There was nothing smooth about last season for the Nashville Predators. They struggled to find consistency and fell way short of preseason expectations.
The shortcomings of last season for the Nashville Predators leaves you wondering a lot about the “what ifs” and what could’ve been if certain things never happened.
For instance, the Predators got off to a really hot start to open the 2019-20 season. They looked the part of being a top Stanley Cup contender again by winning eight of their first 12 games and manufacturing a lot of offensive firepower in the process.
Without that hot start, the Predators may have been flirting with last place in the Central Division down the stretch.
There are many other “what if” scenarios, so let’s break some of the biggest ones down.
Pekka Rinne starts off on a hot streak
It was mainly a season to forget for Pekka Rinne. Especially in the second half of the season. However, what would’ve happened if Rinne doesn’t have that hot start?
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Rinne opened the season with eight wins over his first 10 starts, and his two losses were in overtime and in the shootout. He also posted back-to-back shutouts over that stretch, so naturally fans were jumping the gun early about another possible Vezina Trophy run.
If Rinne doesn’t open up with such a hot start, the Predators probably don’t open up with so many wins and the switch to Juuse Saros happens much sooner.
Rinne would end up losing his next four starts to begin a trend of mediocrity for the rest of the season.
Without that hot start, Saros gets a bigger share of the load and perhaps hits his own personal hot streak much sooner than February.
Both Rinne and Saros were going to struggle to find consistency with the team that was lining up in front of them. The penalty kill was doing them no favors and there was no chemistry at the top part of the lineup.
Ryan Ellis never gets injured in Winter Classic
The unfortunate and frustrating injury to Ryan Ellis in the Winter Classic was a low point of last season. We all know the ugly result of that game, but the loss of Ellis was something the Predators could never overcome.
If Ellis never gets injured and is able to play most of the remaining games, I think the Predators finish much higher in the standings. The team lost their elite one-two punch of Ellis and Roman Josi, forcing the Predators to shift their defensive makeup to players who frankly shouldn’t even be on NHL rosters.
Injuries happen to everyone and you have to overcome, but this injury was a turning point. Eventually the Predators would get Ellis back on February 21, and the team would win six of their last nine games to grab a wildcard spot.
Ellis is vital to the Predators in all facets of the game. He was sorely missed on special teams as well. He’s a consensus top-20 NHL defenseman, and the Predators need him badly to stay healthy in 2021.
What if Peter Laviolette wasn’t fired?
It came much sooner than people saw coming when the Predators fired Peter Laviolette on January 6. At the time the Predators were on a crash course to the division basement, so the front office made a bold move to make a midseason firing.
A midseason firing to the head coach that took your franchise to the Stanley Cup just a couple seasons before is a bold move to make. At the time it made me feel like the team was throwing in the towel.
However, the Predators did rally down the stretch under Head Coach John Hynes. He wasn’t shy about shaking some things up, including giving more starts to Saros in net over Rinne.
If the Predators never fire Laviolette, or if they just waited until the end of the season, I believe they finish even further down in the standings. The postseason push down the stretch before the season pause was a reflection of the team being galvanized under new leadership.
Hynes somewhat convinced me and the expectations for next season that he can get this franchise going back in the right direction.
Something was off with Laviolette in charge. The chemistry was broken and the system wasn’t working anymore despite the talent to do so.
I may have not felt this way at the time of the firing, but the Predators made the right decision. You can even argue they waited too long to pull the trigger.
What if 82 games were played?
This is the ultimate “what if” for every team from last season. If the regular season stoppage never happens and everyone plays the full 82 games.
For the Predators, they were playing their best hockey since the first two weeks of the season. They were surging up in the standings and we were finally starting to see some positive results from the things Hynes was trying to implement.
Saros was locked-in as well, including back-to-back shutouts against the eventual Western Conference champions in the Dallas Stars.
The Predators were actually closing in on the Stars for third place in the division. It’s very feasible that they catch Stars in the standings with 13 games remaining.
Looking at player stats, Josi was well on his way to eclipsing the 70-point mark for the first time in his NHL career. He still managed to set a new career high in that category.
Going back to Saros, he probably would’ve added another ten starts to his season and improved his save percentage to a more respectable number. He dug himself in a hole early in the season, but ended up being a big reason why the Predators surged late.
Either way, this wasn’t a Stanley Cup team. That was true regardless of where they eventually finished in the standings.
The Predators may have even won a normal seven-game playoff series with home crowds in the first round, but they weren’t getting past teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights or Dallas Stars in seven games.
This team needs to find its chemistry again. They’ve made several offseason moves and are heading into a crossroads in 2021 for the franchise’s long-term future.