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

The Peaking Nashville Predators Head Into Playoffs Hoping To Mask Their Flaws

One of the pre-season favourites to win the Stanley Cup, the Nashville Predators have coasted through the season. They haven’t been without struggle, but this team may have been just biding time.

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This season hasn’t necessarily gone as smoothly as the public expected but it was business as usual for the Nashville Predators. The back-to-back Central Division champions have taken care of business when its mattered and that’s quite frankly, all that matters. The Predators were able to close the season out on a 7-2-1 run, good enough to climb back into first and hold on over the stumbling Winnipeg Jets and the hottest team in hockey since the new year, the resurgent St. Louis Blues.

The Music City Mishaps

While Nashville has taken care of business for the most part this season, doing just enough to win the division, they haven’t done so without glaring faults. The team has struggled with consistency all year. Both the forward group and the star-studded blue line have struggled at times this year. Injuries and inconsistent play have affected this team throughout the year.

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One of the most egregious weak points on this Predators team has been the play of center Kyle Turris. Acquired through being the third team in on the Matt Duchene trade, he hasn’t been able to provide the secondary scoring and depth down the middle like General Manager David Poile had hoped. Last season Turris provided good secondary scoring for the Predators, putting up 42 points in 65 games in a Predators sweater. Good for a points per game (PPG) of about 0.65. This season hasn’t been nearly as effective with a 0.41 PPG (23 points in 55 games).

Another disturbing trend for Turris has been his on-ice shooting percentage (On-ice SH%) has gone down from 8.69% to 5.36%. This means that while Turris is on the ice the team around him has been shooting at just over 5%. His affect on the team also bares out when looking at possession statistics such as Corsi percentage (54.1% over his career). The drop from a very good 55.3% with Nashville last season to an about average 51.5% is significant for a player who relies on puck possession to be effective. Turris isn’t able to facilitate the puck this season and when he does get the chance to make plays, his team isn’t shooting at a percentage that can be effective against playoff caliber competition.

Defensive Depth an Issue

While Turris struggles can help explain why the forward group isn’t as intimidating this season as last, the lack of consistency from their backend is concerning. While their top-four of Roman Josi, PK Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have all had a season about equal to or better than last year, their third pairing has been a disaster. The Nashville third pair has consisted of Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and Dan Hamhuis. All three have struggled at different points of the year.

Below is a graph from Sean Tierney (@chartinghockey) where we look at the production rates of the defenders league wide. As you can see, the Nashville top-four are among the most productive blue-liners in the NHL. A team having four horses as the Predators do is able to shelter the bottom pairing, which they have done this season, injuries permitting. Even with that factor, the third pairing has been abysmal. The disparity of the various bottom pair players in comparison to even league average defenders is concerning.

This has been aided with the addition of the 17th overall pick in the 2016 draft Dante Fabbro. The former Boston University rearguard has helped steady the bottom pairing since joining the team but relying on a player who has four games experience to carry a pairing in the playoffs, sheltered or not, is not only unfair but it is foolsome. One area that Fabbro is sure to help the bottom pairing is exiting the defensive zone and transitioning to offence.

Below is a chart plotting the even strength zone exits for defensemen across the league with the Nashville D-men highlighted. As you can see in a graph from Corey Sznajder below, with the exception of Weber (and Irwin who isn’t shown), the Nashville back-end is quite good at, at the minimum, getting the puck from the defensive zone to the neutral zone. Pairing Fabbro with Hamhuis will ensure that the likelihood of the third pairing being hemmed into their own zone will decrease immensely due to their ability to move the puck efficiently.

Blue-line Attack will be Key

Josi and Ellis. Subban and Ekholm. These are two of the most elite defensive pairings in the entire NHL. While the bottom pairing has struggled defensively, they have been inept offensively. The top-four all have at least 30 points, with all of them except for Subban eclipsing 40 points. This was all done with mixed pairings throughout the year due to an injury that Subban had suffered that caused him to miss 19 games.

With the production being primarily from the back-end, the Predators will have to continue to push the pace of play from that group of blue-liners. The top-four will likely play the bulk of the minutes with Fabbro and Hamhuis playing a sheltered role. The addition of Fabbro should help increase the production from the backend on the third pairing. The Predators style of hockey heavily relies on the defensemen to be true offensive difference-makers. Fabbro has the chance to prove that he is capable of just that.

Offence Lead by Arvidsson

To say that the Nashville Predators have been led offensively by Viktor Arvidsson would be a gross understatement. The Nashville forward group has under-performed in many facets of the game but Arvidsson isn’t the reason. Among the regular forwards in the lineup, only four players have scored more goals than expected. Viktor Arvidsson almost doubles the forward in second, Nick Bonino. As the graph below shows, Arvidsson leads the Predators in goals vs expectation and PK Subban leads the defense.

