I’m not even sure the Preds are that highly thought of this year. It definitely feels that whatever cycle they were on has come to an end, and there was a temptation to put the Avalanche here, who look set for goalie-related heartbreak come May. But I’ve never missed an opportunity to completely shit on the Predators, the beneficiaries of hockey writers’ desire to get loaded above all else. The Preds look set to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years, as there won’t be a horrific division to bail them out this time like there was last season. And I, for one, cannot wait.
Why people are high on them: Again, I’m not totally convinced they are, but the Preds always get more shine preseason simply because the assembled media in Canada really wants to fall down in their own piss while not trying to look like they’re horning in on a bachelorette come the spring on Broadway (emphasis on “horning”) in Nashville.
On the ice, they have a Norris winner in Roman Josi and a goalie coming off an encouraging year (maybe not so much as you’ll see) in Juuse Saros. A lot of observers still seem to be under the impression Ryan Johansen is a #1 center because he played for Canada in the World Juniors once, and same goes for Matt Duchene because he made an Olympic team. And the Predators always seem to find a way. They should have missed the playoffs last year, but thanks to the Stars having to play 45 games in 38 days or whatever it was, they kind of got the last spot by default.
The Central this year has a clear favorite in Colorado, and maybe a clear second in St. Louis, and everything else is kind of mud before you get to whatever it is Arizona is claiming they’re doing this season. So the theory would be that anyone could stretch their hand out of the muck and latch to a playoff spot. Especially as the Pacific Division might be worse, so wildcards will be open. If you squint, Nashville can be among the best of the swamp things, I guess.
Why they’ll disappoint: Let’s start in net. Saros had been positioned to take over from Pekka Rinne, but a combination of injuries and just not quite overcoming Rinne kept him from doing so until last season, when Rinne turned green and had weird hairs growing out of him.
Saros put up a .927 save percentage and stopped 20 goals over average, according to HockeyReference.com. Moneypuck.com had him at 13.2 goals saved above expected — which considers not just the number of shots but the quality of chances — good for fifth in the league. All encouraging signs.
Still, digging a little deeper, there might be some air in there. Saros racked up a .948 save percentage against the Hawks, .939 against the Jackets, .955 against the Wings. All three teams were decidedly limp-dicked when it came to offense. Saros’ .858 against the Lightning, .917 against the Hurricanes, and .907 against the Stars (not exactly a team of offensive ninjas themselves), suggest that against NHL-wide competition, where he’ll face more good teams than he did last year, he’ll even out. And he still might be good, in the .915-.920 range. But that won’t be enough for the Preds, who probably need something near a Vezina-level season from their goalie to get into the postseason. Also, it’s hard to trust any goalie too long in this league if they’re under 6 feet tall.
The strength of the Predators for the past decade has been their defense, and how much it contributes to the offense. Mostly because it has to, as the Predators have been trotting around with one-and-a-half genuine top line forwards for years, and they lost that half in Viktor Arvidsson after they traded him to LA. The defense looks good, but not as good as past years. Josi and his offensive wizardry is still here, but he’ll be asked to drag around Alex Carrier for most of the season and that is not a top pairing.
The Preds lost Ryan Ellis in a trade with Philly that netted them Philippe Myers, and in some ways that could be an upgrade, even though that sentence will cause all Preds fans to throw their spitoon and hurl framed pictures from January 6th at the screen. Ellis was an expert bum-slayer, but usually got slaughtered when having to take on tougher assignments from the opposition, and he’s getting old. Myers is defensively sound, and actually might be better off playing free safety for Josi than doubling up the defense with the rock solid Mattias Ekholm. However the Preds will lose the scoring Ellis provided, whatever the context, and they need scoring from the defense considering how short the forwards are. Myers isn’t going to provide that. This feels like the 23rd consecutive season that Preds Nation has been touting Dante Fabbro as the next Josi or Ryan Suter, and he’s somehow only 23. And maybe in Ellis’s third pairing, bum-slaying role, he can be. Then again, maybe we would have seen it already.
Up front is the real problem here. Filip Forsberg still carries the load, but losing running buddy Arvidsson is a huge drop. Arvidsson was no worse than the second-best finisher on the team, and now they really only have the one top-class finisher in Forsberg. They’re still paying Johansen like a #1 center and he’s still written about like he is, but this guy has been a turd for years who you can only count on to be first to the postgame spread. Losing Arvidsson means that both Duchene and Mikael Granlund get promotions, after multiple seasons of articles wondering what’s wrong with both of them and why it isn’t working for them in Nashville. That’s not where you want to be. Eeli Tolvanen was supposed to reinvent the game four years ago.
The Preds will get solid bottom-six contributions like they always do from Colton Sissons and Cody Glass, and the latter is a potential breakout candidate. But solid bottom-six contributions are supposed to add to plus top-six scoring, not replace it.
Also, Nick Cousins is an accused rapist.
The Preds look headed for some kind of retooling, and if they’re not around it come the deadline there’ll be some interesting discussions around Forsberg, who is a free agent next summer. The real discussions will be how they can crowbar Duchene and Johansen off the roster if they want to start over, which will be akin to trying to lever a mastodon. Whatever this cycle was for the Preds (it was at least one stupid banner), it looks just about over.