Nashville Predators

Dissecting the Nashville Predators Fall from Grace

With a disappointing playoff exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars, the Nashville Predators will be taking a hard look in the mirror. Can they pursue their goals of a Stanley Cup with this roster yet again, or are major changes needed?

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Six games. That’s all it took the Dallas Stars to eliminate the Central division champion Nashville Predators. The disappointing result to conclude the Predators season has raise questions among both fans and media alike. Coming into this season Nashville was expected to among the Stanley Cup favorites. With a loaded back-end, a Vezina-calibre goaltender and improvements up front, Nashville’s first round exit is a complete failure. A lack of offensive production paired with a blue-line who couldn’t seem to put it together for an extended period burned the team before they could even get to the main course.  

Offensive Ineptitude 

The forward group for Nashville has often struggled throughout the season. Although the Predators calling card has never been offence, this season the lack of production proved costly. Finishing 19th in the league, their 236 goals for were a major step backwards from last season where they finished 7th in the NHL with 261. Many pundits have pinned this drop off on the putrid power play performances that Nashville put forward over the season. They finished dead last in the league with a 12.94% conversion rate. a drop off from 21.17% last year. The power play struggles have been well documented, including here at PUCK77 in this deep dive

The deeper issue is the even-strength goals scoring. dropping from 9th (96 EVGF) to 24th (66 EVGF) in the league is a back breaker for any team. As a team, the Predators have undeniably failed offensively. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Predators finished 16th in HDCF% (High Danger scoring chances) with 50.28% but finished 4th in converting that with a 56.10% HDGF% (High danger goals for percentage). This would imply that the team is good at converting on their high danger chances yet doesn’t get to those areas enough. With only 712 HDCF through the season, the fact of the matter is that they are not getting to good scoring areas. In comparison teams in the top 10 averaged about 810 HDCF with the Carolina Hurricanes setting the high watermark with 900 HDCF.

Table courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

Goal Differential Stagnation

To be a truly elite team, a true Stanley Cup contender, you need your stars to produce beyond standard expectations. They should be able to create a major issue for other teams, creating a positive goal differential. When you score more than your opponent, you tend to win. As simple of a statement that it is, it’s easier said than done.

In Nashville’s case, when comparing their expected goal differential to their reality, they are about as average as a team could get. As you can see in the graph below, the Predators players are all bunched up at the “0” point of the graph. The few outliers for the team have been Mikael Granlund and Frederick Gaudreau. In Backlund’s case, he’s been quite poor in the fact that he has a worse GD60 (goal differential per 60 minutes of ice time) than expected in his time with the Predators. As for Gaudreau, he’s has been producing slightly above the rate he’s been expected to. However, as a bottom-six player, his impact on the game isn’t going to be as indicative on the outcome.

Chart courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

For players of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson skill levels, they need to be better in this department. For the Predators to truly recapture their elite status from 2017, they will need to be better than average. Depth in scoring would help that as they wouldn’t be burdened with doing it all as their production up and down the line-up was mediocre at best outside of that top line.

Goaltending Inconsistencies

The aging Finn that’s manned the Predators goal for years had an up-and-down season following his Vezina trophy winning season of 2017-18. Even with the inconsistency, Pekka Rinne was able to post a GSAA (goals saved above average) of 13.54, good for 8th league wide. His cumulative statistics over the season look solid yet again although the signs of aging were prevalent.

The inconsistency in his play came into play in the playoffs this year. His performance in the playoffs against the Dallas Stars was one of the reasons that Nashville fell short among others. In the graph below, the GSAA of all goalies to play in the playoffs are displayed with Rinne being dead last. Allowing almost four goals more than what an average goalie would, can be series killer. While this isn’t all on Rinne, the Nashville Predators netminder needed to be better and wasn’t.

While backup goalie Juuse Saros did play more this season than last, 26 GP to 31 GP, he will likely need to play more next season as Rinne will continue to regress with age. Saros has shown promise and should slowly move into a starters role over the next season or two. As beloved as Rinne is, both fans and management need to look at the window this team has and really question who should be in-between the pipes when the games truly matter.