While Arvidsson has scored goals at will, even in a season in which he missed 24 games largely due to injury, a curious statistic is the assist total for Arvidsson. His total is woefully low for a player of his caliber. While he leads the Predators with 34 goals, a new career high, he only has 14 assists. When looking into the teams passing, it’s evident that the only true playmaker on the Predators is their top line center Ryan Johansen. The chart below shows that while Arvidsson is productive and makes good high danger passes that result in scoring chances, he hasn’t passed with enough volume to warrant an increased assist total. Basically, Arvidsson is a quality over quantity passer.

Deadline Additions will need to step up

The additions of Wayne Simmonds, Mikael Granlund and Brian Boyle will all need to play the role that they were brought in for. Simmonds and Granlund need to become difference makers and produce some secondary scoring. Boyle will need to continue to solidify the bottom six. Anything short of these players playing up to their potential will be disappointing for the Predators playoff run.

Simmonds has particularly struggled this season and it hasn’t just been since his arrival in Nashville, he’s regressed the previous two regular seasons. The strength of his game is being a physical net-front presence on the power play while being a good rebound collector at 5-on-5 play. He needs to establish himself physically and battle in front of the net. At even strength, Simmonds will have his role reduced playing on the fourth line with Boyle and Jarnkrok which sets him up to expose some lesser match-ups playing against the weak fourth line of the Dallas Stars in round one.

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As for Boyle, he’s been about as advertised for the Predators since being acquired in early February. He’s helped solidify the bottom-six forwards, he provides versatility primarily playing on the wing yet having the ability to play center at a moments notice. The hulking forward has been able to provide a pop of offence with five goals in the 26 games he played for the Predators. He’s able to play in all situations, filling in on the power play and penalty kill when head coach Peter Laviolette sees fit.

The riskiest trade that Nashville pulled off at the deadline was sending young offensive winger Kevin Fiala to the Minnesota Wild for skilled winger Mikael Granlund. While Fiala has struggled this season with the Predators, he has shown good offensive instincts and the ability to produce offensively. Granlund however has struggled since coming to Nashville. His PPG has dropped from 0.77 PPG in Minnesota to 0.31 PPG. The trade was seen as speeding up the development of a player. Trading a young player, one for one, for a slightly older player that is likely about what the young player will become. Without Granlund meshing with his line-mates in the playoffs, currently Turris and Craig Smith, and taking on a larger role in the offence, this could end up being a trade that Nashville goes onto regret.

Playoff Outlook

The Predators look like a team that is winning despite themselves. Avoiding the Blues and the Jets in the playoffs was key to the Predators success in the post-season. The fact that the Predators are set to play the top wildcard team in the Stars is a blessing in disguise. They won’t walk over the Stars but they should be able to matchup, play well and win the series in a hard fought battle. The Stars are a good defensive team with a few offensive weapons that can strike at a moments notice. Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jaime Benn will have to take over the series in order for the Stars to truly put fear in the Predators.

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The Predators are a contender. Much like any contender, they have weaknesses. They also possess some strengths that others won’t be able to match. Whether it’s their depth on forward or their outstanding top-four defensemen, Nashville is going for it. Whether they win it is up to the “Hockey Gods”. The question isn’t can win the Stanley Cup. The real quandary is, will they?

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

All stats and info is from nhl.com, hockey-reference.com, eliteprospects.com, Sean Tierney’s public tableau, Corey Sznajder’s public tableau and Naturalstattrick.com

Feature image is credited to Nikos Michals 

Nashville Predators: Hats Off To The Most Boring Team In The NHL

The Nashville Predators Have A Team In The National Hockey League. But No One Talks About Them. 

The crew here at Puck77.com take great pride in providing the hockey-loving public with premium content, covering a majority of the teams in the National Hockey League. Add to that the informative posts blanketing numerous other leagues in North America and around the world, Puck77 is doing our best to deliver for our amazing readers. 

But with so many topics to cover, and only so many writers, sometimes a team gets overlooked now and then for a period of time. 

So being the wonderful team player I am, I decided it was time we showed the Nashville Predators a little bit of love. And how could we not? The Predators are a top-10 team in the league overall, a mere four points out of second. I mean really, shame on us for letting Nashville out of our sights, if only for a brief time. 

Most of my focus and previous posts have centered on the Boston Bruins. While I’m no stranger to the Nashville Predators, I realized some research was in order before I go ripping off a 1000-word post on the inner workings of the Predators franchise. But like any good team, the usual suspects on the Predators come to the forefront when going in-depth on their roster. 

