“Yeah, it sucks. We want to be playing right now…. I’m mad, I’m still going to be mad about it a couple weeks from now- it pisses me off,” said Craig Smith in his post season interview.
It is not brutal honesty, it is what needs to be said.
I think it goes without saying the Nashville Predators, along with the fanbase, are upset over the first round loss against Dallas. Quite frankly, considering how the wheels fell off the bus after a strong final two weeks, everyone that wears the gold has a reason to be seeing red.
Players and coaches both said their efforts were not good enough. Fans are already calling for firings and trades. People are pointing fingers, calling out specific plays and players; the word “change” is the most popular word for the team right now. And it has not even been a full week since they lost.
The rest of the playoffs are probably a healthy distraction for Predator fans. Look at who is left- Dallas, St. Louis, Colorado, San Jose, New York, Carolina, Columbus, and Boston. The Capitals, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Flames, Jets, Knights AND THE LIGHTNING are ALL out of the playoffs.
Gotta love the sport, right?
Not a single division winner will play another game this season, which is both comical yet frightening. Nashville is in the same spot all those other teams are, and the most desperate team that signs the most firepower will go on and win the Cup.
Or maybe not.
Look at the roster, from top to bottom, for the Nashville Predators as of April 25th, 2019. They had speed, they had skill, they had more than enough talent, they had physicality, and yet, we listened to David Poile and Peter Laviolette say their farewells before April was over.
Their recent success and history implied that they could pull it off this year, but this year, it was like they shot themselves in the foot and tried to run a marathon. I believed the hype, and I believed they had a legitimate chance to win the Cup this year. I believed they would eventually play at the highest level of hockey they could, because why would they not want to?
Let’s look back at some of the players on this roster- who they were before Nashville, and who they are with Nashville.
The Big Trades/Signees
I’ll tackle the most obvious one. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst scapegoat ever, because he played well once he got his feet under him.
Yeah, I’M TALKING ABOUT KYLE TURRIS. Acquired by Nashville mid-season last year.
In 2014-2015, Turris scored 24 goals and contributed 64 points to the Ottawa Senators. In 2016-2017, he scored 27 goals and contributed 55 points. He has scored only 20 goals as a Nashville Predator. 65 points in 120 regular season games. Capable of scoring over 25+ goals in a season, and he only recently hit 20 goals with a championship-minded team. That does not make sense.
Next, Ryan Johansen.
Johansen was acquired midseason in 2015-2016. He scored 79 total goals as a Columbus Blue Jacket, including a 33 goal season in 2013-2014. He has not scored over 15 goals in one season as a Nashville Predator. One of the prettiest shots on the team, and he more often elects to pass. Why?
Subban came onto the Predators and fit in well with the system. Offense from the defense- in three full seasons, he’s produced 130 points. His last three seasons with Montreal was pretty good… 164 points. He battled through injury in his debut season with Nashville and this season as well. That explains the drop-off.
1 goal in 17 games. 32 goal scorer Wayne Simmonds netted a singular goal in 17 games. A big body forward (not uncommon for Nashville) who could chip in a goal once every 3 games for Philadelphia could only find the back of the net once for Nashville. That one CLEARLY does not make any sense.
The more mature Kevin Fiala busted out 5 points and 1 goal for Nashville in 16 games. Granlund, a player who’s hitting his prime in his career, could not generate enough offense for neither himself or his linemates. which once again does not make sense. He had contributed 67 points for the Wild a season prior, and was on pace for 63 when he was traded. What happened?
Boyle was probably the best acquisition for the Predators this year. He was never the major point grabber for any of the four other teams he played on, and still managed around his career average. Five goals in 26 games isn’t terrible for a 34 year old forward nearing the end of his career.
Who Have They Recently Lost?
What is especially disheartening as a Predators follower is seeing the players Poile traded away and the success they had. (thank heavens nobody touched Eeli Tolvanen this year)
Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg, Ryan Hartman, and Samuel Girard all come to mind. The stories of all four players follow a similar pattern- Nashville needed an upgrade, and felt these four players were expendable. Aberg was not producing, and Edmonton picked him up after Nashville let him go. Back in the Central Division with Minnesota, he finished this year with 12 goals and 13 assists, likely starting for the Wild next year.
