It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date, but sometime around the end of Peter Laviolette’s tenure as head coach of the Nashville Predators, the team lost their identity; they got away from what made them the Predators. What that “identity” was, depends on who you ask, but the consensus seems to be that of a hard-working team driven by defensive play and who scores by committee.
That lost identity seeped into the shortened 2020-21 season, but luckily, according to general manager David Poile, they recaptured or reinvented it towards the end of the season, which helped them rebound from an absolute embarrassment of a season to make a push for the playoffs; a push that no one saw coming at the midway point of the campaign. So, a down-and-out team rallied to make the postseason, and not only that, but they also found their identity in the process, or maybe they were able to turn the season around because they found their identity. Either way, many positives came out of a season that saw the former contenders lose in six games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2021 Playoffs. But cut through the moral victory, and we’re still left with a team that was inconsistent during the regular season and outmatched, at the best of times, when they squeaked into the playoffs.
Well, unfortunately, new identity or not, we can expect the same results in 2021-22 because the Predators are still not equipped to flip the script and write last season off as an anomaly.
They can, however, take a step forward, which is all any sports fan can hope for when their team doesn’t look like they can contend for a division title, let alone a championship. If the following players can raise their game or have a breakout season next year, it will go a long way toward improving the team’s future.
The former 17th-overall pick has already had an up-and-down career in his two full(ish) NHL seasons. The Predators have a good reputation for drafting and developing quality defensemen, while elite scorers have long eluded them. So, when Poile drafts a blueliner in the first round, there is immediate pressure to perform because why would a team starved of offense select a defenseman with their first pick if he wasn’t a special talent?
Unfortunately, it’s rare for young players to be inserted into an NHL lineup and have an immediate impact, especially defensemen. Fabbro has followed the expected learning curve. Meaning the youngster from Coquitlam, British Columbia has looked uncomfortable and, let’s be honest, overwhelmed with the Predators. However, you cannot deny he has shown improvement. Since his debut, his mistakes have decreased, and his potential has shone a little brighter game-by-game. But, as mentioned, expectations were high for the 23-year-old, much of which was probably unfair. So, although Fabbro’s development is evident, it may not be as fast as some fans would have liked.
To make matters worse, he didn’t see a moment of action in the playoffs. Head coach John Hynes opted to keep Fabbro out of the lineup for all six games against the Hurricanes. But after the season concluded, he assured everyone that Fabbro would be a big part of the team moving forward. “Dante is a real important part of the organization moving forward,” Hynes said during the end-of-season presser a few months ago. “We shouldn’t forget he’s a young guy. He came out of college and played, and I think he did some good things… I thought there were parts of this year where he was doing really well. Hynes went on to say, “We need Dante to come back and be a big-time player for us in the fall.”
Management backed up their coach when they signed Fabbroto a two-year deal earlier this month.
Fabbro is entering a critical third season. Now is the time for him to show he is a legitimate, reliable top-four defenseman. But that’s not the main reason why the former Boston University product will need to have a breakout season of sorts. The void left by Ryan Ellis‘s departure to the Philadelphia Flyers will thrust Fabbro into the spotlight even more. It’s not easy to replace a player like Ellis. Not only is he one of the most skilled defensemen in the league, but his hockey IQ is off the charts.
Given his potential, Fabbro may be the best option to fill the hole left by Ellis. With minutes and responsibilities up for grabs, the former first-round pick needs to put together a campaign that shows he is worthy of claiming both.
Sissons wasn’t a disappointment last season, but rather he gets a mention due to another loss. The Seattle Kraken ripped Calle Jarnkrok away from Nashville, and he will also be hard to replace. There was a reason the Predators protected Jarnkrok when the Vegas Golden Knights were constructing their team. The Swedish forward is so versatile that you can throw him into virtually any situation and be confident in your decision.
Sissons is a bottom-six forward and always will be. This is in no way disparaging; it’s the role he plays and does so very well. However, the 27-year-old is best suited for defense. He plays on a line that can shut opponents down, and he’s who you want out there on the penalty kill. Offensively, Sissons leaves a lot to be desired. Again, managing expectations is important because it’s ridiculous to demand 25 or more goals from him. But if we look back at his career, we know he can contribute a little more than he has recently.
Sissons bounced between the AHL and NHL to start his career, but when he finally established himself with the Predators in 2017-18, he scored 27 points. He followed that up with a career-best 30 points in 2018-19.
Unfortunately, since then, his offensive production has gone downhill. He tallied 15 points in both 2019-20 and 2020-21. He has reached double digits in goals just once in his NHL career. As mentioned, the Predators aren’t exactly flush with goal scorers, and after they “re-tooled” during this offseason, it looks like offense will continue to be a weakness. Of course, Sissons is not the sole answer to turn the goal-scoring problem around, but he can be a big part of those ever-so-crucial fourth-line goals. You know, the ones that can spark the bench and boost the team with inexplainable energy.
As a talented, underrated center, Sissons will be needed to help replace the Swiss Army knife that was Jarnkrok. However, in fairness, that may require several players, and that’s not hyperbole, Jarnkrok was Nashville’s ultimate jack-of-all-trades, and that will be highlighted next season. Sissons may be able to make losing Jarnkrok an easier pill to swallow, and for the sake of Predators’ fans, let’s hope he’s up for the challenge.
It’s also important not to misconstrue why Trenin is mentioned here. It’s not that he had a bad season, and a bounce-back campaign is needed. Instead, the 24-year-old is approaching the point in his career when he needs to take that step forward and show development in his game. The Russian forward is a member of the immensely popular and effective “Herd Line” of Sissons, Trenin, Mathieu Olivier and/or Tanner Jeannot. They are a crash and bang energy line that can also occasionally chip in offensively.
Trenin wasn’t a disappointment in 2020-21, but at times, he left you wanting more. He seemed to struggle with consistency, and from April 1 -13, a span of seven games, he recorded four points. But there were stretches of four, five, and even nine games when he was held off the score sheet entirely. During the final 12 games of the regular season, he tallied just one goal and one assist.
It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect Trenin to be a goal-scoring machine, but a little more production would go a long way. He could play the role Austin Watson used to play for the Predators perfectly. Watson could score, but it wasn’t essential because he did so many other things well. Trenin isn’t as well-rounded (yet), so he needs to bring another element to contribute.
The problem here is the competition. Yes, he was an effective member of the Herd Line last season, but, as we all know, Tanner Jeannot arrived on the scene late and acclimated himself very well. Plus, it was clear after seeing the Predators’ protection list for the expansion draft that Jeannot is valued by management.
There are four players associated with the Herd Line: Sissons, Trenin, Olivier and Jeannot. Someone will be the odd man out, and Trenin must prove that it shouldn’t be him.
The Predators allegedly recaptured their identity; however, this proclamation was made before three major pillars were removed from the roster, including trading Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson, and the Kraken selecting Jarnkrok in the expansion draft. If the Predators want to maintain their identity, several players will need to elevate and advance their play. Leaders need to lead, and the players mentioned here must develop into even more valuable role players. If they cannot, the team will likely take another step backward, which could spiral into catastrophe.
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27