The Nashville Predators are four years removed from their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final, and the question has to be asked: is the window still open?
Remember when the Nashville Predators were in a heated battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins just a few years ago? How could we forget it, right?
Remember when Sidney Crosby was repeatedly punching P.K. Subban’s head into the ice in Game 5 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? Am I still bitter? You bet I am.
Hockey’s golden boy didn’t get a suspension — he didn’t even get a fine. Had the NHL disciplined him like the rest of the league, who knows: maybe Game 6 goes differently? We can’t say for certain, but it sure is frustrating to think of where we were, and where we find ourselves now.
The thing about that image moment is, I bring it up with a purpose: I want you, the fan, to be fired up. Is Subban still on the team? No. But should we still be hungry as ever to get back to that moment, and surpass it? Absolutely.
Where did we go wrong?
At the conclusion of the 2017 season, the talk among pundits and broadcasters was about the championship window for the Nashville Predators. They had just done the unlikely by reaching the Stanley Cup Final as the No. 8 seed, and they did so in pretty amazing fashion when you consider they swept the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, beat the St. Louis Blues in six games, and beat the Anaheim Ducks in six games as well.
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They did all of this with a slew of injuries including to, at the time, some of their top players like Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala. The team was relatively young and hungry.
The next year, with what felt like the wind at our backs, the Predators kept the window open with a regular season that was one for the ages, culminating in the franchise’s first President’s Trophy.
However, that post-season was less story book, and more cautionary tale about buying into your hype too soon.
The Predators beat the Avalanche in the first round of the 2018 postseason, but they would go on to lose in the next round after a hard-fought series to the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3.
The question had to be asked: how open is/was the window?
Suffice it to say, there’s a belief in the curse of the President’s Trophy. Do I buy it? Not necessarily, but we haven’t really gotten better since.
The next year, the Predators again won the Central Division but were the 4 seed in the Western Conference — this was in large part to the level of competition in the Central Division beating up on one another, with five of the teams in division going on to the playoffs versus the Pacific Division’s three teams.
However, what started as a story book, turned into a cautionary tale, then became a short horror story. The Predators were bounced in the first in six games, and the window seemed to close a little more.
That same postseason, 2019, the sting was taken out of the Predators defeat by that year’s President’s Trophy winner, the Tampa Bay Lightning, getting bounced out of the first round in a four-game sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Who could forget the infamous tweet after the Lightning’s first round exit:
The thing that makes me disbelieve in the President’s Trophy Curse was how Tampa Bay responded. As the youths say, that was “how it started”, but the following season, this past season, this is “how it’s going”:
The Tampa Bay Lightning responded, not only to an early exit the year prior, but a wild year surrounded by a Pandemic and playing in a bubble, truly unprecedented times, by lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. They saw the window, and they jumped through it. (Sidenote: shoutout Pat Maroon for going back to back with two different teams.)
The fight lives on and the window is still cracked open
All this to say, every team’s window is different. The Predators and Lightning are not a 1:1 comparison, though they do share some similarities. The Lightning have what looks to be a very good pipeline of talent (and one the Predators benefited from via Connor Ingram).
While the Predators well certainly isn’t dry, it’s also begged a few questions, wondering if the prospects can take the much needed step to translate their talent at the NHL level. The Lightning have been good in free agency and the trade market, and Nashville tried to make similar splashes with the acquisition of Matt Duchene and other free agent signings and trade acquisitions; the difference is it paid off for the Lightning.
Let’s not beat around the bush: the Predators have regressed. From the Stanley Cup Final and Western Conference Champions in 2017, to President’s Trophy winners and a second round exit in 2018 , Central Division champions and a first round exit in 2019, and finally this year’s qualifying round exit — the team has struggled to get it right.
If I had to rate my confidence in General Manager David Poile (GMDP), I would say it’s at about 75 percent. All that being said, the team has tried to respond to each season and the challenges that have come with them.
The team wanted to keep the band together as much as it could in spite of the expansion draft in 2017-2018: GMDP did so. The team got out-played physically and in terms of firepower by the Jets in the second round: GMDP acquired Brian Boyle, Wayne Simmonds (albeit, arguably passed his prime), and others to provide a boost.
The team was terrible on the penalty kill and powerplay: Poile brings in assistant coach Dan Lambert to try and get it right. The team starts out the season underachieving: Poile makes the bold move to replace Peter Laviolette and Kevin McCarthy (the latter could’ve, and should’ve, been let go much sooner, in my opinion) mid-season.
The road ahead
The Predators need firepower and more physicality (again): Poile makes some sensible moves while leaving a lot of room in the cap for something later on down the stretch (hopefully).
All this to say, the team has responded to every bit of adversity it’s faced, every shortcoming it has shown, for better or worse. Sometimes, when a team makes moves, they work, and other times, not so much.
The Nashville Predators have found themselves in the “not so much” category a lot in the last four years, following the run in 2017. Does that mean the window is closed? In spite of all that’s been said above, I don’t think so.
Yes, the team is missing some familiar names we as fans have grown fond of in the last few years. Yes, there are new names to learn, and coaches who will be critiqued by the Twitter GMs. But this team still has its core, and we’ve got to believe they’re still hungry.
The core group of players that won the Presidents Trophy are still here.
What I can tell you is this: we need to not lose heart, and remember what makes Smashville the magical place it is. The fans of the Nashville Predators are unlike any other. The environment we create, is unlike any other.
We need to get back to sold-out crowds and a packed Broadway, but until that can happen, the fanbase needs to stay hungry. The prognosticators can have their doubts, rank the team where they like, say they don’t have this or that, but remember 2017? They made that run as a massive underdog, and they made every doubter eat their words. They showed we belonged. They still do.
The window isn’t shut, but maybe it’s time we break some glass again. Bring on 2021.