Girard was sent away for Turris, and he has become a starter for the Avalanche. 27 points in his first full season as a defenseman. That’s more than Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, and Dan Hamhuis combined. With the sudden surprise of Dante Fabbro, imagine if Girard had stayed with the Predators. I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it.
Fiala found a home in Minnesota, and will definitely be a starter for the Wild next year. He received a lot of hate this year (most of it was deserved), but in all honesty, I do not want to see a vengeful Kevin Fiala when he comes to Bridgestone Arena next year.
Hartman was traded for Simmonds, mainly because he could not find a solidified place in the lineup for the Predators. He will have a starting spot for the Flyers next year. Hartman brought some fire to the ice, despite the minute production. It was extremely upsetting when he could not stay on one line- he was a crucial part to the Blackhawks, but did not score as much as he needed to. There has to be a reason for that.
What baffles me about all four players is what could have been. The level of talent in those four is scary, and I can only think of a power play unit with Aberg, Fiala, and Girard on it.
I know “desperate times call for desperate measures” is cliché, but Nashville wanted to win and Poile grabbed what he thought were additions to the lineup. It turned out the Predators were no better off with the players they acquired than with the players they had.
In the words of Kevin Hart
The talent was there. The hype was there (I believed it). The upside looked great, and the downside felt excusable. Topped the season off with a Central Division title after a dominating performance over the Blackhawks.
And yet here we all are, scratching our heads and cheering for different teams to win the Cup. Here is a brief opinion on what should be done.
Keep Turris and Subban.
Allow players to do the things that make them good, do not try to implement another mindset. Turris is good at scoring goals, and knows how to pass the puck and play unselfish hockey (check his career assists). I say give Turris another full season, then reevaluate. Also, Subban may have the highest contract, but he can play a solid brand of hockey. Keep them- they will need them next year, and they will need them at 100%.
Find another goal scoring forward.
It will be a hard sell, but Nashville needs another 30 goal scorer. Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, Nick Bonino, and Miikka Salomaki will never be 30 goal scorers- get someone who can shoot and score outside of the top line. If it means sacrificing one of the four top defensemen (not Josi or Subban), so be it. They need another guy- that’s all there is to it.
Encourage Johansen to shoot.
How many times did Johansen have a shot in the slot and dished the puck back to the point? How many times did Johansen literally look a goaltender dead in his eyes and then scanned the ice for another pass? Let him shoot and score- imagine if he had scored 15 more goals this season.
Cut the dead weight.
There are plenty of guys in Milwaukee that are ready to compete for a spot on the fourth line. Maybe it’s time to cut ties with some players who are simply holding other people’s jobs. I shall not name names, but boy, was it confusing see some of the line combinations for the bottom six.
John Jensen could probably answer this better than I can, but it sure would be interesting to see if he was ready for the show. Maybe another year in Milwaukee, but next year may very well be the rise of Eeli Tolvanen.
CHANGE THE SYSTEM.
It is obvious some great hockey players have not played to their full capabilities in Nashville, and it is also becoming more obvious that trading players away may not be the issue. The power play was beyond terrible, the penalty kill was average at best, and the defense in front of both goaltenders was horrendous. Something did not click, something did not resonate, or something just was doomed to fail (see the drop pass as means of zone entry). Nashville has to find better ways to live in the slot, protect the goalies, and ultimately impose their will on other teams.
I love the idea of wearing the opposition down by cycling the puck in the offensive zone. I love the idea of a “shutdown line.” I love the idea of the stretch pass. I love the idea of unselfish hockey at its finest. At the same time, I also love when the team I’m covering is not packing their stuff up a month before we feel they should. There’s a flaw in the system, and there’s always a way to fix a flaw.
In conclusion, welcome to “Desperation-For-A-Cup Mode”, Nashville. Get ready for a bumpy offseason.