It goes without saying that this season has been uncharacteristically poor for a large number of players on the Nashville Predators.
However, one stands out for several reasons. Not in stature, but impact from a player most would have thought would still be contributing on a much larger scale.
The Origin Story with the Nashville Predators
On July 2nd, 2018 the Nashville Predators made a seemingly insignificant signing the day after the marquee free agent event on the NHL’s calendar.
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Rocco Grimaldi came into training camp with the expectation of an outside chance at a roster spot, and after a 10-game stint where he averaged a point-per-game with the Milwaukee Admirals, he was brought up to the big club.
This is where the anything but big Grimaldi, listed at 5’6 and 180 pounds, quickly endeared himself to the hearts of many of the Smashville faithful.
In 53 games, Grimaldi managed to earn a regular spot with the team on his way to then-career highs in goals, assists, points, and optimism he could become one of Nashville’s most reliable middle-six forwards for years to come.
Grimaldi even chipped in with three goals in five games in an unceremoniously fast first-round exit to the Dallas Stars.
Grimaldi then managed to follow up his 2018-19 campaign with an impressive 10-goal, 31-point pandemic shortened campaign. His performance earned him a two-year, $4 million extension for his efforts.
Fast forward 13 months later from that extension and what was once a glimpse of oozing potential and fanfare has quickly dissipated in despair and question marks.
What’s wrong Rocco Grimaldi?
There are a number of feel-good stories Grimaldi has managed to generate in his relatively short time in Nashville Predators gold. The “little engine that could” narrative seemingly the largest focus of them all.
While the attempt to pinpoint the current issue seems feeble at this point, the correlation seems to lie directly with the arrival of current Head Coach John Hynes and the inability to find a role that suits the speedy winger.
While we have seen exponential improvement from a player like Mikael Granlund since Hynes’ arrival in Music City, Grimaldi has dealt with the inverse effect.
When we take a look at Grimaldi’s splits from NHL.com, 22 of his 31 points last year came before the dismissal of Peter Laviolette behind the bench.
Enter Hynes, and we see his numbers drop substantially to conclude the season and have obviously bled into this year. Grimaldi has struggled to find a consistent place in the Predators lineup on the way to a total of four points (3 goals, 1 assist) in 23 games.
Hynes’ arrival isn’t the only factor for this fascinating regression in production, but it is an undeniable correlation that cannot be overlooked as the team enters a transition period moving forward.
Where Grimaldi factors into the Predators’ future plans remains to be seen. Unfortunately, if you are looking for any sort of value in a trade deadline deal before April 12th, it has seemingly eroded as fast as the hope fans held for his long-term success in Smashville.
The good, the bad, and the possible salvation
It is well documented that Grimaldi is a man of faith, one that has boded well for his long journey to the NHL, and one that will be critical to his success to work his way out of this prolonged slump.
Whether it is in spite of the current bench boss or for a possible new one (hire Gerard Gallant before Seattle does…), a few things remain certain. The work ethic is there. The ability is still there. The desire for the diminutive forward to succeed from the fan base is still there.
What is becoming clear for many Predators on this current roster however is the key to re-opening that door full of promise and potential seems to lie with a new voice behind the bench and dare we say possibly up in the press box as well.
For Grimaldi, and many other members of this team, time will tell as to if this can be turned around while still suiting up for the Nashville Predators.