The Nashville Predators are a good team, they have been for years. In 2017 they even made it to the Stanley Cup Final and then finished with 117 points the following season. But for years now they’ve been criticized for not having enough star power, not having enough scoring. This season, those critiques rang true as the team needed a Norris Trophy-level performance from Roman Josi to even get them to the qualification round. Josi was the only player on the roster who recorded more than 50 points, leading the way with his 65 in 69 games. Filip Forsberg was next with 48, the only player on the roster to crack the 20-goal mark.
So when the team couldn’t get past the Arizona Coyotes in a best-of-five series to earn a real playoff spot, it didn’t come as a real shock. The Predators were a good team, but not a dominant one. Even after a midseason coaching change, Nashville only went 16-11-1 for John Hynes, not a lot better than they’d been under Peter Laviolette.
It comes as no surprise then, as GM David Poile watched this transpire, that he knows there needs to be a different group on the ice next season. In his end of year media availability today, Poile told reporters including Adam Vingan of The Athletic that “it is very clear to me that we need to make some changes.” Mike Morreale of NHL.com tweets an even longer, perhaps more telling quote:
Some players aren’t going to be brought back…We’re not satisfied, and we’re going to make some changes. We have to manage better, John and his staff have to coach better, and players have to play better.
The veteran GM has been with the Predators from the very beginning when they broke into the league as an expansion franchise in 1998-99. That team, with Barry Trotz behind the bench and Cliff Ronning leading the offense, was bad. This group isn’t anywhere near that, but after more than two decades of existence and only a handful of playoff series wins, something obviously needs to change.
Notably, the Predators don’t have a ton of cap room to make those changes. This was the last season of Josi’s incredibly inexpensive previous contract, which saw him carry a $4MM cap hit while routinely being among the league’s best offensive defensemen. Next year, that number more than doubles to $9.06MM per season and locks Josi in as one of the highest-paid defenders in the league.
Long-term contracts for Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris, Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons and Ryan Ellis also tie up a huge amount of money for the next half-decade plus. Trading contracts of that length is increasingly difficult in today’s NHL, somewhat tying Poile’s hands on how drastic a makeover he can accomplish. There’s also the issue of goaltending, where Pekka Rinne is now an expensive backup and Juuse Saros will soon need a new contract.
Poile has always been known as GM willing to make big trades. He’s pulled off some of the biggest one-for-one deals in recent history, moving Seth Jones for Johansen, Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, and Martin Erat for Forsberg (apologies to Michael Latta, but that deal will long be remembered for the primary pieces). Perhaps he can pull off a deal of that magnitude again because if the Predators come back with the same group next season they’ll be good—but that’s obviously not enough.