Blue-line Dominance Fading

For years now, the Nashville Predators have had one of, if not, the best group of defensemen in the NHL. At one point, people considered them to have four quality top pair blue-liners. This season has been a major step back for the Predators defensive core.

Chart courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

As seen in the chart above, the ability to prevent entries and create exits for the stud-filled rearguards of Nashville has fallen off drastically this season. While captain Roman Josi and former Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban have been able to sustain positive control of the defensive zone, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis have both regressed this season.

Uneventful Ekholm

Ekholm has been traditionally overlooked on this backend by the average fan, but he’s consistently been a strong puck-mover while being responsible defensively. His ability to play a complete game was one of the reasons his partner, P.K. Subban, has been able to push the pace of play and take risks. His play this season however has been uneventful. While this isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s not good either.

With his defensive zone play lacking positive or negative impact, he wasn’t a detriment in his own end. The issue was the fact that he didn’t provide anything over and beyond the average defenseman. He definitely played better with Subban in the lineup, although there was a large chunk of games where he was playing without Subban due to injuries on the blue-line. A return to form for Ekholm should be expected in the fall.

Ellis Implodes

Ryan Ellis signed an extension in the offseason for 8 years, $50 million that kicks in at the beginning of next season. That gives him an AAV of $6.25 million which meant that this season was the last season of underpaying their top-four defencemen. The top-four will now cost a total of $23 million. With Josi expiring after next season meaning that number is only set to grow even further.

The struggles of Ellis have been concerning this season due to the fact that his contract runs through 2026-27. His foot speed has always been there but the difference this season has been his ability to make the appropriate decision with and without the puck. Although he put up 41 points in 82 games this year, he was undeniably one of the worst defencemen in the league for allowing opposing players to enter the zone.

Graph courtesy of Corey Sznajder (@Shutdownline)

As you can see from the graph above, while Ekholm, Subban and Josi have all been positives, even if they haven’t been as efficient as in years past. Ellis on the other hand has been absolutely atrocious. Among the worst players in the league at preventing the zone entry, the diminutive blue-liner needs to return to respectability. His ability to pivot and force players to the outside, limiting high danger chances wasn’t up to his usual standards. Generally able to skate his way out of trouble, using his active stick to turn the puck over, he failed to do this far to often this season.

Without his return to form, the contract and the defence corps will likely struggle in years to come with little-to-no flexibility to change it up unless a change is made.

Change for the sake of Success

This season proved that the Nashville core may need to change. While the team gave this group a good run, with marginal success, to get to the next level they will need to find some scoring. The depth up-front is in need of an injection of talent. The emergence of Dante Fabbro after he signed with the Predators helps the backend depth.

Simple math would suggest that if the management group, led by David Poile, think that Fabbro is ready to play on the second pairing, they should look at moving a defenseman. This leaves the question of who to trade. The logical candidates are the freshly extended Ryan Ellis and the non-homegrown P.K. Subban.

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The case for moving Ellis would be that with his league wide perception and value still very high, you can get almost maximum value. Trading Ellis to a team looking for a good right-handed defenceman could net a solid return in an offensive talent. Possible trading partners for Ellis could include the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams that are in win-now mode, need help on the back-end heading into next year after disappointing first round exits for each team.

A return such as Kasperi Kapanen plus draft picks or prospects from Toronto could be likely. A trade with Pittsburgh could be more interesting as the possibility of a one-for-one with Phil Kessel being the return could be an option for the Predators who need a pure offensive force. While a trade isn’t close (or even rumoured as of yet), Ellis has to be an option to be moved.

The other trade chip that Nashville possesses is P.K. Subban. This trade presents its own obstacles due to the fact that Subban is owed $9 million for three more seasons. This is a hefty number for any team to take on so some creativity may need to be used in order to facilitate a trade. Whether it’s taking on a contract, salary retention or even finding a matching cap hit, a Subban trade will cause GM David Poile to work his magic.

Extending the Championship Window

This Predators team has the ability and the means to extend the window to win. Changes will be needed. Coming back next season with the same roster will not suffice. Whether it’s a trade or free agency, the Nashville Predators need to alter their strategy when looking at how to build their roster. A star-studded blue-line has been close but each time they’ve been struck down because their offensive depth couldn’t get it done. That needs to change next season or the Predators could become the team that can’t win no matter how good their roster looks on paper.

