The Nashville Predators won their final three regular-season games to get within four points of the Dallas Stars before the league hit the pause button in March.
That said, a look under the hood doesn’t reveal an inspiring picture. The Preds’ -2 goal differential was the second-worst of seven Central Division teams and nearly the worst as the last-place Chicago Blackhawks posted a -6 mark themselves.
To make matters worse, it doesn’t appear the Preds have done much of anything to not only jump back into the top three in the Central but to knock off any of the Pacific Division contenders for a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
In other words, this no longer appears to resemble the powerhouse Predators team that won the Presidents’ Trophy as recent as the 2017-18, their first of two consecutive Central Division titles.
It’s certainly a different roster, but also a new head coach that will be looking to get things turned around after a qualifying-round exit at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes a season ago.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the 2020-21 Nashville Predators season preview and odds before taking in some predictions on how the season should shake out in Music City.
Nashville Predators 2020-21 Season Preview & Odds
- Last Season: 35-26-8 (4th in Central Division)
- Key Additions: RW Luke Kunin, C Brad Richardson, C/LW Nick Cousins, D Mark Borowiecki, D Matt Benning
- Projected Salary Cap Space: $12,942,190
- 2021 Stanley Cup Odds: +2800
- 2021 Western Conference Odds: +1200
The Preds came out of the gate white-hot on offense last season, but regressed as the season went on.
They were a rare reverse-splits team that scored more on the road than they did at home last season, ranking third with a healthy 3.26 goals per game on the road but also sinking all the way to a share of 23rd with 2.89 goals per game on home ice. All told, the Preds finished 16th with 3.07 goals per game last season, hanging around teams like the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers.
A season after ranking as the worst power play in the NHL at just 12.9%, the Preds improved with the man advantage, albeit only marginally as they finished tied for 24th with a 17.3% clip a season ago.
It appears they more or less deserved their offensive fate last season. They finished 19th in terms of scoring chances for last season and also 22nd in terms of high-danger chances for. They capitalized more than any other team on those high-danger opportunities with a league-high 22.22% shooting rate on high-danger scoring chances while their 8.56% shooting rate at 5v5 ranked 12th league wide.
They also generated 33.1 shots per game which ranked third in the league. Nonetheless, the lack of power play efficiency and generating scoring chances at 5v5 play ended up seeing their offense regress as the season moved along.
It’s a stretch to think they’ll improve next season as the Preds’ offensive depth chart looks much thinner that is did this time last year.
Gone are wingers Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund, players that combined 35 goals last season as they ranked second and fourth, respectively, on the team in goal-scoring last season. In fact, center Nick Bonino tied Smith for second on the team with 18 goals last season while Smith and Bonino ranked second and third on the team in plus/minus behind only Norris Trophy defenseman Roman Josi.
Kyle Turris largely struggled in his Predators tenure and he was waived and signed with the Edmonton Oilers and rugged winger Austin Watson was traded to the Ottawa Senators.
The trip of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson will do the heavy lifting as the team’s dangerous top line, however in exchange for middle-six players such as Smith, Granlund and Bonino now looks like Luke Kunin, youngster Eeli Tolvanen, Nick Cousins and Rocco Grimaldi. All due respect to the new middle six – and Tolvanen is a talented prospect – but there’s no doubt that is a regression while the team failed to land any notable names on free agency, at least to this point as Granlund and fellow winger Mike Hoffman would be welcomed (re)additions to the clubs middle six.
The Michigan? The lacrosse goal?
Whatever you call it, Filip Forsberg has officially got it pic.twitter.com/1DVLzS7pit
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) January 15, 2020
Additionally, the team is going to need a whole lot more from Matt Duchene in his second year of a lucrative seven-year, $56M contract than he gave them when he tallied just 13 goals in his 66 games in his first year with the club.
They play the games for a reason, but the Preds’ forward group is bar-none worse on paper, as it stands today, than it was last season.
The Preds were once a team built on defense and goaltending, but those units took a hit as well last season. As far as the structure of the on-ice personnel, the defense remains the best-looking part of the team with names such as Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and impressive young defender Dante Fabbro in the team’s top four.
Roman Josi of the @PredsNHL scored his 16th goal of 2019-20 to establish a career high for most in a season, eclipsing the previous mark of 15 set in 2014-15 and matched in 2018-19. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/TJSHmAewf9
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 3, 2020
The bottom pair of brand new after the retirement of veteran Dan Hamhuis and departure of Matt Irwin to the Buffalo Sabres. Incoming is hard-nosed blueliner Mark Borowiecki and former Edmonton Oiler Matt Benning. Both are surely bottom-pair defenders who won’t eat a ton of ice in Nashville behind the front four, but combined with Jarred Tinordi the team will have some toughness on the bottom pair to be sure.
After years of producing some of the best defensive numbers in the league, the Preds tied for 18th with 3.10 goals against per game last season alongside the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks.
