It was not that long ago when the Nashville Predators were the plucky underdog, who were, dare we say it, easy to root for. However, after making a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2017, the organization has regressed and regressed badly. In the 2018 playoffs they were eliminated in the second round, then took a first-round exit, and most recently the Predators were bounced in the qualifying-round series.
Their 2017 national display of “This is Smashville” was their statement to the hockey world that they had talent and were ready to be taken seriously. After a first-round sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks – a Cup favorite at the time – and other exciting, dominant series wins en route to the Final, the Predators’ performance lamented that this team had something special.
They obviously fell short, losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins that year. But they vowed their playoff run was just the beginning. They added even more weapons and the league went from seeing the Predators as a cute story, to picking them to parade hockey’s ultimate prize down Broadway in the near future.
As mentioned, they haven’t come close to fulfilling the trendy predictions since. It leads to a massive question that many fans are asking and one management is desperately trying to answer. What has changed apart from them adding talent and depth? Isn’t what they did – acquiring Kyle Turris, Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund and Nick Bonino – supposed to work?
Well, what has seemingly happened is they’ve transitioned from a team fighting to earn respect and to prove themselves, to one that expects success simply because of the talent they have on the roster. They’re supposed to win, and maybe that’s the problem. The “2017 magic” was a mentality, a frame of mind, and it’s vanished. Maybe the Predators need to go from seeing themselves as a team loaded with stars and expensive contracts, to just a team with expensive contracts who have yet to win anything.
But still, “stars” would be the appropriate word for the talent. The players the Predators have should be considered as stars – they have the resumes to back it up. The issue the team has is the fact that the same accolades from the players they’ve traded for and signed, have been non-existent since they threw on the gold jersey and became a resident of Nashville.
High Expectations, Poor Results
Granlund’s last three seasons in Minnesota were extremely promising. The 28-year-old forward recorded back-to-back 60-plus point seasons. He finished first in team scoring for the Wild in 2016-17 and second in 2017-18. He was on his way to registering another impressive season the following year – 2018-19 – but was traded to the Predators at the deadline.
Since then, the once up-and-coming forward has recorded 35 points in 79 regular season games for the Predators. In the 2019 NHL playoffs against the Dallas Stars, Granlund managed just two points in six games. This season against the Arizona Coyotes, he tallied just one assist in the best-of-five, qualifying round series. When the lights are the brightest, Granlund hasn’t been able to shine like the Predators have needed, hoped or expected.
It may be too early to judge Duchene too harshly. The former third-overall pick from the 2009 NHL Draft has only spent one season with the Predators, but his 42-point campaign has left a lot to be desired. To make things worse, when the Predators needed him the most, like Granlund, he was nowhere to be seen. The Predators desperately needed goals against the Coyotes – a team that was outshot 163 to 125 over the four-game series – but Duchene managed just one goal and one assist.
The native of Haliburton, ON has three, 60-plus point seasons to his resume, which include two, 70-point campaigns. Duchene to Nashville was one of the worst kept secrets in the NHL in the summer of 2019. The country music loving forward longed to be in the Music City, but the match made in heaven couldn’t stop Duchene from having the third-worst season of his NHL career.
Turris’ name has seemingly become a nervous-twitch trigger among fans in Nashville. His production has been so bad since being traded to the Predators that there is more call for his contract to be bought out, despite being owed $24 million over the next four years. Turris needs to play and produce like the second-line center the Predators hoped he would be if they are to avoid yet another cataclysmic playoff performance in the future.
Duchene’s arrival obviously bumped Turris down depth chart. But paying a third-line center who produces like a bottom-six forward an average annual value of $6 million is not going to allow for the depth needed to win at the top level.
Bonino’s name was mentioned earlier as a post-2017 playoff addition. It would be irresponsible to drop his name in this type of conversation without clarifying he was mentioned as a matter of fact that he was brought in to help the Predators over the hump. The decisions general manager David Poile made after their heartbreaking Stanley Cup Final loss was all in the aid of getting back to the championship series and having the confetti joyously fall on them.
Bringing in Bonino was one of the best moves the Predators have made in many seasons. He might not be the most offensive player or the flashiest, but Bonino’s contributions have been tremendously valuable. The 32-year-old was arguably the Predators MVP outside Roman Josi in 2019-20.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So, what can be done about the Predators’ problem? What’s the solution to making this team competitive again? Well in the hockey world, the common answer is: tear it up. It didn’t work, move on. Maybe even clean house in the off-ice department. These are all moves that could be seen in Nashville and if that’s the case, nobody would be overly surprised or shocked at all.
However, starting over may be a little drastic. Poile only just recently hired John Hynes, so it’s difficult to see him leave town this offseason. Well, unless of course Poile himself is handed his walking papers and his successor wants his own staff in place to start next season, but that’s another conversation.
The answer may already be in place. Hynes has reportedly changed the team’s mindset to seeing the game differently and focusing on the smaller details. Maybe he can motivate them in a different way than how former head coach Peter Laviolette did.
The Predators’ roster has a combined two Stanley Cups, and both belong to Bonino. Recently, Dan Hamhuis hung up his skates after 16 seasons, never winning a championship in the NHL. This Predators’ team needs to win one, they have the right pieces.
Before you know it, your career will be done and you could be left staring at an empty trophy case. That’s the message Hynes needs to get through to his team. And if he can, maybe, just maybe, it will be the motivation needed for them to capitalize on the talent they have while in their prime. If not, we’ll be looking at the “2017 magic run” as just a fun memory rather than a building block. Tearing up the team’s core won’t just be the best solution, it will be the only one.