Nashville Predators: Comparing This Team to 2016-17 Stanley Cup Team

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 11: Mattias Ekholm
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 11: Mattias Ekholm /

We’ve come down to the final three games of the regular season and the Nashville Predators have a chance to clinch the playoffs tonight with a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and a little help from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Let’s go back just a few seasons ago to 2016-17 when that Nashville Predators team too had to take it down to the wire to get into the playoffs. It was a team that finished with 94 points in the regular season, while this year’s team is on an 82-game pace to finish with just shy of 93 points.

You may remember that in 2016-17 the Predators stumbled down the stretch. They dropped five of their last seven games, but did beat the Dallas Stars in the second to last game and luckily got some help around them to draw the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

I remember it clearly thinking that the Predators really screwed up their playoff chances by struggling over their last seven games and falling into a playoff matchup with the Blackhawks. But that’s why you play the games, and the rest is history as the Predators unexpectedly swept the Blackhawks to shock the NHL.

That team had some  blue collar grind it out type of players just like this year’s team does. There’s even a few of the same players, like Colton Sissons, Mattias Ekholm, Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi.

So is it fair to draw any kind of comparison between the 2020-21 Predators to that 2016-17 team that went on a magical run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs to just come two wins shy of hoisting the Cup? Let’s address that notion.

Comparing both Nashville Predators teams

You have to play with a chip on your shoulder to be successful in the NHL, and especially in the playoffs. Teams that sit back and aren’t aggressive usually get caught flat footed and dominated by the more aggressive team.

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That’s what I love about this current team. For better or worse, this year’s Nashville Predators team plays with an aggressive mentality that allows them to hang with teams that have more superstars and more talent on paper.

In 2016-17 the Predators weren’t confused to be a team that was stacked or had any Stanley Cup hopes. But they proved people wrong not only by sweeping Chicago, but by also continuing that push by taking out highly-talented teams like the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks in the following playoff rounds.

The Predators also rode hot goaltending with Pekka Rinne in that playoff push, which this year’s Predators team also has going for them with Juuse Saros. Sometimes all it takes to tilt the scales back into your favor is a goaltender that’s locked in and neutralizing an opposition that has way more talent and offensive weapons.

We have to hope that happens if the Predators draw the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round, but let’s focus obviously on getting in first. They need to handle their business tonight against the Blue Jackets, unlike how the 2016-17 Predators kind of backed their way in.

In 2017, the Predators beat the stars 7-3 in the second to last game of the regular season to keep alive in the playoff race before losing in the season finale against the Winnipeg Jets. They were still in the postseason, but drew a much more difficult first round opponent with Chicago. Didn’t matter in that case, as we all know.

Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen were tied for the team lead in points that season with 61. This season you have Josi leading the team in points with 33, which is an 82-game point pace of just short of 59 points, so very similar paces.

The team leader in goals in 2016-17 also went to Arvidsson with 31 goals, while Forsberg was tied for the team lead with 31 goals as well. This year’s team leader in goals is Mikael Granlund with 13, which is a pace of just under 22 goals.

Which team is better?

This season the Predators have gone through rough stretches of struggling to manufacture much offense in terms of shots on goal, whereas in 2016-17 the Predators were slightly a higher scoring team at 11th in the NHL with 2.90 goals per game.

Even looking at special teams you’ll see that the 2016-17 team was average at best as they were in the middle of the pack in both power play percentage and penalty killing. This year’s Predators team is among the worst in both categories.

There’s three key players that the Predators no longer have that were vital pieces to the 2016-17 team, and those players are Mike Fisher, James Neal and Craig Smith.

Smith is a player that the Predators screwed up by not retaining in the most recent offseason, but I’ll leave that qualm for another day. Fisher was a team leader and Captain that really pushed the Predators to success in so many ways.

The other player is Neal, who had 41 points in the regular season and scored six goals during the playoff run. Another player who was pushing past the prime of their career, but certainly was an important piece to that Predators team in terms of veteran leadership.

Other than not having Smith, Neal and Fisher, and maybe to a degree P.K. Subban, there’s no one on that 2016-17 team that was vital that isn’t still on the current team. So there’s that to take into consideration as well.

There are a lot of similarities to the two Predators teams that you can hope translates to another first round upset if the Predators are able to finish off this playoff push by getting in over the Stars.

I’m not ready to completely dismiss the Predators and say they’re getting swept in the first round at the hands of the Hurricanes, or even the other two possible division winners.

If I have to decide which team is better without being biased towards the team that I already know made the Stanley Cup Final, I’ll have to say it’s a close call when comparing the rosters and the regular season performances. I’ll give an ever so slight edge to the 2016-17 team just due to Smith, Neal and Fisher.

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The whole point is to give a friendly reminder that the 2016-17 Stanley Cup team wasn’t world beaters, either. They had very little buzz going into the playoffs, and look what happened.

If the Predators manage to finish off these last three games and secure a playoff berth, which would be the franchise’s 14th playoff appearance, then we can definitely draw some comparisons to the Stanley Cup team from 2017 and keep some optimism that something similar can happen.