The Nashville Predators’ season is still in suspension, as you probably already know, along with the rest of the hockey world.
In fact, the final week of the NHL regular season was supposed to have taken place last week. At this point we would have either been gearing up for a playoff run or beginning to analyze a disappointing season for the Preds.
Instead we are doing neither, left with only our imaginations of a hockey season run aground.
Forever the pessimist, I’ve already given up on this season and started looking ahead to this summer. A couple weeks ago, I talked about some important decisions that David Poile would need to make this summer. Link and I also discussed the matter on the latest (and likely final) episode of this season of the Preds NashCast.
Now let’s look at the 2020-21 season specifically and the things Poile will need to do to improve the roster.
Preds should add defense through subtraction
It’s no secret that the Preds have been a leaky defensive team all season. They rank 21st in goals allowed per game (3.10), and though a lot of that is having subpar goaltending for the first half of the season, they’ve not helped out their goaltenders much. According to Natural Stat Trick, they rank 21st in the league in shot attempts allowed (57.6) and 17th in high danger attempts allowed (11.0) per game at even strength.
The Preds need to address their defense first and foremost this summer. Initially, this should involve not re-signing Dan Hamhuis or Yannick Weber, both of whom have been a drag on the Preds defense all season. There are plenty of free agent defensemen to choose from this summer, but the Preds will likely be priced out of the good ones like Tyson Barrie and Alex Pietrangelo. They will need to find good value on the market, especially because their cap situation will be tight.
Regardless of if the Preds make a run at a free agent defensmen, they need to do something about their two worst defensemen. Since both are unrestricted free agents, letting them walk is the best option.
Get younger, get better
The other thing the Preds need to do is get younger. According to Hockey Reference, the Preds have the 6th oldest team in the league, averaging 29.1 years old. Not re-signing Hamhuis and Weber will make that number go down, but they also need to invest in some good young talent.
While there are some good young names out on the market, many of them are restricted free agents and thus out of the Preds’ reach. To get younger on defense, David Poile may have to look internally. Guys like Frederic Allard and Jeremy Davies have been brewing in Milwaukee for some time and could use a test run. New coach John Hynes is more likely to give these guys the leash they need to succeed in the NHL compared to former coach Peter Laviolette.
David Poile will also need to make a decision between Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund. As I’ve discussed at length, I think the obvious choice is Granlund, who is more versatile and has a much higher ceiling than Smith. Granlund’s also two years younger than Smith, which accomplish the “get younger” directive.
The ideal Preds lineup in 2020-21
So we know the Preds need to get a bit younger and they need to fix their defense. Assuming they don’t have the cash to chase a free agent blueliner, they will need to fix that internally. They will also need to replace Smith in the lineup, which I believe they can do internally as well.
Given all this, here’s my ideal lineup for the Nashville Predators in 2020-21.
Granlund – Duchene – Forsberg
Arvidsson – Johansen – Jarnkrok
Trenin – Turris – Tolvanen
Grimaldi – Bonino – Sissons
Extra: Watson, Blackwell
The top six should remain largely unchanged next year, assuming they re-sign Granlund. The rest of the lineup is similar as well, save for the addition of one Eeli Tolvanen.
While it’s tough to know if Tolvanen is ready to be an everyday contributor, considering he hasn’t exactly stood out in Milwaukee, he’s been improving slowly. It seems like next season might be a “make or break” year for him. At some point, the Preds have to see what they have with him. Why not put him with one familiar face (Trenin) and a solid veteran (Turris)?
This forward group also assumes contract extensions for Blackwell and Trenin who have been very impressive so far. David Poile should do what he can to keep them in Nashville.
Now the defense.
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Allard
Davies – Fabbro
Talk about a makeover! This lineup could be risky at first, but one that would pay off big time if it works.
First, just getting Allard and Davies, two of Milwaukee’s best defensemen, in Nashville and working with an NHL blueline would do wonders for their development. Allard would best fit working with Ekholm early, who helped bring along Fabbro this season. Davies and Fabbro might be shaky as a pairing at first, since they’ve never played together before. But, like Tolvanen, the Preds need to see what they have with Davies.
There’s a chance they could go with Carrier instead of Davies, but they’ve already seen Carrier a few times. The fact that they’ve gone with Holzer and Tinordi over Carrier at this point says a little bit about what they think of him.
Also, don’t forget that the Preds could find a cheap veteran option in the free agent market. Ben Hutton and Jon Merrill are two guys under 30 years old with plenty of experience that would probably not cost more than $2 million per year. If Poile goes that route, the new addition probably steps into the 3rd pairing role on the left side with Fabbro as his partner.
Plenty to fix for the Preds
There’s no shortage of things to fix with this Preds team. We haven’t even talked about goaltending or depth scoring, both of which were major issues at various points this season. We also haven’t talked about their power play, which continues to be amazingly bad.
But if we’ve learned anything over the past few years watching the NHL, it’s that you are never too far away from success. With a few key moves this summer, David Poile could have the Nashville Predators back in contention for the Stanley Cup in no time.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —