As the losses and injuries keep piling up, it’s only natural to look ahead to next season when it comes to the Nashville Predators. How fast can they get out of this rebuild is the prevailing question.
Rebuilds in hockey usually are a longer process than maybe in other sports. It takes time to develop young talent and implement new systems if a head coaching change is made. The Predators will likely find themselves in that boat next season.
As for the present, it’s really all about seeing this new crop of talent get all of the game experience they can get. The playoffs are out of reach, and quite frankly the young players of the team are the only parts that are really providing a spark.
Sure, there’s Filip Forsberg out there doing Filip Forsberg things, but aside from that, what do we really have to show for it in terms of veterans? Mattias Ekholm is certainly making things happen, but it seems unlikely that he’s on this team in 2021-22.
Players I don’t see returning to the Nashville Predators
To assess how this team might look next season, first it’s going to take some predicting of what happens ahead of the trade deadline. As I just mentioned, I don’t see Ekholm staying. He’s at the center of a lot of trade rumors, and rightfully so.
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As bad as it hurts me to say this, it makes sense to get a good return out of Ekholm and move on. It’s the nature of the business, and the Predators have to strike while his trade value is at an all-time high.
Calle Jarnkrok is another player I’d hate to see go, but again it makes sense to get what you can out of him, which could be another decent return package of a young starter or prospect, and of course a draft pick.
Others that I have little confidence in being around for next season and the beginning of the rebuild are players like Viktor Arvidsson, Rocco Grimaldi, Mikael Granlund and the offseason pick ups of Erik Haula and Nick Cousins.
Both Cousins and Haula were additions that were low-risk, thankfully, but just haven’t yielded much results. Haula is an unrestricted free agent, so he’s for sure not looking like a return player for 2021-22.
There are players that I would absolutely keep here and build around. I wrote on this subject of who to keep for the rebuild a couple weeks ago, and you can check it out here.
Forsberg and Roman Josi are the obvious centerpieces to build around. Everyone freaked out when they saw Forsberg not listed as one of the “untouchables”, but fear not Predators fans. In my wildest dreams I can’t see Forsberg being shipped away by GM David Poile.
Of course, every player has a price as Justin Bradford of Penalty Box Radio recently stated, and is absolutely correct in that:
Who will be a big part of 2021-22 team?
Aside from Josi and Forsberg as my locks for the veterans, I also have Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen in that mix. Not necessarily because I think they’re the best fits to stay on this team, but because I don’t think the Predators can move them to another team without taking a big loss in return.
If the right system is in place for next season, which is a big if considering we don’t know what the Predators will decide to do with Head Coach John Hynes, then Duchene and Johansen can still be important pieces of the rebuild.
You’ve got to have some veterans mixed in with what we expect to be a team full of young players that we’re already seeing a lot of in recent weeks due to the laundry list that is the Predators injured reserve.
Now that I’ve named four veterans, the goaltender situation gets really unpredictable. No one really knows, except for maybe the people closest to him, what Pekka Rinne will decide to do. His contract is up at season’s end, and there’s a few paths he could decide to go down.
If Rinne decides he wants to come back for another season with the Predators, you have to ask yourself if the Predators will entertain that option. I would if I was them, because with a better team in front of him his numbers would be much better.
If Rinne doesn’t return, then Juuse Saros could come back. Once again, a new contract will have to be worked out as he’s a restricted free agent. Does the organization have confidence in him long-term, or will Saros end up elsewhere?
Call me crazy, but I have this notion that Saros will return to the team. He’s eventually going to come off IR in the coming weeks, and should get a bulk of starts to finish out this season and see where he’s at going into the offseason.
I’d love to see Saros finish off strong, get a couple shutouts under his belt and regain that confidence. The Predators need him to be the answer at goaltender for at least a couple seasons.
Finally, how will the defensive core look? Ellis and Josi should remain at the top as the one-two punch, and still a darn good one. If Ekholm is gone, we’re going to see primarily young talent in my opinion.
Dante Fabbro should stick around as a second pairing defenseman and presumably continue to improve his overall game.
Both Matt Benning and Mark Borowiecki are signed to two-year deals, so they likely will return for at least the start of the rebuild. Perhaps they could also be included in an upcoming trade package in the coming weeks, but I’d prefer the Predators keep them around if possible.
I’m really excited and hopeful about Jeremy Davies, Frederic Allard and Alexandre Carrier on defense. These are all viable options that need to get plenty more experience for the remainder of this season.
Finally, it’s the one we all can’t get enough of; Eeli Tolvanen. He’s been a breathe of fresh air in a tumultuous season filled with dust that’s left me gasping for air.
Tolvanen and Forsberg should remain together as this team’s primary scoring threats for the foreseeable future, along with Josi and Ellis defensively.
The measuring stick for next season
All of this speculation is of course predicated by not only the trade deadline, but also the expansion draft. In the end, the youth of this team will primarily have to grow up fast, and that will come with expected growing pains and most likely another season of the Predators missing the playoffs.
If the team turns out somewhere around what I just presumed will be the case, I could see them finishing around 80 points, but definitely not a playoff team or one who has high preseason expectations.
This is going to be unfamiliar territory for this franchise that’s been a perennial playoff team. It’s time to rebuild the team from the top down, including in the front office. We need a new vision for this team before opening night of next season.
It happens to almost everyone eventually, and the Predators will be doing the right thing by investing in the youth of their roster and keeping a few important veterans around to lead the way.