NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)The Nashville Predators can pat themselves on the back for overachieving and extending the franchise’s run of playoff berths to an eighth straight season.
Now, the offseason question is whether reaching the playoffs is enough or maybe Nashville is a team ready for a full rebuild.
The Predators got an eye-opening look at the huge gap between themselves and the best team in the Western Conference after being swept in the playoffs by Colorado. It was the first time Nashville had been swept in 15 playoff appearances.
And even worse for the Predators: they were dominated – leading for just 4 minutes, 57 seconds in the series.
”We got to make sure we look at ourselves, and we got to find a way to win in the playoffs,” captain Roman Josi said.
Coach John Hynes pointed out the Predators weren’t picked to even make the playoffs. Their eighth straight postseason tied Washington for the second-longest streak in the NHL, and Nashville’s 15 playoff appearances since 2004 ranks second in that span.
”We formed an identity that gave us an opportunity in the regular season to be a team that can compete for the playoffs and get into the playoffs, and I commend the guys for that,” Hynes said.
Josi turned in the highest-scoring season by a defenseman in 29 years to become a Norris Trophy finalist. Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg became the team’s first two 40-goal scorers. Goalie Juuse Saros is a first-time Vezina Trophy finalist, and Tanner Jeannot led all rookies in goals.
The Predators had their best month in March, going 9-5. Then their physical style seemed to catch up with them as they went 6-6-3 in April and won only once in their final nine games counting the playoffs.
Hynes, the third coach the franchise has ever had, has won three playoff games as Nashville’s head coach since taking over in January 2020. His contract is up this summer.
The bigger issue may be general manager David Poile. The NHL’s winningest GM reached the postseason for the 29th time, topping Jack Adams (28) for most in league history. Poile has been there from the beginning, helping transform the expansion team into a perennial playoff contender.
But he is 72 and still chasing the Stanley Cup that has eluded him. Since Nashville’s unexpected run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Poile first tried to hold the core of that team together. Now only six players remain from the Presidents’ Trophy team of 2018.
That was the last year Nashville won a first-round playoff series.
The Predators’ aggressive style helped them lead the NHL in fighting majors with 59 – 23 more than anyone else according to HockeyFights.com. They also led the league in total penalties (391) averaging a league-high 12.6 penalty minutes per game. It’s a physical style that can take a toll on players.
Nashville had 262 goals for the team’s second-highest scoring season with 12 players having career-highs in goals, assists, points or wins. Five Predators scored at least 60 points for the first time in franchise history led by Josi.
Duchene set the new franchise single-season mark with 43 goals, and Forsberg had 42 in 69 games making Nashville one of only two teams in the league with two players with at least 42 goals. Duchene had a career-high 86 points, easily topping his scoring of his first two seasons in Nashville combined.
Josi was one of three defensemen with at least 30 points, tied for the second-most in the NHL. And Nashville had its best season on the power play, scoring at 24.4%.
In the playoffs, Josi and Forsberg scored one goal apiece.
In the first season since Pekka Rinne’s retirement, Saros proved more than capable of replacing his mentor. Saros was named a Vezina Trophy finalist Tuesday for the first time after being in net for 38 of Nashville’s 45 wins or 84.4%. That win percentage led all goalies in the NHL.
Saros led the NHL starting 67 games and in total ice time. He was second in shots faced and saves and third for wins. But he hurt his lower left leg in the final week of the regular season and never played in the postseason.
Rookie Connor Ingram started three of the four playoff games and made more saves facing more shots than all but one other goalie. He should move up from the AHL to back up Saros next season.
Poile defended not trading Forsberg at the trade deadline, saying the only goal was making the playoffs. The GM also said he talked with Forsberg and his agent then and that they would continue negotiating an extension. Poile risks not getting anything if he can’t sign Forsberg before free agency opens.
Forsberg took an extra wide lap waving to fans after Monday night’s loss, which might wind up being his last with Nashville.
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