To quote late former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were.”
The Nashville Predators are proving to be exactly who we thought they were — a team not quite good enough to make a serious run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but not quite bad enough to be blown up wholesale and rebuilt from scratch.
But following a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, maybe it’s time the Predators seriously considering that second scenario for beyond the 2021 season.
After all, this is a team that just split a two-game series with a team tied for the second-fewest points in the NHL. It is also a team that needed overtime and a shootout a few weeks ago to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, who were in last place in the Central Division when the NHL ended the 2020 season.
The Predators are the only team in the NHL this season to not have at least one win when leading after the first period. They’re also the only team in the NHL this season to not have at least one win when leading after the second period.
Outside of Filip Forsberg (seven goals, 14 points), the entire forward group is underperforming yet again. Matt Duchene has made strides in his last six games (three goals, five points) and Mikael Granlund (three goals, seven points) has been the team’s most consistent player since head coach John Hynes took over last January. But aside from those two, the team lacks any credible threat on offense.
The Predators rank 22nd in goals scored (35) and they’re tied for the third-most goals (52) allowed this year. In fact, Nashville is on-pace to give up the most goals per game in franchise history (3.47).
The only Predators defenseman with a positive plus-minus rating is free agent signing Mark Borowiecki. Dante Fabbro and Mattias Ekholm (minus-1), Matt Benning (minus-3) and Roman Josi (minus-5) have all contributed to what equates to the sixth-worst defense in the league.
The goaltending hasn’t been much better either. Pekka Rinne has been a pleasant surprise, allowing two goals or fewer in six of his nine appearances, but his goals-against average (2.74) and save percentage (.907) are much lower than when he was in his prime.
Juuse Saros has all but proven that he may be nothing more than an average NHL goaltender. The 25-year-old may have peaked during his first two years in the league considering his goals-against average and save percentage have dropped each year since.
Saros has won barely 50 percent of his games (50.8) since breaking into the Nashville lineup in 2016 and he’s on pace to win just 10 games in the abbreviated 56-game season this year. Twenty-three-year-old prospect Connor Ingram might be a better short-term option until 2020 first-round pick Yaroslav Askarov decides to leave Russia and join the NHL.
David Poile went all in on grit this season, but he forgot that grit doesn’t score goals. The Predators added tenacity at the expense of offense, signing Borowiecki, Benning, Nick Cousins, Erik Haula, Brad Richardson, Luca Sbisa and trading for Luke Kunin.
And to be fair, they all haven’t been a disaster. Cousins has a goal and five points and Kunin has two goals and three points in limited action, but those need to be the type of players Nashville fills out its bottom six with, not rolls out on the second line.
Poile and Hynes hyped up a much-needed youth movement, but only Mathieu Olivier (10 games), Yakov Trenin (12 games) and Eeli Tolvanen (six games) are seeing the fruit of that, so to speak. Others such as Philip Tomasino, Rem Pitlick, Alex Carrier, Tommy Novak to name a few have been turning heads with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, but likely have no sign of playing in Nashville in 2021.
With just 12 points and a quarter of the season already in the books, Nashville may be wise to start salvaging trade value for its assets while they still have meaningful trade values.
Ekholm remains the player who would bring back the largest trade package. He’s been mentioned in trade talks for Vancouver center Adam Gaudette. Others such Granlund, Ryan Johansen and Calle Jarnkrok could be players to keep an eye on.
Nobody in the Predators organization, especially Poile, wants to admit defeat this early into the season. But if things continue to go south, a rebuild might be the only option.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_