So just how much changes can we expect to the Nashville Predators lineup once we make it through the offseason and get to the 2022-23 season?
We’re talking about a Nashville Predators team that has consistently fallen short of playoff expectations over the last five years. Despite overrperforming in the regular season, the frustration of no playoff success plagues this organization.
Watching the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the plethora of skill and offensive talent has made it clear the Predators have a long ways to go before competing with the cream of the crop, like the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With that being said, the Nashville Predators have an opportunity over the next couple of months to signficantly upgrade this roster and build off the regular season success they had, because there’s no denying that they exceeded what many though they would do back in October 2021.
Question #1: How Will the Nashville Predators address Free Agency?
Will Predators General Manager David Poile decide to be aggressive in free agency and go after a high-end offensive player to complement what they already have?
As great as it was to see career offensive years from Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and even Ryan Johansen, clearly that’s not enough to go deep in the postseason and beat teams like Tampa, Colorado, Edmonton and a few others.
If the end goal is always competing for a Stanley Cup, then Poile has his work cut out for him this summer. But alas, the free agency market gives the front office a chance to make a major upgrade in one signing of the pen on a shiny new contract.
Predlines contributor Clayton Garnier covered his top-five list of free agent forwards that the Predators can possibly pursue, and it peaked my interest.
Out of his list, Ondrej Palat would probably be the biggest splash. A proven veteran who has become a consistent 40-plus point scorer, but the downside is he’s heading towards the back end of his career at age 30. He’ll also be very expensive and tie up the front office from making any other additions, assuming they also re-sign Forsberg.
The Predators will have the funds to make a major upgrade to their top-six from the outside, but that doesn’t come without a risk and taking away a spot from a younger player you might want up there. Tough call for Poile.
Question #2: Which Prospects will Get a New NHL opportunity in 22-23′?
Last season we got to see Philip Tomasino make his much-anticipated splash into the NHL, and he stuck around all season by playing in 76 games and in three playoff games.
Tomasino, in a minor role for much of the year with around11:30 of average ice time, delivered some promising results with 32 points, and a very impressive Corsi-for of 54.5% in all situations.
So who is the next young player to come into the Predators everyday lineup and stick around? Cody Glass is the most likely next man up after getting a full season of AHL work, and playing extremely well for a solid Milwaukee Admirals team.
Glass should be expected to be in the starting lineup on opening night of next season, and hopefully can make a moderate impact on the depth scoring that this team lacks.
Other than those two obvious ones, the Predators don’t have a ton of room for newcomers to join from the prospect ranks. Unless we see some trades or the Predators surprisingly do nothing in free agency, then it might be difficult to see any prospects get into the NHL lineup unless a rash of injuries occur.
Question #3: What’s Plan B if Forsberg doesn’t Re-Sign?
You have to be planning for the worst case scenario right now if you’re Poile and Forsberg doesn’t re-sign. First off, it will ge a major misstep by Poile if he loses Forsberg without getting anything in return, which is on the table as an unrestricted free agent.
I have to think that Poile has gauged Forsberg’s desire to stay in Nashville long-term and he’ll eventually get a deal done. But boy oh boy are we playing with fire here.
So what’s the “Plan B” if Forsberg takes his talents elsewhere? Well, a rebuild is very much a reality all of the sudden.
Even if the Predators do have extra money to spend aggressively on free agents and sign a big player or two to replace Forsberg, it would still be a massive blow to next season’s hopes of improving.
Per CapFriendly, the Nashville Predators have the ninth-most projected cap space entering June with approximately $24.4M in space. So if Poile wants to be aggressive, he can definitely do that.
However, my backup plan for the Predators if Forsberg doesn’t come back is sign some promising young players in free agency, avoid the expensive and aging veterans that could make things even worse, and live with the fact that it’s time to push reset and think about building a strong, young foundation.
Some would argue they should’ve been doing this approach as far back as the 2019 first round series loss to the Dallas Stars. Either way, losing Forsberg will give Poile very little room to do anything else but accept a rebuild.
Question #4: Do we Trust that Johansen and Duchene are Long-Term Answers Now?
Let’s start with Duchene and his extremely impressive season. His most productive season of his 13-year NHL career, which is pretty incredible to come at age 31.
So are we ready to trust Duchene and forgive the $8M contract that Poile dished out to him in the summer of 2019? I want to say yes, but I still have my reservations that last season is going to create unrealistic optimism that he’s going to do it again.
Now that’s not to say that Duchene won’t have another strong year and be a big part of this team for years to come, but let’s also temper out expectations that he’s going to put up another 80 points in 2022-23.
When it comes to Johansen, he flew under the radar a bit while managing to set a new personal best in goals while being with the Predators. He put up 26 goals, which is his second-highest of his NHL career going all the way back to 2014-15.
Johansen is a major x-factor to what the Predators will accomplish moving forward and if they keep avoiding the rebuild to keep their playoff streak alive. But the organization has to get more effective linemates for him as well.
I really support the notion of getting Johansen and Tomasino on a line together on a consistent basis. Their games complement each other well, and it would be very beneficial for Tomasino’s offensive growth to play with an effective puck distributor like Johansen is.
Duchene and Johansen aren’t going anywhere unless Poile decides to finally throw in the towel on the rebuild, which he made clear isn’t going to happen. In fact, he more or less said all teams are constantly rebuilding to some degree.
Early Outlook on Next Season
Until we answer the question of what happens with Forsberg and what the Predators do in free agency, it’s difficult to know what this team will look like in October.
The Nashville Predators are at a distinct crossroads, and Poile has the daunting task of picking which way is the right way.
I can see a scenario where the Predators go all in to upgrade this roster and have another respectable regular season to keep their postseason streak going, but until they show that they can actually compete against high-level competition in the playoffs, I’ll remain unimpressed with regular season success.
Just an early outlook here on the first day of June in the offseason, the Nashville Predators will enter the regular season as a middle-of-the-pack team in many people’s eyes, but nowhere near a legitimate threat to the top dogs in the Western Conference.