Top 5 Takeaways as Resilient Nashville Predators Close Out 2022-23

This Nashville Predators team refused to fall down to the mat and not get back up despite having a close out sale at the trade deadline and subsequently dealing with a rash of injuries to key players down the stretch.

Everyone fully expected the Predators to ride out 2022-23 with several losses as they navigated the growing pains of playing young, inexperienced prospects. When you looked at the remaining schedule throughout March and into April, the Predators looked like a shoe-in for falling out of postseason contention quickly.

But that didn’t happen, and I have to compare the Predators to one of my favorite characters from my favorite movie of all-time, Rocky.

Sure, Rocky Balboa eventually becomes world champion, but it takes some time. He takes his blows in the first Rocky movie, but shows the boxing world he shouldn’t have been overlooked.

And how fitting that the Predators closed out their season against the defending champion Colorado Avalanche? A team that has a solid chance to repeat, and had a lot to play for in the season finale with the Central Division on the line.

The Predators lost 4-3 thanks to more ridiculous heroics by Nathan MacKinnon, but they didn’t make anything easy on the Avalanche.

With 2022-23 in the books, let’s reflect and give you my Top 5 Takeaways from the Nashville Predators season.

1. This isn’t Going to be Some Long Rebuild

The fear when selling at the trade deadline and finally accepting that you have to start thinking about the long-term future is that you’re going to be buried in a long, painful rebuild process. Years of agony much like the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks have gone through. And likely what the Chicago Blackhawks are going to continue to undertake.

However, I actually feel rather optimistic about the Nashville Predators not becoming one of those teams. The results down the stretch of the season post-trade deadline speak for themselves. They made it to Game No.80 before officially being eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention.

It’s a play on words, but when now former General Manager David Poile called it more of a “retool” and not a “rebuild”, I actually see where he’s coming from. This young core of talent, which has been on full display over the past couple of months, should make for a competitive 2023-24 where a postseason return can happen.

Even in a 4-3 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champs, the team battled and showed what’s in store for us in the not-so-distant future.

2. Lots of Uncertainty Surrounding the Veterans

We’ve kind of come to know this influx of youth on the Nashville Predators that were thrusted into bigger roles due to so many key injuries to the veteran core of the lineup.

This brings us to how everything will be constructed into 2023-24? Who will be on Filip Forsberg’s line on opening night? What about Matt Duchene? And how does Ryan Johansen fit back into all of this after seeing so many of the younger players bring speed and energy to a team that desperately needs it.

Johansen is the biggest head scratcher for me this offseason. I think you have to explore finding a trade partner for him this summer, and even retain some salary if need be. I don’t see where he fits into the lineup, and I certainly don’t want him taking a spot in the top-six from someone like Cody Glass, Philip Tomasino or Luke Evangelista.

On the defensive side of things, it’s a little more clear what you’re going into the offseason with. Roman Josi’s loss to the lineup was the most difficult to overcome, and I’m going to stand firm with my belief that if he stays healthy, the Predators close the deal and make the playoffs. They would’ve found a couple more wins to get over the top and in over the Winnipeg Jets.

3. Tommy Novak, Cody Glass, Luke Evangelista Combination

This trio really fueled the push to stay in the playoff race for the Nashville Predators. They didn’t always play on the same line, but thinking about these three as a future line for years to come is promising.

Novak pushed his way to third on the Predators in points with 43 in 51 games. He didn’t even make his season debut until midway through December. His skating and ice vision was on full display and he has a bright future.

Surely the organization won’t make the same mistake of not starting him on opening night in 2023-24, right?

Glass played in 72 games and really took the opportunity and delivered as a top-six center. It was his first full season in the NHL averaging a career-high in time on ice with 14:46. This season woud’ve gone horribly wrong if Glass wasn’t ready to take on the bigger role in the lineup.

And then there’s Luke Evangelista. It’s just crazy how quick he adapted to the NHL level after being called up rather abruptly for the last game of February, and proceeding to tally points in three of his first five NHL games.

Will the Predators decide to start Evangelista back in the AHL to start 2023-24? I say no and that he has proven he’s that rare talent that can jump to the NHL quickly, but we’ll see if the front office takes a more conservative approach.

4. Another Year of Reliable Goaltending

The primary reason that the Nashville Predators aren’t going to succumb to being one of those long rebuild teams is they have Juuse Saros. And to a lesser degree, a quality backup in Kevin Lankinen for at least another partial season, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Lankinen is trade bait before the 2024 trade deadline.

Be that as it may, having these duo provided the Predators with chances to win even on nights when there was very little offensive support. It has become completely expected that if the Predators are going to win, almost always it’s going to be because Saros kept the team within striking distance.

Saros hasn’t experience any kind of a drop-off as he’s now about to turn 28-years-old and entering the prime stage of his NHL career.

In back-to-back seasons, Saros has replicated Vezina Trophy caliber numbers. He is going to finish as the NHL’s leader in Goals Saved Above Expected with 46.7. To put into perspective, Igor Shesterkin was the NHL leader in 2021-22 with 34.1.

Saros has two more seasons left on his current contract. As long as Saros is between the pipes, the Nashville Predators will always have a chance to compete with any team in the league.

5. Still No Clear Answers on John Hynes as Head Coach

We didn’t get enough one way or the other on John Hynes’ future as head coach of the Nashville Predators. Sure, the majority of the fanbase wants him gone and has virtually zero faith in him, but that doesn’t tell us anything in terms of what the front office feels about it.

The team didn’t fold under all of the adversity enough to have an easy choice to make on firing Hynes. If the young players hadn’t shown improvement over the course of the season and if the team would’ve presented itself as lifeless and no fight, then firing Hynes would be an easy choice to make.

However, that’s just not what happened despite how badly you might want Hynes gone. And I get it, he doesn’t appear to have that Stanley Cup caliber gene as head coach. His systems are flawed and probably doesn’t match well with this new crop of young talent.

New General Manager Barry Trotz can send a clear message that he’s changing the entire direction of this franchise by bringing in a new head coach. My prevailing thought is he gives Hynes another season to really prove it, but I don’t think there will be a lot of leeway for Hynes in 2023-24. The team will have to remain competitive and in the playoff race. They can’t take steps back and regress or a midseason firing could easily happen for Hynes.

So once again, we head into the offseason not knowing one way or the other what will happen with Hynes and if the franchise will hire their fourth head coach in franchise history.

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