2020-21 Nashville Predators Realistic Expectations

2020-21 Nashville Predators

In just a few dozen hours, the 2020-21 Nashville Predators will take the ice. They’ll be going head-to-head against the Columbus Blue Jackets, their new rivals in the realigned division. The 2021 NHL season will bring its fair share of surprises; in such a chaotic time period, staying grounded is key.

This is especially true for the Predators. With much to hope for on the season, head coach John Hynes and general manager David Poile will look to move on from a disappointing season in the face of new rivals. Keeping expectations realistic will be key in 2021. Today, we’ll be doing just that; keeping our expectations grounded with the Nashville Predators. In a competitive division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Dallas Stars, anything can happen. Having said that, quite a few factors will affect how the 2021 season goes for the Predators.

A Quick Look at the Central Division

The first factor of the Predators’ performance is the competition. The Central is the most unique of the divisions. From the Stanley Cup-winning Lightning to the last-place Detroit Red Wings, there’s a lot of wiggle room between would-be contenders. Four of the seven Central teams can make the playoffs. As of right now, the Lightning, Stars, and Hurricanes are almost essentially a lock. The Predators will need to battle the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Florida Panthers for the fourth spot.

The Panthers acquired Patric Hornqvist, Anthony Duclair, and a slew of other players to bolster their offence. The Blue Jackets acquired Max Domi in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Where Columbus hopes to rely on the squad that helped them last season, the Panthers hope for a bounce-back season from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. A lot hangs in the air with both of these teams. With the right factors in place, the Predators could potentially make another run for the playoffs if Bobrovsky continues to regress or if the Blue Jackets can’t pull it together.

An Optimistic and Realistic Take on the 2020-21 Nashville Predators

The 2021 season could go one of two ways with the Predators. Depending on how the players progress, last season could be seen as an anomaly or a sign of things to come. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg can and will play better. The rest of the team, however, offers more questions than answers. How will Eeli Tolvanen progress this year? Does Pekka Rinne still have gas left in the tank? What about the defensive core? There are two sides to the coin; an optimist’s and a realist’s take. Let’s take a closer look at both.

The Optimist’s Take: A Solid, Yet Inconsistent 2020-21 Predators Roster

New staff, new players, and a new outlook has filled the air with potential. If head coach John Hynes can take the reins properly, he may be able to bring the team back to the playoff threat it was just a few seasons prior. Another Norris-caliber season from Roman Josi will be the foundation of their success. In order to retain the success of the past, the ironclad presence of the Predators’ defence will need to be stronger than ever before.

Strong showings from Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis will be integral to keeping Nashville’s ship afloat. In addition, the team will need offence beyond the Foresberg-Duchene-Arvidsson line. Players like Ryan Johansen, Erik Haula, and Luke Kunin will need outstanding showings to keep the team from falling apart.

If the Predators make the playoffs, it will be due to two factors: a superb effort from the defence and a Jennings-award-worthy goaltending effort from Rinne and Juuse Saros. If one (or both) consistently put the team on their back, the Predators will have one less thing to worry about. Saros, 25, has shown he’s more than capable of shouldering the responsibility of a starter.

Nashville will likely split the starting role between Saros and Rinne, who looks poised to make one last push for a Cup before retirement. If the team can rally around the tandem, they’ll make it to the playoffs, where anything can happen. Optimism is key this season.

The Realist’s Take: Swimming in an Ocean of Uncertainty

There are Stanley Cup-caliber teams, there are rebuilding teams, and there are the Nashville Predators. Too bad to be a contender, but too good to be a rebuilder. The Predators are in a dangerous spot. The Cup window is closing rapidly — if it hasn’t already closed, that is. This season will show the front office the direction the team is headed. If they succeed, they may forego picks and prospects to make a one last push for the finish line. Fail, and more drastic options may need to be considered.

While Saros has shown solid numbers, Rinne is starting to show signs of age. He ended last season with a .899 save percentage and a 3.17 goals-against-average. He’ll settle in nicely as a backup or a 1B goaltender, but shouldn’t be relied upon to carry his team. The team’s top players will need to perform up to their contracts if they want to make the playoffs. Too much salary is tied up between players that underperformed last season. If they hope to make a splash, Hynes should expect much more from players like Johansen and Duchene. They can — and should — perform at a higher level.

The biggest problem the Predators face, however, lies in their uncertain future.

The Cap Could Doom the 2020-21 Nashville Predators

Two thirds of the Predators’ defensive core is over 30. The team has $16 million wrapped up between Duchene and Johansen for the next five years. Josi and Ellis are signed for the next seven years and will take up $15 million in cap space. In short, that’s nearly half the salary cap tied up between four players. Plus, a $2 million cap hit from the Kyle Turris buyout will plague the team for eight years.

Too many of the players have performed below their value. Trading them would require an offshoring of assets or a diminishing return. If the team hopes to take the rebuilding route, they’ll need to pray that at a few of the players perform well enough to warrant a trade. Underperform, and they run the risk of sinking this team into years of semi-mediocrity, dooming them to merely passable draft picks. With questionable moves like the Turris buyout, general manager David Poile is playing with fire.

Conclusions

This could get very ugly, very fast.

The 2020-21 Nashville Predators will need to push harder than they’ve ever pushed before if they want to make the playoffs. Succeed, and they have a shot at the Cup. Fail, and they’re doomed for the foreseeable future. It’s not the end of the world just yet — but the path the Predators choose to take this season could determine their future. In order to succeed, they’ll need consistency, teamwork, and just the right amount of luck.

Where the team decides to go from here is up to them. As of right now, though, the Nashville Predators have very little room for failure.

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