Scrolling through the history of the Nashville Predators page on The Hockey Writers is always interesting. Seeing what my colleagues have written in the past and glimpsing over them will never get old. However, I noticed one thing was missing that seemed to be popular among significant hockey outlets and even THW itself. Mailbags are a great way to get the readers involved, so I would be remiss if I didn’t add it to the Predators writing team’s collective arsenal. I got tons of great questions to read over and choose from, so don’t be disappointed if I didn’t pick yours! There is also the possibility that I answer your question indirectly when responding to one that is closely related. That being said, let’s begin.
What Is Your Evaluation of Viktor Arvidsson’s Season From Both Eye Test and Statistic Perspectives?
Question from @BryanBastin on Twitter
This is an excellent question on a topic gaining traction since his hat trick against the Detroit Red Wings. I wrote a piece earlier in the season about Arvidsson and his consistently puzzling decisions up and down the ice. He still lacks a high hockey IQ, which isn’t an aspect of the game that is teachable. There are still some apparent lapses in his decision-making. However, I’ve noticed less of his low-danger rush chance shots, which I harped on earlier in the year. They’re still there because Arvidsson is a volume shooter by trade, but he’s hitting the net at the very least. It also helps that he is winning battles in the corners more frequently, and he’s finding ways to retain possession of the puck.
His stats, on the other hand, are also quite intriguing. The hat trick he had helped his goal totals, and without it, he would only have one goal in his last five games. Nothing about his individual expected goals (ixG) stands out either. However, the one thing I pointed out in the eye test section is his sudden ability to get pucks on the net rather than five feet wide of it. Over his last five games, Arvidsson has 18 individual Fenwick for (iFF) and 14 individual shots for (iSF). Whereas, in the five games closest to March 2 — the day my Arvidsson article was released — he had 20 iFF and 10 iSF. That’s about a 27 percent increase, which, for a player like him, is drastic. If he continues this trend, I can see his season continuing to improve. If not, things could derail extremely quickly.
Has Juuse Saros Done Enough This Season to Prove He’s the Permanent Solution in Net, and How Does His Play Impact the Framing Of the Askarov Pick a Year Later?
Question from @GinandJuuse on Twitter
Here is the question I struggled the most to answer. It’s not because it’s a particularly hard one, but because there are many layers to it. First, Saros has been fantastic this season outside of a rough month to start the year, a trend that has been his claim to fame for a couple of seasons. He should arguably be a Vezina Trophy candidate. He’s on an insane tear this season, and more specifically, recently. He has a .960 save percentage (SV%) over his last 12 games, which is utter insanity.
I think Saros has done enough, and even if he hasn’t, the organization would still run with him. He has shown the potential to be an upper-echelon starter and is proving to be just that. Next, I think there are a few ways it impacts the pick. For one, it puts less pressure on Yaroslav Askarov to come over and fix things right away. The last thing I want to see the organization do is rush a kid over because the team isn’t getting goaltending. Thankfully, that is not the case.
However, the natural question after supporting the decision to keep Saros in the crease is, why would they pick a goalie at 11 with Anton Lundell sitting right there and Saros commanding the crease for the foreseeable future? The Preds already have a strong goaltending prospect in Connor Ingram, so what’s the point in choosing a goalie? It’s a valid question, and one I was even asking myself on draft day. I have never been a fan of taking goalies early, but I can understand it in this case. Askarov’s ceiling as a goaltender is next to none, and most scouts believe he could be generational. It most likely won’t take long for him to get acclimated to the NHL when the time comes because he’s that talented and intelligent in and around the blue paint.
If the Preds Trade Ekholm, What Return Do You Expect?
Question from @fmshawnrl123 on Instagram
The original package for Mattias Ekholm was said to be around what the Los Angeles Kings got for Jake Muzzin. However, now that the Predators are holding a playoff spot, and Ekholm has been almost Norris Trophy level since his return, it’s easy to say the team wants more. It was rumored that the Predators wanted a player like Ville Heinola from the Winnipeg Jets at this point in the negotiations.
Honestly, I don’t blame them. That is exactly the approach I would take too. Essentially, the team vying for his skills is getting a cost-controlled defenseman that can slot in both on the top and second pairs. Not only is he cost-controlled, but he still has one year left on his current deal. The asking price from the Predators’ perspective should be sky-high, and it seems to be that way. There’s no rush to deal him at the deadline, and unless a Heinola-type player comes back the other way, I don’t see it happening.
It’s a Hockey Culture Trope to Talk About Identity and “Setting the Tone.” With That in Mind, Is There Weight to It When Considering the Predators Fourth Line? Is This Something John Hynes Deserves Credit For?
Question from @Puckin4Dayz on Twitter
This is another excellent question and something I hadn’t considered up to the point of writing this. I think “setting the tone” is a very subjective term, but there is some merit to it. The problem I had with the fourth line in previous years was not setting the tone. Instead, they weren’t good enough to put the puck in the back of the net while simultaneously establishing said tone. I have long been an advocate of having Yakov Trenin as a full-time roster player, and he’s proving me right. Not only is the “herd line” setting the tone through hard forechecking and physical play, but they’re scoring and allotting tons of pressure on the opposing units. It’s an entertaining brand of hockey to watch.
Now, for the second part, yes. I do believe this is something that Hynes deserves credit for. I harp on Hynes a lot, just as all of Nashville does. Most of the criticism is not unwarranted either. However, his recognizing that the trio of Mathieu Olivier, Colton Sissons, and Yakov Trenin work well together is something that Predators fans should commend. It should be praised even further because they weren’t separated after two games, as it seems most good lines are under Hynes.
Is John Hynes the Right Guy for Nashville?
Question from @nhlbenchside and @ben.holbrookk on Instagram
Now, we come to the ultimate question. Is Hynes the right guy for the future of this franchise? The short answer: no. While he has made some good decisions over the last few weeks and has dealt with the injury bug well, he is not the guy. I can see the Predators letting him coach the rest of his contract out unless something crazy happens, but after that, he should be gone. He still coaches a relatively ineffective brand of hockey that emphasizes very few high-danger shots. I would much rather see a guy like Karl Taylor behind the bench. He seems to be the oil to our creaky door hinge.
Who Is the Preds Top Prospect?
Question from @_BenWard11 on Instagram
I’d have to go with the simple answer here, Askarov. As much as Twitter scouts would like to rave about him being a goaltender, most commonly known as “the most volatile position in the sport,” he’s still extremely talented. His athleticism is off the charts, and his ability to read plays is excellent. While there are still flaws to his game, Askarov is undoubtedly the Predators’ top prospect. I love me some Philip Tomasino, but the Russian netminder takes the cake.
Do You Think Askarov Is Overrated and Wasn’t Worth the Pick?
Question from @Adamfrasr
No, no, I do not. Askarov is an exceptionally athletic netminder with an excellent mind for the game, and his resume speaks for itself. He’s won countless medals and was the youngest goaltender to ever start in a KHL game. In the 2020-21 season alone, he had a 1.21 goals-against average (GAA) and .951 save percentage (SV%) in nine KHL games, where he played most of his season. He didn’t have the most remarkable World Junior Championship showing, but keep in mind, he was behind a very lackadaisical Russian team in the defensive end, and he still managed to put up a 2.50 GAA and a respectable .920 SV%.
Does he have flaws? Of course. He’s a lanky, 18-year-old goaltender. He’s still very much a kid. However, there is no way I could ever say that he wasn’t worth the pick, especially when he hasn’t even graced NHL ice. You can take gripes because the Predators picked a goaltender in the 11th spot, but Askarov is different from drafting just any other goalie.
What Does the Preds Future Look Like and Where Do You Rank Them Among Teams?
Question from @hockey_sensei, @lukewait4itmead, and @jack.mullaney on Instagram
I’m a big fan of the Predators’ future. They’re not the New York Rangers and not the Kings, who arguably have the top two prospect pools in all of the NHL, but their pool is no slouch. With the likes of Askarov, Tomasino, David Farrance — who made his debut against the Red Wings on April 8 — Egor Afanasyev, Luke Evangelista, and many more, the Predators will have a formidable future. The most likely time when all of these players will be with the big club is three years. Tomasino and Farrance will most likely be NHL mainstays at that point, Askarov will have come over from Russia, and Afanasyev and Evangelista will be looked at to fill scoring roles outside of the first line.
