The Nashville Predators Cinderella run finally came to an end when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. While the season ended in disappointment, there is certainly a lot for Predators fans to be excited about moving forward. Nashville has arguably the best top-four defense core in the NHL including Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. They also have a talented forward core led by Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Victor Arvidsson. The Predators will have the opportunity to reload this offseason to move in to position for another deep playoff run in 2018. Here is a look at the offseason plan in Nashville.
3 Things The Nashville Predators Have To Work On
1. Add A Number Two Center
The addition of Ryan Johansen provided a tremendous boost to the Nashville Predators forward core until he suffered a season-ending injury in the Western Conference Finals. Even with Johansen, Nashville needs to improve its depth at the center position. Mike Fisher is 37-years-old and is better suited for a third-line role if he returns. The Predators have some decent depth at the position in terms of prospects but their best bet might be to add a center in free agency. Even if Nashville brings back Fisher at a reasonable price, GM David Poile should make it a priority to add a second-line center to his forward core.
2. Add A Top-Six Winger
For as good as Forsberg was up front for the Predators throughout this season, he could definitely use some more help. Nashville struck gold with a breakout season from Viktor Arvidsson. Meanwhile, James Neal is entering a contract season and is more than capable of scoring 25 goals. However, the Nashville Predators could use some more explosiveness up front and that should lead Poile to shop for a veteran winger to fill out his top-six. Justin Williams, Radim Vrbata and Patrick Eaves are three names that could be considered. A pair of top-six forwards should help put Nashville over the top next season.
3. Build Off Positive Momentum
With the defense core and goaltending situation solidified the Predators can look to build off the positive momentum they generated this season. It took some time for things to come together for Nashville but once they got healthy and gained some experience together they couldn’t be stopped in the Western Conference. It will be up to the coaching staff to build off the positive momentum this season and learn from the experience they gained on their run to the Stanley Cup Finals. After falling just short of their ultimate goal, the Nashville Predators know how close they are to becoming a Stanley Cup contender. This offseason will be critical to closing the gap on their championship aspirations.
Key Free Agents
Fisher is a UFA but there is a good chance he could be back in Nashville at a reasonable price for one more championship run. Meanwhile, the Predators have the bulk of their core players under contract with the exception of Johansen, who is an RFA. Johansen had 61 points in 82 games for Nashville this past season and then scored 13 points in 14 playoff games. There is no doubt he is due for a raise, so the Predators have to hope they can negotiate a fair deal that won’t cost them too much of the salary cap space. They will need to add to their roster this offseason.
The other main concern for the Predators is what do they do in terms of the expansion draft? The two options are for them to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skates (either forwards or defensemen) and a goalie. They are going to want to protect their top four defensemen, so they’ll have to go with the latter option. As for their forwards, they are going to protect Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. Does that mean James Neal could be gone? The Preds need to add offense and losing Neal – a 23-goal scorer in the regular season and a six-goal scorer in the playoffs – could be a problem. They have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks.
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