The Nashville Predators are on the brink, as they say.

The Preds don’t do anything well on the ice. They are losing games at a rapid pace, falling further and further out of contention for a playoff spot, with very little time to make up ground.

Their leadership on the ice seems unclear how to help. Their coaching staff is still fairly new, though we have seen enough to know they aren’t helping much. And both fans and media alike are starting to point the finger directly at General Manager David Poile.

Folks, a full rebuild of the Nashville Predators as we know them is a very real possibility at this point.

But what would that rebuild look like? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

What major Preds change will precipitate the rebuild?

The first and most important spark to a total rebuild would be new leadership at the very top of the team organization. For this to happen, David Poile would be either removed by ownership or, more likely, retire from the position of President of Hockey Operations/General Manager.

The latter is far more likely because, simply due to the ownership situation of the Nashville Predators, there’s not likely to be a consensus to remove David Poile. He has too many allies in that room, and the group is not likely to remove the very person who is responsible for them being owners in the first place.

Retirement is the only way David Poile is no longer in charge. He is 71 years old and has been in professional hockey for nearly fifty years (his first job was with the Atlanta Flames in 1972), so retirement has to be coming soon.

In an interview with Pierre Lebrun with The Athletic last March, Poile mentioned retirement could happen in a couple years.

But a lot has happened in that time. Perhaps the circumstances around the Predators, and around professional sports in general, over the last 11 months have sped up that timeline.

When David Poile retires, no matter when that happens, the entire landscape of the Nashville Predators organization will change. From the top to the bottom.

Which players on the Preds could be moved?

Brace yourselves, Preds fans. If this rebuild happens, almost every player is eligible to be sold off.

In fact, there really is only one player that is guaranteed to survive a complete sell-off and that’s Roman Josi. And that has more to do with his no-move clause than his abilities on the ice.

In an effective rebuild in the NHL, teams trade off their proven assets for draft picks and prospects in hopes to build for the future. To get the best picks and prospects, you need to part with your best assets.

This means guys like Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Matt Duchene are all possible to be moved. Some of those (i.e., Duchene and Johansen) are harder to move than others because of their cap hits, but someone out there is going to have cap room to take on a top six player, you can bet on that.

I don’t think all of those players will be moved. Maybe only a couple. It may also depend on what new management can get out of cheaper contracts that are expiring sooner. Here’s a list of players (and their annual cap hits) that are expiring within two years (by 2022):

  • Filip Forsberg ($6 million)
  • Pekka Rinne ($5 million)
  • Mattias Ekholm ($3.75 million)
  • Mikael Granlund ($3.75 million)
  • Luke Kunin ($2.3 million)
  • Rocco Grimaldi ($2 million)
  • Calle Jarnkrok ($2 million)
  • Mark Borowiecki ($2 million)
  • Erik Haula ($1.75 million)
  • Nick Cousins ($1.5 million)
  • Juuse Saros ($1.5 million)
  • Brad Richardson ($1 million)
  • Matt Benning ($1 million)
  • Dante Fabbro ($925K)
  • Luca Sbisa ($800K)
  • Mathieu Olivier ($730K)
  • Yakov Trenin ($725K)
  • Jarred Tinordi ($700K)
  • Ben Harpur ($700K)

That’s 19 players that the Nashville Predators can put on the trading block, and a lot of which would be very enticing to the rest of the league. The one name on there I think will probably not be traded is Pekka Rinne. I just don’t think they are going to part with Rinne, considering all that he has done for the franchise, barring he doesn’t ask to be traded to a contender at the deadline.

But everyone else on that list is fair game.

How long could the Preds rebuild take?

Bearing in mind that the timeline for this rebuild depends on the quality of the new General Manager, this is going to take a few years.

Some teams are able to turn over a roster in a couple years and remain competitive. The Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins have excelled at this over the last decade, sending off expiring or costly contracts for young players that contribute right away.

But some teams take a lot longer to rebuild. The Colorado Avalanche were largely irrelevant for six or seven years (outside of that ridiculously lucky 2013-14 season) before finally getting a Cup contending team together in the last couple years.  Same thing with the St. Louis Blues.

There are two outside factors that will affect the length of the Preds’ rebuild. One is the covid-19 pandemic, which is still affecting the economy of sports. If the pandemic is still affecting the economy in a year or two, the Predators might not be comfortable spending the money necessary to bridge the gap. The presence and rollout of a vaccine is encouraging, but still there could be lingering effects of the pandemic influencing the rebuild.

The other factor is the potential draft and prospect pool. The Predators are unfortunately  headed for a lottery pick with one of the least exciting draft classes in recent history. There are no Connor McDavid’s, Sidney Crosby’s, or even Jack Hughes’s at the top of this class.

This means the Nashville Predators could have to wait until 2022 or 2023 to have a shot at some real, franchise changing talent. And we might not even know what those players can do for the team for a couple years after that.

Considering all of this, I think it’s safe to say this rebuild will take no fewer than three years, and probably more like four or five. Again, that’s assuming a competent GM has taken over.

When will the Preds be competitive again?

That’s the million dollar question. Or “questions” pural, maybe.

If the above predictions are correct, the Preds might not be truly competitive again until around 2024 or 2025. So much depends on how key prospects Philip Tomasino and Yaroslav Askarov develop. By 2024, Tomasino will be 23 years old, roughly the same age as Filip Forsberg was in his breakout years. Tomasino has the potential to be even better than Forsberg… but if he’s not there by 23 or 24 years old, he might not get there at all.

As for Askarov, he would be a year younger than Tomasino,. As a goaltender, it’s tougher to break into the NHL at a young age, but Askarov is a generational prospect, so he might be the exception. I think there’s almost no way Askarov isn’t the starting Predators goaltender by 2024 or 2025.

Then there are all of the decisions the team makes between now and then.

Will David Poile step aside and let someone else take the reigns? Do they capitalize on the value of guys like Mattias Ekholm, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg now in order to build for the future? Do the 2022 and 2023 draft classes hold special talents for the Preds to draft near the top? And does new management draft more effectively, and then also develop those draft classes more efficiently?

If everything goes right, the Nashville Predators could be right back in playoff competition within a few years, say by the 2024-25 season. If it doesn’t, then there’s no end to the rebuild spiral and the team is doomed to repeat the same mistakes we see now.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —


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