The second part to the question was, where does the team rank in terms of future? It’s tough because it all depends on how much you value Askarov and what his ceiling could be. Scott Wheeler from The Athletic had them at 17th in the league, and that general placement seems fair. I would slot them one to two places higher, but overall from the 14-17 range, there won’t be any complaints from this end.
Should the Preds Only Sell On Their Pending Unrestricted Free Agents or Not Sell At All?
Question from @nhl.puckcentral on Instagram
I’m a big proponent of selling the upcoming unrestricted free agents for draft picks. It’s a great way to earn some draft capital and give some younger guys more opportunity in the lineup. Worse comes to worst; the team re-signs Mikael Granlund when/if he hits the free-agent market this offseason. I think not selling would be the wrong move. It might not be as much of a fire sale as it was a month ago, but there are still guys that need to go.
What Are Your Thoughts on Eeli Tolvanen, and What Can We Expect From Him in the Future?
Question from @stifla28, @maek_9, and @josh_abbot_2955 on Instagram
Eeli Tolvanen is an electric presence on the ice. His ability to snipe the puck past any goaltender from any spot is something the Predators have wanted and needed for a long time. I love the kid’s game, and I think he should most definitely be in the Calder Trophy conversation. He was recently labelled week-to-week by the Predators, which is unfortunate considering the tear he was on. I find the clear impact that Karl Taylor had on him in Milwaukee appealing. His all-around game looks better than it ever has, and it’s helping to open up more options for him. He has done a great job of suppressing and blocking shots, retaining possession of the puck, and bringing it the other way up the ice.
I think Tolvanen’s impact now is just the beginning. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him light up the league with 30-plus goals and become an even larger power-play threat. He works well in space, and his shot is something to behold, just as it always has been. He is third in goals above replacement (GAR) and second in expected goals above replacement (xGAR) per Evolving-Hockey, all-encompassing metrics that attempt to assign a player’s value in one number. I expect a lot of great things from Tolvanen in the future, and if you haven’t watched him yet, I urge you to do so when he comes back from injury.
With the Recent Success, Are the Preds Buyers, Sellers, or Neither?
Question from Douglas Case on Facebook, and @tannerbowers87 and @yaenne04 on Instagram
This is the question I get most often, even outside of this mailbag article. The Predators are in an interesting spot. They aren’t bad enough to sell everyone like they were at the beginning of March, but they aren’t good enough to buy players and seriously contend for a Stanley Cup. I think that selling would be the best option, even if it’s not a guy like Ekholm or even Ryan Ellis, who Elliotte Friedman mentioned in his 31 Thoughts column as a possible trade piece. I don’t think a guy like Granlund should be on this roster at the end of trade deadline day. I also think selling off scraps like Brad Richardson, and maybe even Erik Haula is vital to providing young players with opportunity. All in all, I don’t think the Predators should sell everyone, and I don’t think the front office believes that either. However, they should milk as much value out of their expiring contracts as they can.
What Would Be Your Major Priorities if You Are David Poile at the Deadline?
Question from @luke_collins137 on Instagram
I’ve been very critical of David Poile’s moves lately, and for a good reason. However, I do not envy him when it comes to this deadline. He has to make some very tough choices, and with the tension surrounding him and where he stands with his job, I’m sure there is a bit of anxiety. Personally, if I were Poile, I’d make sure to sell the expiring contracts for the best value and give the young guys a shot. I think the possibility of selling Ekholm would still be there, but the offer would have to knock my socks off. In terms of priorities, it’s getting rid of expiring contracts.
Who Are the Untouchables on the Preds?
