Can you have your cake and eat it, too? Allegedly you can’t, but the Nashville Predators may be trying to do just that. During the dark days of the 2020-21 season, when the Predators were down and out, a rebuild was seemingly going to be forced upon them — they weren’t going to be given a choice. However, after rallying, looking like a completely different team and making the playoffs, they were placed right back at a crossroads. Should they rebuild or stay the course with the core they currently have?
Let’s be honest, their miraculous run was impressive. They deserve credit for never saying never, buckling down and working until the very last game. But in reality, even after defying the odds, the Predators never propelled themselves into league’s elite category, nor did they reclaim the contender status that they flirted with for a brief moment back in 2018. So, they scored a moral victory. They made their first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes easier to swallow, but at the end of the day, you play to win the game. Just ask Herm Edwards.
So, back to the Predators seemingly playing both sides. General manager (GM) David Poile knows changes need to be made in order to rectify the inabilities that have plagued the team for seasons, but he doesn’t quite want to start over. Are they hoping that making minor changes will result in major improvements? That’s not generally how sports work. At least it’s not how hockey works. It’s not like football where a great quarterback can turn a basement dweller into a Super Bowl champion. Or basketball, where a player like LeBron James or Kevin Durant can carry a team to the NBA Finals. Well, this past season may have been a bad example, sorry Nets fans! But hockey is the ultimate team game. The whole roster needs to work in order to be the last ones standing.
Poile knows that this team can’t compete right now. He’s explained keeping the status quo is not good enough several times already this offseason.
“I think we need to go in a little bit of different direction,” the GM told the Predators’ flagship radio station, 102.5 The Game, shortly after trading Viktor Arvidsson. “I’m not saying we’re going to make a whole bunch of changes, but I think it’s time to make some changes.”
“If we don’t do anything, we’re not going to get any better,” he said. “It’s decisions – and hard decisions – I’m making right now. We need to change the cast.”
Polie admitted that he was clinging on to the Stanley Cup Final and Presidents’ Trophy roster for perhaps too long, which makes total sense. Not in the way that it’s logical and smart to do so, but rather when watching the Predators regress and then standpat when trade opportunities arise, it’s clear that something was preventing them from moving forward, and that something was the almost success of yesteryear.
If You Love Something, Set it Free
It took until the Predators’ 18th season in the league before they were able to reach the Stanley Cup Final. When you’ve been at the helm the whole time – as Poile has been – it can be scary to let go of the roster that almost captured the ultimate prize. You hear all the time in sports that you need to appreciate making the championship round and make the most of it because you never know when you’re going to get back there. Well, it seemed that notion haunted Poile. If he were to veer from the closest roster he’s ever had to a championship squad, would he be waiting another 18 seasons to get back?
He has been an NHL GM for 37 seasons now and he’s currently 71 years old. It’s unlikely that he has another 18 seasons worth of work left in him, and no doubt it would be personally disappointing to be in the game for so long and not have a Stanley Cup ring to show for it. It doesn’t make the hesitancy to change course right, but at least it’s understandable.
Unfortunately for Poile, this is a business. Transactions – or lack thereof in this case – inspired by sentimental or nostalgic reasons are rarely met with unanimous support. However, with some pretty big names leaving Nashville already this offseason – trading the franchise’s record holder for most goals in a single season and a cornerstone defenseman – maybe Poile is truly ready to move on.
With this change of “cast” and the plan to go in “a little bit of a different direction,” it seems that the Predators are thinking more of a “makeover.” The team is adamant that they do not need to start over. Poile has made it clear that a total shakeup will not happen and so far, with the moves he’s made, he’s sticking to his convictions. But with everything seen this offseason it makes you question, is this really the best course of action? This makeover we’re seeing, is it simply just painting over the cracks, so to speak?
The Predators need more scoring and unless there’s a magical switch or an obtainable player who can turn that issue around, it’s a serious problem that’s not going away easily or anytime soon. The team is also weak and overpaid at the center position, it’s no secret. Unless Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene can dramatically turn their game around, the same old crutch is going to hinder the Predators in the upcoming season and beyond.
To be fair, Poile did bring in Cody Glass from the Vegas Golden Knights, who plays center. He has a lot of promise and could be a breakout candidate in 2021-22, not just for the Predators, but leaguewide. However, remember he is only 22 years old with just 56 NHL games to his resume. It’s expecting a lot of him to come in and fix a problem that has plagued this franchise for years.
Acquiring the former sixth-overall pick is a start and fans should be very pleased with the Winnipeg-native, so much so that it may make the Ellis departure a little easier to accept. However, it’s just that – a start. Glass can be a piece to the solution, but he’s not the answer to the whole puzzle, no matter how much he impresses. Remember, not so long ago, Johansen was performing like a top center. Not to live in the past – something that the Predators have been accused of – but the 2017 Playoffs come to mind. The Predators quickly found out that you need more than one serviceable, quality centerman in order to attain success.
Would a Reset Really Be the Worst Thing for the Predators?
So, why is Poile so reluctant to rebuild? Well that just may be the million-dollar question. Of course, publicly, the answer out of the Predators’ camp will be because they feel the winning pieces are there, it’s just a matter of arranging them. We’ll probably never know the true answer to the question, but we can speculate.
It may be a combination of multiple reasons, such as not wanting to fully give up on the roster that has been the closest thing Nashville has ever seen to a contender, also keeping current players happy. It’s a tough sell to convince the likes of Filip Forsberg – who may be Poile’s biggest GM win – and Roman Josi to stick with them as they back peddle away from competing for the Stanley Cup, especially when such players are in their prime.
As mentioned, Poile has been in this league for a long time. He’s built this team from the ground up as the franchise’s first and only GM. The Nashville Predators could be his legacy. But with the end of his career possibly in sight due to age, he may be running out of time. There must be immense disappointment if you leave the game with regret, and unfortunately for Poile, those regrets may be filled with moves not made, not recognizing the problem and acting soon enough.
But Poile can still help this team by understanding when something is not working, and this roster doesn’t appear to be working. A Stanley Cup before Poile retires isn’t impossible. But if it isn’t realistic, the least he can do to help his legacy is leave the team in a good position for his successor. Even if it means a fresh start and not handing down all the mistakes that have been made over the past handful of seasons.
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