Nashville Predators and Tommy Novak Nearing Critical Juncture in 2024

Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) scores a goal against Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during the shootout period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) scores a goal against Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during the shootout period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Among the Nashville Predators youngsters who shined towards the end of last year was Tommy Novak. He looked like a very confident center, effectively controlling the puck when it was on his stick, and being near unstoppable when in front of the net.

Novak impressively put up 17 goals and 26 assists (good for 43 points) in 51 games, and it speaks volumes about his future considering it was his second season, and the first time he had actually established himself as a roster player.

In fact, Novak established himself so much as one of the most trusted Predators offensive producers that he led the team in Goals Per 60 at Even Strength with 3.9, per Hockey Reference.

The thought of Novak not being in the Nashville Predators’ long term future seems crazy, especially because legit top-six centers have been an Achilles heel for the team historically.

And coming into the offseason, Novak certainly looked penciled in for the next few years, but one move changed all of that.

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O’Reilly signing complicates Novak’s future with Nashville Predators

When the Predators signed Ryan O’Reilly to a four-year contract, it effectively sunk Novak’s chances of being a top-six center anytime soon. O’Reilly is expected to be the first line center, and the spot on the second line is technically up for grabs, but it is hard to not expect Cody Glass to fill it.

The Predators traded for Glass in 2021 with the expectation that he would be a top-six center for the future, and his development indicates that he is on that track.

Glass also re-signed on a two-year contract that makes him a restricted free agent at its expiration, so there is no doubt that he is a big part of the organization’s long-term plans.

Now, we should not rule out the possibility that Novak could play second line center for much of the 2023-24 season, and I am sure he and Glass will rotate fairly often. But after this year, Novak’s future with the Predators looks uncertain at best, and maybe even improbable.

Novak’s contract expires at the end of the coming season, and unlike Glass, he will be an unrestricted free agent at the time. So even if the Predators really do want to keep Novak, what is stopping him from jumping to another team that offers a clear path to top-six center?

The fact that the Predators do not hold the cards in this situation is what truly makes it dicey, and Novak very much seems like the odd man out between him, Glass, and O’Reilly. It would hurt for the team to lose Novak for nothing next offseason, but there is a chance that General Manager Barry Trotz was never quite sold on him.

Before signing O’Reilly, the Predators were supposedly looking heavily into acquiring a center, and had their eyes on Evgeny Kuznetsov before those talks fell through.

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Preds Might Lose Novak Even if They Don’t Really Want To 

You would think that if the team was serious about Novak being a top-six center beyond this year, they would have left that door way more open. But his soon-to-be UFA status, the O’Reilly acquisition, and more importantly, the Predators’ objectives this offseason show that Novak is far from a lock for the future.

Another factor that could be playing into this matter is Novak’s age. Despite his inexperience in the NHL, he is 26-years-old, which is not that young when you really think about it.

Glass is currently on the early side of 24, and that further proves that he is a bigger priority for the Predators’ future than Novak is. And given everything, we have to wonder what they end up doing with Novak as the year progresses.

It would have been unfathomable just three months ago, but assuming the Predators are still far from contending, does Novak become trade bait at the 2024 deadline? You do not want to lose a guy like that for nothing, and if the team is not going to win anything meaningful, why hang onto him when he does not have a great chance of being a top-six center?

It is tough because Novak’s future in this league looks so bright, but it no longer looks like he will be able to reach his potential with the Nashville Predators. Things can always change, but moving on might end up being necessary for both sides since he should be playing in the top-six.