Our Nashville Predators 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
Nashville is in a win now mode, where nothing but the Stanley Cup is considered successful. Ever since they made their way into the finals in 2017, it seems like the team has been a perennial contender, and has been very strong in a competitive Central Division in the regular season. But they haven’t been able to get it done. This is perhaps best illustrated by the meme poking fun at the amount of division/conference championship banners hanging from the rafters of Bridgestone Arena. As a Capitals fan I can relate. The playoffs for a team like this, is all that matters. For this reason the Predators are coming off a disappointing season.
They were a 100 point club and made it into the playoffs as the winner of the Central Division. They beat out Winnipeg and St.Louis by 1 point to win the division. The team had made some promising moves at the deadline and were poised to make their return to the finals. The team shipped out promising forward Kevin Fiala, for Mikael Granlund for a boost to secondary scoring. The Predators won out on Wayne Simmonds, by sending Ryan Hartman and a 2020 4th round pick. Brian Boyle also was acquired in exchange for a 2019 2nd round pick. Boyle scored 5 goals in 26 games with Nashville and was not re-signed by the club. Wayne Simmonds was a huge disappointment also. He played 17 games for the club, with 1 goal and 2 assists, and looked invisible for the team. He’s known for contributing off the score sheet too, but didn’t show the same heart he was known for in Philly. Simmonds and Boyle were both rentals that didn’t pan out, but it showed that the team was prepared to make moves to win now.
The team had looked pretty stacked going into playoffs with a surplus of great forwards and absurd defense depth. To the shock of many, the team lost in the first round to the Dallas Stars. The Predators went 0-15 on the powerplay in the series, which is just atrocious. With the roster the team had, that is unforgivable in the playoffs. Even worse, the team was the league worst in powerplay for the regular season, with a 12.9% effective rate. Horrible.
To nobody’s surprise the Predators brought in a new powerplay coach, Dan Lambert. Lambert comes with some WHL and AHL head coaching experience, and some time as an assistant with the Buffalo Sabres. He’ll need to shake things up in order for the club to have some success. The central is going to be competitive as always, and a sour power play will only bring the Predators down. They cannot afford to not capitalize on the man advantage, especially in the playoffs. A successful team in the playoffs will seize every opportunity they get on the powerplay to secure their path to the Stanley Cup.
Nashville will need to go deep in the playoffs for the 2019-2020 season to be labelled a success. With some of the moves they made this off-season, they may be well on their way to achieving that.
This offseason one of the hottest UFAs was Matt Duchene, and he ended up coming to Nashville. With the acquisition of Duchene, Nashville now has one of the best centre depth charts in the league. They have a lineup of Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino. Duchene had a slow start when he was traded to Columbus, but even after a few games he looked great for the team and was especially strong in playoffs. Duchene immediately makes the team better, and can slot in on the first line, or play behind Ryan Johansen on the second line. I predict that we will coach Laviolette juggle these two centres and try to find some good chemistry amongst his top six. He could be a great addition to their powerplay and will help boost the effectiveness of the first unit.
A centre on the way out is Brian Boyle. He played 15 games for the team and only scored 5 goals in 26 games with Nashville. He’ll be replaced by Turris in the 3rd line centre role. Turris has been shaky in Nashville, and has been rumoured trade bait, but perhaps a diminished role behind Duchene and Johansen will be a good move for him, allowing him to play better. Behind Turris is Nick Bonino, who could very well earn that 3rd line centre role where he excelled in Pittsburgh on the famous HBK line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel. It remains to be seen how well he will do in a fourth line centre capacity, but at a cap hit of $4.1 million and one more season after this, he could be on the way out.
On the wings, the Predators fall off past the first line pairing of Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. These two are the two leading scorers of the team. They both battled some injuries last season, and if they both stay healthy, should be on pace 60-70+ points.
Deadline acquisition Mikael Granlund chipped in a bit, scoring 5 points in his time with the club last season. Granlund will be looking to make more of an impact this year on his new team and will get an opportunity to play on the second line. His winger linemate could be Craig Smith, who took a 12 point dip in points last year and will also be looking to improve. The third and fourth line wingers are set to be Calle Jarnkrok, Rocco Grimaldi, Colton Sissons, and Auston Watson. Colton Sissons, Rocco Grimaldi and Calle Jarnkrok can all play up the middle. These guys all play hard and could battle their way into Peter Laviolette’s favour. Rocco Grimaldi is a bit of a new name on the Predators scene, but in last year’s playoffs he scored 3 of Nashville’s total 12 goals, and was tough on the puck. He could very well see an expanded role this season on the wing, or if needed, in the centre role. Miika Salomaki, and Frederick Gaudreau will provide some press box bench strength and can fill in as necessary during the season.