For more on the NHL, follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari on twitter!

All stats and info is from nhl.comhockey-reference.com, and Naturalstattrick.com

Charts and graphs provided by Sean Tierney and Corey Sznajder‘s Public Tableau

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Nashville Predators

Nashville Predators: Welcome To Smashville, Dante Fabbro

The Nashville Predators may have just found the piece to complete their Stanley Cup puzzle and all they had to do was wait for him. Dante Fabbro could come into the lineup immediately and provide a stabilizing presence on a bottom pair that needs it.

The Nashville Predators will finally be getting their prize defensive prospect Dante Fabbro into the lineup as the season winds down and as the playoffs begin to kick into gear. They signed him to a 3 year entry-level contract and are sure to play him on their blue line immediately. Fabbro has been one of the best two-way defencemen in the NCAA while at Boston University and he’s hoping to bring that ability to the Predators as soon as possible.

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There is a lot of speculation as to when he will get into the lineup. While it likely won’t be right away, he should warrant a chance to play after a couple of practices and when he does play it will likely be on the third pairing with Matt Irwin. This could help stabilize the third pairing and also insulate the rookie because Nashville will continue to play their top four against the toughest competition.

Where has the third pair struggled?

visual from Sean Tierney, stats from EvolvingHockey

To be blunt, almost everywhere. The Matt IrwinYannick Weber pairing has been fairly inept in almost all facets of the game. They have been unable to perform even to their expected goal rate as the graph above shows. The Predators top 4 defencemen have performed quite well in this aspect, yet the three players that have comprised the bottom pair have all underperformed. The signing of Dan Hamhuis looked like it would help improve that third pair, but the oft injured defencemen has struggled to stay healthy this season again. To this point, the team has gotten little to no production for their third pairing defenders.

Production Concerns 

visual from Sean Tierney, stats from EvolvingHockey

The chart above shows that the Nashville third pairing of Irwin-Weber have not only been unproductive in comparison to the top 4, but they are also among the least productive in the NHL. The Predators coaching staff has noticed their productivity issues, so they are only sparingly used because they can not be relied upon.

Possibly the biggest issue with the third pairing is that they struggle to move the puck up the ice. Both Irwin and Weber have been undeniably ineffective at exiting the zone, controlled or otherwise. The chart from Corey Sznajder’s Public Tableau shows that Weber is again among the NHL’s worst puck movers. Irwin is not represent on this chart, but he is no more adept at breaking out of the defensive zone. The ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone once possession has been gained is possibly the most underrated and important skill that a defencemen can have. In order to avoid scoring chances in your own zone, getting the puck of the zone is a critical.

visual and stats from Corey Sznajder

Fabro’s Playing Style

While Dante Fabbro has yet to play a single NHL game, he looks to be an immediate upgrade. He’s shown to be capable at moving the puck not only out of the defensive zone, but also into the offensive zone. He plays a mature game often making the smart pass that leads to a clean breakout. He’s a player who has the ability to use both his body and his excellent stick to separate the opposing player from the puck and gain possession himself. Plus, he’s an excellent skater who often looks like he’s two steps ahead of the play mentally.

In the offensive zone, he is equipped with a hard, accurate shot. He is able to find shooting lanes and get his shot on net more often than not. A crisp passer who won’t blow you away with low percentage stretch passes but often makes short passes that go unnoticed. While his offensive upside won’t be fully realized in a third pairing role, he does present the ability to create a mismatch with opposing teams third and fourth lines.

Fabro Fills A Gap

Fabbro is able to fill in the inefficiencies that the Nashville Predators defensive third pairing by just allowing them to place someone who can be at least league average in all three zones. This could be the biggest key to the Predators success in the playoffs. The ability to not only defend but also transition the puck forward could be the difference in the Nashville Predators being able to match their third pair against a deep Winnipeg Jets or Vegas Golden Knights team and not have to worry about the teams shot share rates being caved in by allowing a third line to hem their third pairing in the zone as they have most of the season. Dante Fabbro could be the most important add to any team post trade deadline and he will get the chance to prove it soon enough.

