The Nashville Predators will soon face one of the toughest decisions that an organization can make. It is the million-dollar question, are they in need of a rebuild? It seems like yesterday the team was battling the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. Thousands of fans flocked to downtown Nashville and flooded Broadway and the surrounding streets in a sea of gold to root on the home team. Fast forward a few seasons and it seems that everyone in the organization from the front office, to the coaches, down to the players is on the chopping block.
Nashville is on the horizon of a rebuild but they are not quite there yet. I do not believe this is the season they blow up the entire roster and make front office changes; those honors go to the Buffalo Sabres. Yes, Nashville absolutely has holes that need to be filled and some changes need to be made but a full-on rebuild is not necessary…yet.
Nashville’s Elite Talent
We simply cannot overlook the fact that there are three superstars currently on Nashville’s roster. The first being forward Filip Forsberg. He is 26-years-old and having a career season. In 26 games he has 27 points which lead the Predators. Forsberg is in his prime and fans can expect he will get better over the next couple of years. Similar to Taylor Hall in New Jersey, Forsberg has not had the support to bring his game to the next level. Take a second and imagine Forsberg on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. While we can all agree Forsberg would bring in the biggest return I would not trade him this season.
Ask anyone in the league to name five of the best defensive pairings in the NHL and I can guarantee Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis will be named. I am almost certain they would be ranked as the best or second best. Both players are 30-years-old and if I was the Predators GM I would do everything in my power to keep them intact for the next couple of seasons. Josi is the reigning Norris Memorial Trophy Winner and logs the most time on ice. In the 2018-19 season, Ellis earned 41 points and in 2019-20 he finished the season with 38 points.
After Josi won the James Norris Memorial Trophy he credited Ellis by saying, “he’s such a rock back there and so solid. He lets me play my game. … I probably should give half my trophy to him. He’s an unbelievable player and he deserves to win this. I’m very glad I’m playing with him.”
Instead of dismantling the roster the head office should focus on finding support for their key players, and developing the young guys. Injuries have plagued them since January, but in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. Nashville has a handful of young players testing the NHL waters and some of them have been a pleasant surprise over the past couple of months.
Young Players Making Strides
Dante Fabbro, Eeli Tolvanen and Jeremy Davies can be part of the future in Nashville. All three have been a surprise going into this season. Fabbro has been with the team since opening night while Davies made his debut in Nashville’s last game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
One look at Davies’ statistics and you will see the young defenseman is having himself a year in the American Hockey League. So far he has averaged an assist per game and is ranked third in the AHL with nine assists in nine games. He is 24-years-old and has played one game with the Nashville Predators. With Josi out for the next couple of weeks, it seems that this is Davies’ time to begin his adjustment from playing with boys to men.
Tolvanen has been a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season. The 21-year-old forward has five goals in 17 games. What is impressive is four of those goals came on the power play. Tolvanen was drafted 30th overall in 2017 and it appears he is ready for a permanent position on the Predators and the power play.
Predators head coach John Hynes has praised Tolvanen stating, “He’s done a good job on the power play, he’s got good instincts on it and he really understands it. He’s been a very good power-play player at every level he’s played, and we like the way that unit has looked. You saw his ability to get the shot off so quick in a seam pass, with no stick handle, and it’s on and off his tape and into the net. He’s a young guy getting more and more comfortable, but he certainly has earned and has shown the promise on the power play to be able to play on that unit.”
Defensemen take longer to develop in the league than forwards. It is a known NHL fact. Fabbro is 22-years-old and has been with the Predators since opening night. He has been playing around 19:14 a game paired with Mattias Ekholm. While both Ellis and Josi sit out with injuries it is Fabbro’s time to shine, as he along with Ekholm, are now the top defensive pairing.
Valuable Trade Assets
The one positive for Nashville is they have players that can easily be moved before the deadline. Trading Ekholm should bring a nice return to Nashville. He is near the end of a $3.75 million per season contract that expires at the end of the 2021-22 season. He would be a solid pick-up for any team looking to add depth for a playoff run. Championships are won by defense and any team adding Ekholm will be better because of him.
As far as their forward core, Mikael Granlund is a top-six forward on most teams. Like Ekholm, Granlund’s salary cap hit is $3.75 million and he will be an unrestricted free agent by the end of the season. He is an ideal rental for a team like Toronto or Florida. Granlund is one of the few players that has performed better since Hynes took over behind the bench and in the right situation he can further elevate his play.
Both Brad Richardson and Erik Haula would be a good pick-up for teams looking to add forward depth, especially in the face-off circle. Haula has the best faceoff win percentage in Nashville with 57.58 while Richardson is right behind him with 54.5 percent. In the past few seasons, we have seen playoff heroes such as Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman and Lars Eller. The playoffs are a time for players like Richardson and Haula to shine given they are in the right environment.
What is happening with the Predators is puzzling, to say the least. No one expected the team to underperform as much as they have. Injuries have been a reoccurring theme the past two months but their issues seem to be more than that. At this juncture, the Predators should trade smart and work with the talent that they have. Nashville’s impending rebuild can be done quickly and seamlessly if it is approached correctly.
If the players are not syncing and the coaching staff is not successfully getting through to the team what is next? At what point does the front office and more specifically the general manager start feeling the pressure? Some form of changes in Nashville are inevitable, but what is left to be seen, is who leaves Nashville first.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.