains before the results translate to wins in the standings. Just look at what the Blackhawks have gone through in the past few seasons. Now that team appears to be turning a corner.
A breakout season from Juuse Saros as the primary starter between the pipes could change the fortunes for the Predators as well. If he goes out and puts up Vezina numbers, then of course the Predators can surge upward. But that’s a big “if”.
All-Star seasons from the core group such as Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene could also maximize the potential of this team to possibly grind out a playoff appearance. Again, that’s a tall order.
A lot of things will have to go perfectly for this team to survive the Central Division gauntlet in 2021.
The Predators look like they’re about to go through that same process of growing pains as some veteran free agents aren’t going to stick around. Veterans who didn’t play up to expectations as the Predators fell short for a third-straight season.
Patience is going to be required in 2021
This process is going to require a lot of patience, and test the loyalty of fans who have been somewhat spoiled to always having strong regular seasons and expecting 90 to 100 points every season.
Unless the Predators make some very bold offseason moves, I’ll be shocked if the Predators pass 90 points in 2021. I’m thinking somewhere in the 80 to 85-point range, which will obviously be short of a playoff berth.
But these things happen, and hopefully the Predators can speed up the rebuild through player development, a successful draft and perhaps signing a veteran free agent or two to come in and show some leadership.
With all of this said, it will be interesting to see how much patience is shown for Head Coach John Hynes. The organization decided to hire him quickly after Peter Laviolette‘s firing, and now they have to show confidence in the process
You have to give Hynes two full seasons, which is the length of his current contract, to see if he can make an impact and get this team trending back in the right direction with a new crop of young players. If he does that, then you keep him around for the long haul.
It’s going to be the Predators and Jets battling for last place in the division if you ask me to make an early prediction now. Every other team in the division has passed these two teams up.
If Poile gets creative and makes some unexpected moves to change the roster over quickly, then maybe I’ll tinker with my prediction and put them into a wildcard spot.
Either way, let’s put the Stanley Cup aspirations on the back-burner and see if the rebuild process can go quickly so that the Predators can climb back to the top of the Western Conference pack in short order.