Matt Duchene, the Nashville Predator’s blockbuster free agent addition of this past summer, remains very confident in his new team, despite how their season is going. Duchene, in the first season on a seven-year, $56MM contract, is one of a number of under-performing players on the Nashville roster. The team has not played up to expectations this year, which has already cost head coach Peter Laviolette his job and now threatens to cost the team a trip to the postseason. Yet, Duchene believes the team has what it takes to turn their season around and qualify. He told the media on Monday that he feels that Nashville is a playoff team and, to double down, he does not think they need to make a move ahead of the forthcoming NHL Trade Deadline.
It’s a mighty big prognostication from a player who has been part of the problem and not the solution for the Predators this year. Duchene is on pace for just 56 points this season, which would be among the worst years of his career, when he was supposed to be shine on a talented Nashville roster. He’s not alone; Filip Forsberg (59 points), Ryan Johansen (47), Viktor Arvidsson (40), Kyle Turris (36), and Mikael Granlund (30) are all on pace to finish well below what has come to be expected of them. On top of that, veteran starter Pekka Rinne and young backup Juuse Saros are both experiencing the worst campaigns of their careers. Nearly all of Nashville’s key pieces outside of Roman Josi have disappointed to this point in the season, leaving them in the basement of the Central Division and among the worst teams in the league in a number of categories.
Yet, maybe Duchene has a point. A closer look would imply that perhaps Nashville is more than their current last-place position in the Central Division. With substantial games in hand on Minnesota, Chicago, and Winnipeg, the Predators’ .543 points percentage before Monday night’s game is actually fourth-best in the division. Beyond that, while the Preds currently trail the Vegas Golden Knights by six points for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, they are really just .005 points percentage points behind. Nashville actually seems to be well-positioned to compete for a spot. Also strange is the seeming lack of correlation between the number of underachieving core producers on the Predators and the actual state of their offense. At 3.30 goals for per game, the team is tied for seventh-best in the league in offense so far this season, even if only Josi is among the top scorers at his position.
With all that said, there is no hiding the fact that the Predators have been poor defensively and on special teams this season, their goaltending situation is shaky at best, and their best forwards have not risen to the occasion all year. Will the returns of Ryan Ellis and Colton Sissons be enough to boost the team? Can their struggling stars turn things around without help?
We already know how Duchene would vote, but what say you? Can the Predators make the playoffs?