31 Takes: Is Nashville ruining its own chance at relevance?

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NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 07: Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) talks with defenseman Dante Fabbro (57) during the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils, held on December 7, 2019, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Predators certainly aren't living up to the hype after a decent summer or roster management. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was easy to have a high opinion of the Predators’ summer.

They got out from under the onerous PK Subban contract, betting (correctly) he was washed. They used that money to bring in long-sought center option Matt Duchene, seemingly bolstering their chances at once again going deep into the playoffs.

Subban now comes across as definitively washed, as things have turned sour for the Devils, a team the Preds struggled to beat on the weekend. Even if Dante Fabbro hasn’t been a 1-for-1 replacement deep in that lineup, he at least costs about one-tenth of what the one-time Norris winner did. Duchene, meanwhile, has been fine. Maybe not “worth the money” in the traditional sense but he is the team’s leading scorer among forwards.

And therein lies the problem. Duchene has been fine, if underwhelming, and he and Viktor Arvidsson (now on the shelf for a few weeks because of Robert Bortuzzo) have been the team’s most effective forwards who are actually counted on to score. Good contributions from the Nick Boninos and Craig Smiths of the world aren’t really the point, even if they are helpful.

Kyle Turris, a previous trade prize, has been healthy-scratched a ton this season, to the point of that particular process becoming self-parody. Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have chipped in a bit up front — the latter largely because he provides value (and gets opportunities other players do not) on the power play — but like almost everyone else, not to the point their paychecks would suggest. Johansen, in fact, has been below replacement level.

Mikael Granlund has done little or nothing since his trade from Minnesota, despite being counted on to return to form and become a reliable middle-six guy. He hasn’t.

The two best offensive players on the team — by a mile — are Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, two very good defensemen having two great seasons. They’re right now sitting in MVP/Norris territory, but they’re really the only ones.

This is to say nothing of the goaltenders, who have had a ton of help and done nothing with it. In all situations, the Predators allow the fourth-fewest adjusted-goals against per 60 in the league, and yet Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne have combined to allow about 20.4 goals more than expected. Which is especially hard to do because the team in front of them doesn’t really give up a lot of looks (6th-fewest attempts per hour, fourth-fewest SOG).

All of which is why this team, with the fourth-best expected-goal share in the league, is 17th in points percentage. If things continue as they have, they’re a fringe playoff team, at best.

It’s maybe something we should have seen coming. The top-3 defensemen on this team — Ellis, Josi, and Mattias Ekholm — are very good. After that the mix of Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber/Matt Irwin, and newcomer Dante Fabbro was just a bunch of question marks.

Up front, Duchene was coming off a very nice year, but one that was well outside the norm for his long-term production levels. Turris was coming off a disappointing season, Forsberg (solid but not great) and Arvidsson (unexpectedly effective) were returning from injury-shortened campaigns, and Ryan Johansen continued to be his perfectly-acceptable-if-overpaid self. All except Arvidsson took a step back. It now doesn’t seem as though there was enough depth that could actually put the puck in the net to help them pick up the slack.

While Rinne was two years removed from a Vezina campaign and was a good player last year, he’s also 37. And where Saros once seemed like he might be the goaltender of the future in Nashville, his performances have steadily declined over time.

Age is a factor with this group, long-term. With the exception of Fabbro (21), Saros (24), Forsberg (25), and Arvidsson (26), everyone mentioned above is at least 27 years old. That means only those four guys are still in what could be considered their prime years, and two of them are coming to the end of that prime, with a third maybe just not being good in the first place.

How a team this expensive, strong on paper, and seemingly playing well, is underperforming this badly should prompt a lot of questions. From the dressing room to behind the bench to the front office, the answers probably won’t prove satisfactory.

31 Takes

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf crying that Garnet Hathaway wouldn’t get into a fight over the spitting incident two weeks ago, only to play dirty and goad tiny Nik Ehlers into fighting him less than 24 hours later is truly classic The Code garbage. Get a life.

Arizona Coyotes: Strange that this article says more than just “goaltending.”

Boston Bruins: Okay the Bruins lost in regulation at home finally and everyone in Boston is saying they haven’t been playing with urgency for weeks. But the third sentence in the linked article says, “The Bruins are 13 points clear of Florida, the second-place team in the Atlantic Division,” so I think they have some breathing room to figure it out.

Buffalo Sabres: Just another hard day’s work in the content mines.

Calgary Flames: Big-time loss for the people of Calgary to get sold out by their city council.

Carolina Hurricanes: Always nice to get a new practice rink that helps grow the sport locally.

Chicago: You don’t say.

Colorado Avalanche: Lots of moving parts in the potential Hall trade, I’m told, because there just aren’t a ton of players who have ever been traded mid-season who fit his profile. Very interesting to see if the Avs pull the trigger.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The way things are going with the people who left when they play Columbus again, Matt Duchene is gonna break Sittler’s record when Nashville plays them in February.

Dallas Stars: This is never going to end.

Detroit Red Wings: “Surging” by scoring twice when you’re down three and also allowing an additional goal doesn’t really matter.

Edmonton Oilers: This is just a wildly up-and-down team right now. Getting killed at home by Ottawa then barely beating LA, and losing in OT against Buffalo? Sure.

Florida Panthers: If these guys can get Sergei Bobrovsky to play anything like he’s paid to play, this team is about to go on a run. Not to draw too many conclusions from an easy win over Columbus, but y’know.

Los Angeles Kings: Starting to think the Kings stink.

Minnesota Wild: Is it just me or have there been a ton of “this team is on a 10-game point streak” type runs this season? The Wild’s just ended at 11.

Montreal Canadiens: Wow, barely beating the Rangers. Cool.

Nashville Predators: I was really curious how Subban would be received in Nashville but the answer was “well” and that’s nice.

New Jersey Devils: Anyway, it’s hard to draw too many unexpected conclusions about either team from this result.

New York Islanders: While trading for Zajac would be crazy, it would also be very Lou.

New York Rangers: Woof.

Ottawa Senators: I truly have no idea how this straight-up attack in the last 30 seconds of a loss by Brady Tkachuk only resulted in a max fine.

Philadelphia Flyers: Starting to think maybe Shayne Gostisbehere isn’t as bad as everyone made him out to be earlier this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Okay so in this scenario the Penguins gain cloning capabilities and they use it on… Jake Guentzel?

San Jose Sharks: The team’s not gonna like it but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that the Sharks didn’t get a new goalie this summer.

St. Louis Blues: “Should a team whose current leading scorer is David Perron call up a highly regarded 21-year-old who’s scoring his ass off in the minors?” isn’t quite a brain buster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I guess we knew it was coming.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If the Leafs can get to this level of play on a consistent basis under Sheldon Keefe, look out.

Vancouver Canucks: Probably not great when the Sabres put you in desperation mode, but two points is certainly still two points.

Vegas Golden Knights: I feel like I must have missed something with this take.

Washington Capitals: The run this team is on has been truly remarkable. They’re on pace for more points than last year’s Lightning. How on earth are we not talking more about this?

Winnipeg Jets: Closer than you probably want but take the Sunday afternoon W and call it good.

Play of the Weekend

Absolute vintage Johnny Gaudreau. His little legs just goin’ so fast. We love it.

Gold Star Award

Sebastian Aho not only had a hat trick and two assists, he also had the quote of the week.

Minus of the Weekend

You can tell the Kings stink because they conceded to both Milan Lucic and Zac Rinaldo. I mean, come on.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “mattman13” is on a mission.

To the Blues:




To the Leafs:



1st Rd pick


Want me to cut off the gum or just style it?

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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