Pekka Rinne. He’s pretty good. Always in the Vezina Trophy talk for the league’s top goaltender each year. There’s Ryan Johansen, having himself a nice year. Almost a point-a-game pace. Can’t forget P.K. Subban, the electric, edge-of-your-seat puck moving defenceman that has fit in so well on Nashville’s back-end….

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Two hours later, I wake up. Head still down on my keyboard. On my screen, the hockey-reference.com page of Colton Sissons in full display. How did this happen? 

Wakey Wakey

This is what the Predators do. In existence now for 20 years, Nashville has never really grabbed the attention of the NHL and its fans. That in itself is an odd statement to write, as they have proven to be one of the stronger league franchises over that time. 

The Predators are once again having a solid season, just two points out of first place in the Central division. A definite lock to make the playoffs again this season, they are on pace for 98 points. Should they achieve that, it will mark 12 of the last 15 seasons the club has gone north of the 90-point plateau. 

We all got a taste of Nashville during the 2017 Stanley Cup final, where the Predators fell short of the ultimate prize with a six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their fans were energetic. The team was beyond exceptional. Finally, it seemed, a spot earned amongst the most popular in the NHL. 

But the momentum Nashville gained from that glorious spring never stuck. By October of the next season, the Predators were once again “just another team”. 

Now the point of this post is not to attack the Nashville Predators. Quite the opposite actually. I’ve always had huge respect for what the Predators have managed to do, both in the standings and in a non-traditional hockey market.

Everyone I talk hockey with agrees that the Predators are good. I was at a gathering with friends yesterday, and as always the talk circled around to hockey. Someone asked who we thought was the team that was going to represent the Western Conference in this year’s Stanley Cup final. Calgary was mentioned. Winnipeg too. Another guaranteed Vegas would do it again. I finally mentioned Nashville. In typical response, everyone just went silent, slightly cocked their heads and shrugged their shoulders, and most begrudgingly agreed that yes, it was possible. 

It Starts At The Top

Why is it like this for Nashville? 

One reason is the lack of a geographical rival for Nashville. The St. Louis Blues are the closest NHL franchise to the Predators, and they are approximately 250 miles away. I don’t recall many great rivalry games between Nashville and the Blues. 

But it’s also by design. David Poile is the Predators President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. Arguably one of the greatest GM’s in the history of the game (he has won more games than any other GM in NHL history), Poile personifies the Predators. Extremely astute and efficient as a leader, Poile shies away from the limelight, and lets the results speak for themselves. 

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But those traits do not make him a lightweight in the hockey executive universe. Poile has never been afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade that he feels will improve his team. Whether it’s Seth Jones for Johansen, Shea Weber for Subban or the fleecing of Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat, Poile is courageous enough to take a chance on giving his team a different look. 

Poile also hired a coach with similar characteristics to himself. To hear the name Peter Laviolette, you automatically think of a french villian in a James Bond movie. But no, this Laviolette has over 600 career wins in the NHL as a head coach, and guided three different teams to the Stanley Cup final in his career, winning with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Low key and unassuming, Laviolette has avoided John Tortorella-like meltdowns with the media for the most part during his coaching career. 

Trade Deadline Spark? 

As mentioned earlier, Nashville is almost assured of a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. But the team has had its share of struggles the last two months. The Predators are a rather pedestrian 10-12-4 since December 17th. With this in mind, one would expect Poile to be active in this final week heading up to the NHL trade deadline next Monday afternoon. 

Poile has made a couple of smaller acquisitions in the last few days, acquiring Brian Boyle and Cody McLeod to help shore up the bottom six forward group. Names like Artemi Panarin of Columbus, and the Ottawa Senators duo of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingal have also been linked to the Predators in recent days. Any of those names would be sure to light a fire under the Predators atrocious power play, currently sitting last in the league at only 12.7%. 

A return to form of Kyle Turris would be a big boost to the Predators. Turris has yet to manage a point since returning from a lower body injury six games ago. He was a big contributor down the stretch last season for Nashville. 

Defensively, Nashville has arguably the strongest top four in the conference. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are all workhorses, used to handling well over 20-plus minutes per game. This unit has allowed Nashville to have the fourth-lowest goals against average this season at 2.61, and seventh-lowest shots against per game at 29.7. 

The core of the team that went to the finals in 2017 is still very much intact, and young enough to make another serious run this season. If they do make a run, expect it to catch everyone off guard. 

Just don’t fall asleep on the Predators like I did. 

Follow me on Twitter @cbradley2928

NOTE TO OUR READERS – We are looking for help covering the Nashville Predators. If you are interested in joining our team, please check out the “Looking To Contribute” page. 

Statistics provided by hockey-reference.com and hockeydb.com

Featured Photo Image Credit: Nikos Michals