The tension outside of the Nashville Predators locker room was palpable following Monday’s 5-3 season-ending loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
While many could consider Nashville even making it to the playoffs a win in itself, being the first team in franchise history to be swept in a postseason series essentially erases any goodwill the team had built up with its fan base through its overachieving regular season.
It’s clear broader changes need to be made this offseason for the Predators to compete with Colorado, Minnesota and the other elite teams in the NHL.
With six unrestricted and five restricted free agents, most of Nashville’s roster seems to be mostly intact for next season. But as the front office begins piecing together the 2022 team, here are a few questions that need to be answered:
Is Nashville a serious contender to re-sign Filip Forsberg?
More often than not, whenever the Predators needed a timely goal, Forsberg was the one to score it. The best offensive player in the history of the franchise, Forsberg was content to play out the season on an expiring contract and leave negotiations for the offseason.
It’s been assumed the 27-year-old hasn’t been happy with the organization after close friends Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis were traded away last offseason, and after his 42-goal, 84-point career year, Forsberg may have priced himself out of Nashville.
If general manager David Poile had already drawn the ire of Predators fans before, things will get a whole lot worse for him if he lets Forsberg walk without getting anything in return.
If Forsberg leaves, do Preds go all-out for an elite scorer?
Hear me out. Reports have indicated Forsberg’s camp has been seeking a contract around $9 million per year or more. If Forsberg does leave, why not take the money presumably earmarked for him and throw it at another elite scorer?
Johnny Gaudreau and Evgeni Malkin will be UFAs, Patrik Laine is an RFA, and top scorers on bad teams such as Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor, San Jose’s Timo Meier, Buffalo’s Tage Thompson or Detroit’s Dylan Larkin could likely be had for the right price.
If ever there were a time for Nashville to go all-in on acquiring an elite forward, this year could be it.
Has John Hynes showed enough to earn a second contract?
Hynes stepped into a bad situation in January 2020 and had arguably the most challenging first two seasons of any head coach in recent memory.
He didn’t have his first full training camp with the Predators until this year, and he wasn’t able to show what he could do over a full 82-game season until his third year with the team.
That said, Hynes only has three wins in 11 playoff games in Nashville with three straight first-round postseason exits. He also has a career .267 win percentage in the postseason (4-11 record).
Hired for his knack for developing young talent, Hynes hasn’t really shined in that department either. Tanner Jeannot aside, it could be argued that Hynes hasn’t done much to help Eeli Tolvanen, Luke Kunin, Dante Fabbro, Phillippe Myers or Cody Glass develop into NHL-caliber talent.
While I think Hynes has done a solid job, I’m not convinced he’s the guy to get the Predators back to being a Cup contender.
Is the team’s “smashmouth” identity really sustainable for success?
Up until Hynes took over for Peter Laviolette, the Predators have always been known to beat teams with stingy defense and strong goaltending. But the past few seasons have been geared toward building a team that wasn’t afraid to punch opponents in the mouth, literally.
Being tough to play against is one thing but being the first team since 2015 with more than 1,000 penalty minutes and a league-high 61 major penalties will no doubt take its toll on player stamina. That’s perhaps exactly what did Nashville in against Colorado over the last week.
The Avalanche are a team built on speed, skill and relentlessness, and a team like the Predators, who were built on physicality and brute strength, simply can’t keep up. You cannot hit what you can’t catch. While it may have been fun to watch Tanner Jeannot and Mark Borowiecki beat guys into submission, I’m not sold that Nashville’s identity is sustainable long-term.
How long does David Poile have left as Preds GM?
Poile is the only general manager Nashville has ever known. The team wouldn’t have its Stanley Cup Final appearance, Western Conference title, two Central Division titles or Presidents Trophy without him.
However, after 23 seasons and zero Stanley Cups, it may be time to let a new regime take over.
For as much as Poile was applauded for fleecing the Washington Capitals in the Forsberg/Martin Erat trade or protecting Jeannot in the Seattle expansion draft this year, he’s drawn as much, if not more, criticism for his swings and misses.
Some of his recent moves, such as trading Samuel Girard for Kyle Turris, or Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund, or Ryan Ellis for Myers and Nolan Patrick, who was then flipped for Glass, or parting with first-round picks for Paul Gaustad and Ryan Hartman, or even exposing Rem Pitlick to waivers earlier this year, have set the franchise back more than they’ve pushed it forward.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_