Of course, a 76.1% penalty kill that tied the Ottawa Senators for 26th in the league didn’t help matters, either.
Like with the offense, the Preds’ defense more likely earned their below-average keep last season. They ranked 17th in terms of scoring chances against while also checking in at 18th in high-danger chances against as well. Combine in the mediocre offensive metrics and the Preds ranked 17th with a 49.69% Scoring Chances For% and 23rd with a 48.40% High-Danger Chances For%, leaving them on the wrong side of the scoring chance battle more often than not.
The team did switch head coaches midway through the season as John Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette in early January, and perhaps the defensive structure will change under Hynes.
However, despite sporting a Norris Trophy-winning Roman Josi, the team posted subpar defensive play all the way around last season.
Poor defensive play is one thing, but the Predators couldn’t manage to get consistent goaltending from either Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros in 2019-20.
Rinne, the winner of the 2018 Vezina Trophy when he posted a 2.31 GAA and .927 Sv%, saw his production plummet all the way to a 3.17 GAA and .895 Sv% in his 36 games played last season, easily the worst numbers of his NHL career. At 38 entering next season, that type of production is certainly an ominous sign.
Saros was certainly the better of the two, posting a 2.70 GAA and .913 Sv% on the season, and with a career 2.56 GAA and .918 Sv% across a healthy 119-appearance sample size, the 25-year-old should certainly be in the the lion’s share of starts next season when a changing of the guard could very well take place in the Predators’ crease.
We've got a 31-save @pepsi shutout for Juuse Saros.
Nothing but perfection. pic.twitter.com/HSccEQW63b
— NHL (@NHL) February 14, 2020
That said, Saros’ play was largely mediocre-at-best until he posted a 2.33 GAA and .930 Sv% in 11 February outings followed by another 1.21 GAA and .965 SV% in five March appearances.
Between the two netminders, the Predators received a .901 Sv% from their goaltenders last season, good for a three-way tie for 19th alongside the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils.
That said, their netminding actually bailed them out at a quality .827 Sv% on high-danger scoring chances last season, and they were certainly adequate at 5v5, ranking 13th with a .920 Sv%.
Of course, both players and goaltenders alike struggled on the penalty kill, however Saros looks like the real deal after entering the league at the age of 20 and posting the quality numbers he’s put forward as Saros’ understudy for parts of the last five seasons.
I would expect superior goaltending from the Predators next season compared to last, however it’s not likely to be in the same order as we’re used to.
2020-21 Nashville Predators Predictions
It’s not a bad season to be on the bubble in the Central Division or Western Conference.
In the seven-team Central, the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues appear to be the only “certain” contenders in the division, and the Blues lost captain Alex Pietrangelo in free agency and goaltender Jordan Binnington regressed in his second season in the league.
The Stars finished third in the division last season and parlayed that into a run to the Stanley Cup Final where the lost out to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
However, the low-scoring Stars will be without captain and top point-getter Tyler Seguin for a significant portion of the season after he underwent hip surgery that comes with a five-month timeline while Ben Bishop, one-half of the elite Stars’ goaltending tandem alongside Anton Khudobin, is also out for five months after meniscus surgery on his knee.
To me, the Stars are anything but a lock to get a top-three spot in the Central. The Jets could get in that way and the Wild appear to be in a far better goaltending situation next season. The seemingly re-tooling Blackhawks should struggle.
At any rate, it seems like a Stars/Predators/Jets/Wild battle for third in the Central. Otherwise, you’re competing with a deeper Pacific Division for a Wild Card spot, although even that division has three non-contenders in the form of the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
All that said, I just don’t see where the secondary production is going to come up front for this Predators team. Some will come from defensemen such as Josi and Ellis, however that bottom-nine forward group has taken a massive hit if they don’t either re-sign Granlund or add Mike Hoffman with all that cap space available at the moment.
The Preds have third or fourth-line players set to take on second and third-line roles, and in this league that doesn’t usually pan out too well in the grand scheme of things.
The defense should be fine and the goaltending should improve. There’s no guarantees of that, of course, but the advanced metrics weren’t fond of the defense a season ago and Rinne is going to need to bounce back as the likely tightened schedule is going to see plenty of back-to-back and three-games-in-four-nights scenarios where both goaltenders will certainly need to be utilized.
The hope is a somewhat normal training camp can be held so Hynes can institute his own defensive/transition structure, but his previous work as the Devils’ bench boss wasn’t the best indication of future success with the Preds.
All told, this will be a bubble team, but I’m not convinced on where they will land.
That said, I have the Preds missing out on the postseason next year. This is based on not enough offense and regression in the defense and goaltending that could improve, but not enough to make up for the lack of offense I anticipate.
It shouldn’t be by much in the weaker Central, however I believe the Preds will miss the postseason for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign.