The Nashville Predators are coming off a disappointing season by their standards, as their streak of eight consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff appearances came to an end.
That said, the fact that they came very close to making it is impressive in its own right. After selling off assets at the deadline, Nashville went on an impressive run of form to finish the year and finish just a few points outside the playoffs. This was with some of the young guns like Tommy Novak leading the charge, a great sign for the future.
This offseason, the Predators were at a crossroads. They have a new general manager in Barry Trotz and a new head coach in Andrew Brunette, so they could've gone in several different directions.
Now late into the offseason, the Predators haven't exactly committed to one specific direction. That's a noticeable problem, and in this article, we're going to be breaking down why.
Predators' biggest roster concern deep into 2023 NHL free agency
Early on in the offseason, it seemed as though Nashville was headed for a retool, if not a full-scale rebuild. They first traded center Ryan Johansen to the Colorado Avalanche for essentially nothing, then bought out another center in Matt Duchene. Just like that, the Predators were without their top two centers for the last few years. With new leadership, though, it would've been completely understandable if Nashville wanted to hit the reset button.
Then free agency began, and the Predators unexpectedly became major spenders. Their biggest addition was former Conn Smythe-winning center Ryan O'Reilly, whom they signed to a four-year deal worth $4.5 million annually. They also made other notable signings, such as winger Gustav Nyqusit (two years at $3.185 million AAV) and defenseman Luke Schenn (three years at $2.75 million AAV).
With these moves, Nashville's roster is now in a confusing middle ground. The Predators' forwards are still pretty young, with O'Reilly and Nyquist being the only ones age 30 or above. On the back end, though, four of their seven rostered defensemen are 32 or older, and those four happen to make up their top two pairings. Then they're somewhat in between at goalie, with starter Juuse Saros and backup Kevin Lankanen both being 28.
Now, it's hard to tell exactly what Nashville's short-term goal is. If it's to acquire top draft picks, then the Predators are nowhere near bad enough to get them. Besides, they already have a strong prospect pool that includes arguably the league's top goalie prospect in Yaroslav Askarov, so tanking doesn't make much sense anyway.
If Nashville's goal is to contend, then that looks questionable as well. Their roster may be solid, but their level of talent doesn't match up to some of the top teams in their division like the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. While some teams who finished ahead of them may fall out of the playoffs (looking at you, Winnipeg Jet), it's also possible for teams who finished behind them to jump up the standings. At best, Nashville looks like a fringe playoff team, probably pushing for a wild card spot
The end result is a team that feels confused in its direction. Not bad enough to get top prospects, but not good enough to compete for championships. Trotz is a very accomplished coach and we're still excited to see what he can do as a GM. However, this apparent lack of a direction is a problem that he needs to solve sooner rather than later.