Eeli Tolvanen will be looking to bounce back after his highly anticipated debut fizzled out. The winger has only played 7 NHL games so far, and news on his development has been pretty quiet, at least compared to his introduction to the league. There is a real opportunity for him to grab a spot on the wings though, and contribute to the secondary scoring in the middle six.
This off-season the Predators also acquired 2018-2020 AHL MVP Daniel Carr. The 27 year old played in 52 AHL games and scored 30 goals and 41 assists. He played in 6 games for the Vegas Golden Knights this season and scored 1 goal. Carr was previously a part of the Montreal Canadians team, and was up and down between the NHL and AHL. He could see some time on the wings in this Nashville club, and is sure to provide a little bit of backup depth if required.
Defense has been the strength of the Predators the last few seasons. They shipped offensive dynamo defenseman P.K. Subban to New Jersey this off season. The team received depth defenseman Steven Santini, who will sit 7th/8th on the depth chart, and some second round draft picks. Most notably though, the Predators got rid of P.K. Subban’s $9 million cap hit. This allows them a lot of breathing room but does weaken their blue line. Subban was a huge part of the team’s offense from the point, and his loss will affect how the powerplay will be drawn up.
Despite losing Subban, the top two defensive pairings are looking to be strong. The top pairing will be captain Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. Josi had 56 points last year, which is where we expect him to be at this point. His on-ice average was 25:10 minutes per game. His contributions to this team are immense and he will continue to provide great defense, and will pose an offensive threat in every game. Next up is Matthias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro, a 2016 17th overall pick by the Predators. He joined the team last year and impressed in his brief stint. He should earn a starting roster spot this season and will replace Subban in the lineup. He’ll have big shoes to fill but he looked to be up to the task in his time so far. Both of these pairings should be great, and will play an absurdly high amount of minutes all season long. The top two pairings will be fast, smart and will provide a quick first breakout pass for the forward core.
Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Weber round out the bottom pairing. These two can be a competent third pairing, but how much does Dan Hamhuis have in the tank at 36 years old?
Pekka Rinne is now 36 going on 37 this November. His stats are still good, in the regular season. In his 56 games in the regular season he posted a 2.42 goals against average, and a 0.918 save percentage. This was a 10 point drop in both stats from his performance the season before. Rinne has historically struggled in playoffs, and last season he wasn’t great against the Stars. He had a 3.09 goals against average and a 0.905 save percentage. The fact of the matter is that he’ll have to be better than that in the playoffs for the team to be successful. It’s tough to blame the goaltender, but Rinne has been better in the playoffs, such as the year the team went to the final…until they got to the finals and his stats dived. From the outside it looks like he may be getting fatigued due to a heavy workload, but Rinne has been a workhorse for the team for years and shows no real signs of stopping soon.His consistency has come into a bit of question, and while he has solid regular season stats, his spot is slowly becoming more at risk.
Juuse Saros is becoming one of the best backups in the league. At 24 years old his 79 career games stats are a 2.49 goals against average, and a .920 save percentage in the regular season. He played only part of one playoff game last year and saved 20 of 21 shots against. If his career keeps progressing how it is, he could very well be the next starter for the Nashville Predators. For now he is a great 1b option for the club, and can play more and more games to take some pressure off Rinne. Saros’ game time has been slowly increasing, and he could eventually work his way into equal footing with Rinne. It remains to be seen just how soon that could be.
The Predators acquired 22 year old goaltender Connor Ingram from the Tampa Bay Lightning this summer. He’s been splitting time between the AHL and ECHL, but he looks to be progressing nicely. If he keeps it up, he could get an opportunity for a few starts at the NHL level soon. Even if he doesn’t his acquisition provides a nice safety net if Saros doesn’t pan out for some reason. He’ll provide some solid goaltending in the AHL and provides a nice insurance plan if the Predators need a new backup.
Nashville Predators 2019-20 Prediction
1st-3rd Central Division
With the addition of Matt Duchene, the Predators will have some of the best centre depth in the league. Some key changes should mean that their abysmal powerplay should at least be better than league worst like it was last season. This team has the potential to be a division winner, but their winger depth is questionable and they face some real competition in their division. As always, their defense should provide some additional offense and stability to the team during the season. New face Dante Fabbro will be looking to fill the shoes of P.K. Subban on the second defense pairing, and will be important to the success of the team. Anything less than a deep playoff run will be considered as a disappointment for this team.