Predators shouldn't be fooled by their strong second half
One of the dangers of making a late charge into the NHL playoffs is that you start to fool yourself into believing that you are more formidable than you truly are.
When a team makes a second-half run, signs should be immediately installed in the offices of the coach and general manager that read: When reviewing the standings, beware that you may not be as close as you think you are.
Maybe Nashville Predators general manager David Poile had one of the signs because he did come out this week and said it wasn’t good enough for his team to simply make the playoffs and then lose in the first round.
Poile understands that his team’s noteworthy effort to make the playoffs doesn’t mean they are a player or two away from being back in contention.
Far from it.
Coach John Hynes did a masterful job organizing the Predators into a competitive group. Stressing accountability and rewarding players who pushed themselves to a higher level, Hynes coaxed this team into a 20-7-1 record in the second half. They pushed a quality Carolina Hurricanes team to six games in the first round.
Their effort should be applauded, appreciated for what it was. But the Predators remain a team in need of serious repairs.
If you look at this team’s roster in preparation for the expansion draft, you realize that they don’t really have seven forwards they can’t afford to lose.
Right now, it would be a good guess to think the Predators would embrace the option of protecting eight players of any position, plus a goalie, instead of the standard seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie.
They could protect defensemen Roman Jose, Ryan Ellis, Dante Fabbro, Alexandre Carrier and Mattias Ekholm. The forward protected forwards could be Filip Forsberg, Luke Kunin and Colton Scissons. The decision to take Scissons over Calle Jarnkrok is based on Scissons tied up longer contractually for a reasonable salary hit of $2.8 million per season.
With that protected list, the Predators might lose Jarnkrok or defenseman Alexandre Carrier or perhaps Viktor Arvidsson.
But what this protected list shows is that the Predators still have a strong defense, but their forward group needs a serious upgrade.
The Predators need to shed the contract of Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. Their performance level doesn’t line up with their $8 million annual average salaries. Those two players ate up roughly 20% of Nashville’s cap space and combined for 13 goals last season.
It likely will be fruitless, but Poile has to come up with an offer to entice the Seattle Kraken to take Johansen who has four seasons left. In addition to giving up much-needed assets, the Predators would likely need to retain some of the salary.
Poile has to at least try because cap space is what they need most to dramatically change the look of this team. They need to acquire a No. 1 center. Poile has always been a creative trader, but he needs cap space to maneuver.
They can talk to the Capitals about the availability of Evgeny Kuznetsov, but he has four years remaining at $7.8 million. They would have to move Johansen to consider that kind of move.
But the Predators need to do something that sends the message that they are changing their look.
The Predators do have positives: Juuse Saros has proven he can be a No. 1 goalie and Tolvanen scored 11 goals this season. Maybe he could score 20 next season. Prospect winger Philip Tomasino registered 32 points in 29 games for the Chicago Wolves in the American League. Those two young forwards could be key to the reworking of the team’s offense.
Potential unrestricted free agent Mikael Granlund seems to play well for Hynes, and the Predators will give him a raise if he stays. Erik Haula also played well for Hynes and he might stay.
The Predators have potential Russian franchise goalie Jaroslav Askarov, last season’s first round pick, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. He won’t be available this season, but could come over to North America in 2022-23.
It’s probably time to consider trading one of the defensemen. Ekholm only has one year left on his deal, meaning Poile might be able to get a first-round pick and a prospect. He could consider trading Ryan Ellis instead.
The Predators need to be aggressive to give this team a fresh look, especially if they can’t move Johansen and Duchene. The Predators were impressive down the stretch, but they were 15-4-1 against Detroit, Chicago and Columbus after Feb. 11. Those were the bottom three teams in the Central Division.
This was the Covid season. Nothing was normal. Teams only played division games. It’s hard to know how significant Nashville’s record really was. It sure seems like the Predators would be well-served by turning over one- third of their roster this offseason.