Additions and Subtractions: Are the Nashville Predators an Improved Team?

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Cole Smith #36 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his empty-net goal with his teammates Cody Glass #8, Ryan McDonagh #27, Jeremy Lauzon #3 and Yakov Trenin #13 against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on March 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Predators won 2-1. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Cole Smith #36 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his empty-net goal with his teammates Cody Glass #8, Ryan McDonagh #27, Jeremy Lauzon #3 and Yakov Trenin #13 against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on March 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Predators won 2-1. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /

There’s a lot to sort out for the busy Nashville Predators this offseason, and it begs the question of whether or not they’ve actually improved or will they be more of the same in the middle of the pack?

The Predators are one of the bigger riddles of the entire NHL right now. No one seems to really know what they’re long-term plan is. Of course every front office wants to win, but many times teams realize they’re a long ways off from contending and their offseason moves show that.

That’s just not the case for the Predators. Just take the Ryan O’Reilly addition first, the day after Matt Duchene was bought out with three years remaining on his deal. That was a direct move to create cap space to make more additions, and not to take on the role of a rebuilding team.

So with all of this roster movement, and possibly more to come with Brett Pesce trade rumors swirling, just who are the Nashville Predators? Have they actually improved their chances in 2023-24 of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and actually being a viable team once they’re in?

Breaking Down the Subtractions for the Nashville Predators

We can honestly take this all the way back to the first week of March and the trade deadline. Four key starters were shipped off, and that signaled that at least some sort of rebuild was finally happening for this franchise that has always performed well in the regular season, but only has one Western Conference title to show for it.

The young core of the roster battled through the piling up of injuries, and as April approached, somehow this team stayed relevant in the playoff race. They didn’t officially get knocked out until the 80th game of the regular season. Just wow.

This is where everything changed for the outlook of the offseason plans, or at least that’s what I assume. If this team completely folds and the young core faulters under pressure, then it would’ve been much easier to stay relatively quiet in free agency and embrace a long-term rebuild.

You can call it false hope, but whatever it is, Trotz in his new role as General Manager thinks this team isn’t far off and that moving on from underperforming players and replacing them with Stanley Cup winning veterans was the strategy.

The Ryan Johansen breakup needed to happen regardless of how much you love the player. Taking on more dead cap money isn’t ideal in any scenario, but Trotz is making it clear he was desperate to move on:

Johansen had fallen to the outside looking in as an aging veteran who never lived up to true top line center status. The Predators have a crop of young talent rising up as centers with the ascensions of Cody Glass, Thomas Novak and Juuso Parssinen. It made Johansen expendable.

As for Duchene, a much more challenging situation to wrap your head around. I saw him as the elder statesman in the locker room that was one of the few core veterans that avoided the injury bug, that is up until late March when his season finally ended as well due to a nasty finger injury after taking a puck to the hand off a shot from Dante Fabbro.

Replacing Duchene in the lineup is going to be much more difficult than Johansen. Duchene is one season removed from hitting 43 goals, a single season franchise record, and still put up 56 points last season despite everything breaking down around him.

With that said, both Johansen and Duchene never came close to the contract values they were playing under.

Mark Borowiecki, who missed most of 2022-23, announced his retirement and has since become a development coach for the Nashville Predators. Replacing him on the ice was something the Predators had to work through for much of the season.

Rasmus Asplund was acquired at the 2023 trade deadline from the Buffalo Sabres for a seventh-round pick in 2025. The forward played 19 games down the stretch for Nashville but failed to record a point on 21 shots on goal.

Really it comes down to losing Johansen and Duchene on top of the major selloff you had at the trade deadline. A lot to replace from 2022-23 to 2023-24.

Will the Additions Outweigh the Losses?

We knew the Predators were going to have to add someone in free agency to be cap compliant, but the major addition of O’Reilly to many of us by surprise.

Of all places, the former Conn Smythe winner opted out of staying with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who seemed to want him, and moved to the much smaller Nashville Predators market.

O’Reilly effectively replaces the loss of Johansen without question. Again, you don’t love having to retain any salary for a player that no longer wears your sweater, but it was necessary to facilitate the addition of O’Reilly.

You’re looking at likely your top line center on opening night for the Nashville Predators, and I love the thought of Filip Forsberg and Luke Evangelista being on the line with O’Reilly.

I’m still having trouble seeing how the Predators replace Duchene’s production. It will take a collective effort of a few players raising their level of offensive play. Perhaps Evangelista really takes off in his first full season in the NHL, or we see Philip Tomasino finally get a full season to reach another offensive gear.

The collective efforts of Evangelista, Tomasino, Parssinen and Glass and easily replace Duchene’s production, but you have to be aware that there will be growing pains.

Gustav Nyquist, also acquired in free agency, isn’t a prolific offensive player but may be able to partially offset the loss of Duchene. I’m still not sure what to think about his potential role with this team.

Forsberg is a given. He has to return to 40-plus goal form, or at least come close to that benchmark. That alone isn’t enough to replace Duchene’s production.

Luke Schenn threw me off at first, but it’s growing on me a bit. It makes Fabbro expendable, and Schenn is a proven winner and led the NHL in hits last season. The Predators probably overpaid for Schenn, but that happens when you have a surplus of cap space.

Defensively I really like where this team is going, but the offense is going to remain a question mark until we see the youth carry over their promising first seasons in the fray into consistency in their seconds seasons.

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All in all when you balance the subtractions with the additions, I don’t see the Nashville Predators moving the needle much in terms of getting closer to competing for Stanley Cups in the short-term. Which is why adding more dead cap money is puzzling.

On the other hand, O’Reilly and Schenn will add winning culture and be great mentors for the young core. In that regard, the Nashville Predators may have gotten better in the long-term future, but in 2023-24 it looks to be more of the same. Hanging out on the playoff bubble and hoping you get hot at the right time in April.

Hey, it happened for the Florida Panthers, so why not us in 2024?