For more on the NHL and hockey in general, follow me on Twitter @TheTonyFerrari

All stats and information was referenced from NHL.com, hockey-reference.com, hockeydb.com, eliteprospects.com, Sean Tierney and Corey Sznajder‘s Public Tableau

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

31 in 31: Top Ten Prospects Vol. 17 – Nashville Predators

Welcome back to my 31 in 31 Top Ten Prospect Series.

Yesterday, we went to Quebec and checked out the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect system. This group was highlighted by a group that are led by Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, and Josh Brook. Today, we’re going to travel down to the Music City and check out who the Nashville Predators have waiting for their chance in the pipelines. Without further ado, let’s have a look.

1. Eeli Tolvanen (LW, 1st Round, 30th Overall in 2017)

Tolvanen was initially projected to be a top-15 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, but he ended up slipping all the way down to 30th overall. The Nashville Predators were more than happy to scoop up the KHL standout. He had an incredible season with Jokerit last year with 36 points in 49 games. Following this, the Predators brought him over to North America for his rookie season. He has 12 points in 23 games with the Milwaukee Admirals and two points in four games with the Predators.

2. Dante Fabbro (D, 1st Round, 17th Overall in 2016)

Unlike most prospects, Fabbro opted to play in the BCHL in his draft year over the CHL, but he performed well enough there to have the Predators select him at 17th Overall. The 20-year-old BC native is currently in his third season with Boston University where he’s team captain and has 13 points in 16 games so far this season.

3. Frederic Allard (D, 3rd Round, 78th Overall in 2016)

Approaching his 21st birthday, Frederic Allard has already been doing great things at the AHL level despite his age. The Quebec native currently has 17 points in 31 games with the Milwaukee Admirals and has made a positive impact at both ends of the ice. While still early, it looks like the Preds have a good one in Allard.

4. Alexandre Carrier (D, 4th Round, 115th Overall in 2015)

Another Quebec-born defenseman, Carrier was drafted one year earlier than Allard and doesn’t have as much of a size advantage as his fellow French d-man. However, he still has a chance to be a pretty solid defenseman as he has a lot untapped talent. He’s currently in his third full season with the Milwaukee Admirals and has 11 points in 30 games to his name.

5. Emil Pettersson (C, 6th Round, 155th Overall in 2013)

Getting closer to his 25th birthday, Pettersson unfortunately doesn’t have time on his side in his quest to make a name for himself with the Nashville Predators. However, if he keeps working hard and improving his game he could eventually secure himself an NHL job. The Sundsvall, Sweden native currently has 17 points in 30 games in the AHL so far.

6. Grant Mismash (C, 2nd Round, 61st Overall in 2017)

Mismash is a gritty forward who maximizes his physical game to the fullest, all while having great offensive instincts. He’s currently in his second NCAA season and has nine points in his first 17 games. If all goes according to plan, the Nashville Predators are hoping that Mismash can become a middle-six power forward at the NHL level.

7. Yakov Trenin (C, 2nd Round, 55th Overall in 2015)

Trenin has always been a solid two-way forward with a knack for goal scoring and popping his name up on the scoresheet. He’s had a bit of a rough go in his first two seasons in the AHL, struggling offensively. Currently he only has nine points in 30 games, but at 21 years old, he has lots of time to turn his game around.

8. Anthony Richard (4th Round, 100th Overall in 2015)

Richard is no stranger to the AHL at this point, currently in his third season with the Milwaukee Admirals. The Trois-Rivieres native currently has 19 points in 27 games and has steadily gotten better every season since being drafted.

9. David Farrance (D, 3rd Round, 92nd Overall in 2017)

Farrance is currently playing for Boston University of the NCAA, making him the third Nashville Predators prospect along with Fabbro and Harper to represent the team. He’s currently off to a solid start, putting up nine points in 16 games thus far.

10. Patrick Harper (C, 5th Round, 138th Overall in 2016)

Harper has lots of skill to his name but faces a disadvantage that most players don’t, which is size. Standing at a minuscule 5’7 and 160lbs, he will need to emphasize skill to be successful. He’s coming off of two successful seasons with Boston University but is off to a rough start this season, putting up only seven points in his first 16 games.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time where we’ll go over the talent the New Jersey Devils have in their system.