Question from @k.ruparel on Instagram
This question is interesting because there are so many different ways to approach it and many other answers. The only true “untouchables” in my mind are Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, and any of the prospects that I deem fit for the rebuild in the future; players like Tolvanen, Askarov, Afanasyev, Tomasino, and others. I would also add Pekka Rinne to that list, considering he is on an expiring contract and wants to retire as a Predator. (from ‘Pekka Rinne on NHL trade deadline possibilities: ‘I do want to retire as a Predator’,’ The Athletic, 03/15/2021)
However, I’ve seen multiple answers to this question that involve more than Forsberg and Josi. At first, the untouchables didn’t even include Forsberg. Instead, the untouchable list was reportedly Ellis, Josi, and Rinne. This boggled a lot of minds considering the star forward wasn’t on the list. Untouchable lists are not the end all be all. However, it was confusing not to have Forsberg with those other great players. I think the answer could vary depending on who you ask, but the most common answers you’ll get are some assortment of Forsberg, Josi, the prospects, Rinne, Ellis, and maybe even Ekholm.
What Should the Predators Do This Offseason?
Question from @hockeys.ultinerd on Instagram
The Predators are in a similar bind this offseason as they are at the trade deadline. The offseason hinges on the deadline as well. If the team doesn’t sell their unrestricted free agents, the likelihood of them walking is high. With the Seattle Expansion Draft coming up as well, it’s an interesting problem the Predators face. Selling Ekholm at the deadline would provide the team with the option to protect more of their forward core than they would be able to with him. However, they would be losing one of the most underrated defensemen of the last half-decade with a very minimal cap hit.
The plan that the Predators should go forward with, and the one I’ve gone over in this article multiple times, would mean that Ekholm probably doesn’t get sold. Once he is protected from the expansion draft, contract negotiations should start. If the feeling is that he won’t re-sign, put him on the trading block.
Most people felt that strategy had to be why Forsberg wasn’t on the untouchable list when it was announced. He will be an unrestricted free agent soon, and if the front office believes the likelihood is low for him to renew a contract with the Predators, why not throw his name into the mix to get a gauge on his value? The front office needs to be very proactive this offseason, and I don’t mean proactive in the Poile way, which is signing old veterans in free agency on cheap contracts to fill roster spots.
If Poile does do that, he should be fired. Instead of buying, they should gauge the market, prepare for the draft as well as they possibly can, and sell any assets that they can. The draft is where I’m most concerned because of how wonky this year has been in scouting and how important this year is for the Predators and the prospect pool. My general message would be not to make any unnecessary moves just for the sake of making a move.
What’s the Biggest Mistake the Team Made After the Finals Run That Didn’t Push Them to a Cup?
Question from @HockeyAnalysis on Instagram
I figured this would be the best question to end the mailbag on, considering its weight. There are a lot of things this team and front office could have done better. Honestly, at the time, I thought the moves they made were good. Kyle Turris was a solid center in Ottawa, and as much as I miss Samuel Girard, it looked like the right move at the time. Long story short, it didn’t work out.
The Predators were not a bad team. They won two consecutive division championships and a Presidents’ Trophy, but they fell short in the playoffs due to a lack of scoring. The front office’s biggest mistake was not selling guys that needed to be dealt and making moves to make moves. No, Wayne Simmonds was not going to be a massive impact player on the Predators. The amount of capital they lost due to acquiring name players with minimal or declining impact is astounding.
Arguably, the most significant mistake Poile made was deciding to keep the same team from 2017-18. He didn’t think that the team needed to be changed, so he left it as it was, and that backfired completely. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning team was great, but backed by a Vezina Trophy season from Rinne. There were still flaws with the roster, but Poile failed to recognize that because the past year’s standings blinded him. Those two things are the two biggest reasons I would argue that the Predators have not won a Cup or haven’t even come close to it since the miracle run in 2016-17.
That’s the end of our first-ever mailbag! Thanks to everyone that sent in questions, and as I said in the introduction, if I didn’t pick yours, don’t be disheartened; I could have inadvertently answered it. There will be more of these, so look for the next opportunity to send in your questions.
Jeff is a consistent source for Predators content here at The Hockey Writers. He enjoys watching all sorts of hockey from juniors to the pros, and playing hockey for his high school and local teams in Nashville. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here, or check out his contributions on his own Substack, or at Last Word on Hockey and On the Forecheck. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions you can message his twitter, @jjmid04.