The Nashville Predators will be making changes and “some players are not going to be brought back,” general manager David Poile said Thursday.
Poile expressed disappointment on an hour-long end-of-season call six days after the Predators were eliminated by the Arizona Coyotes in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series in four games.
“The trends in the last two years in the regular season and playoffs have not been going in the right direction,” Poile said. “I believe we have plenty of good players, but they’ve not come together to produce the results that we all desire, so it’s very clear to me that we need to make some changes.
“We’re going to look at our roster and some players are not going to be brought back and we will consider all avenues to improve our team.”
Nashville has not advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since they made their lone Cup Final appearance in 2017.
“My job is to assess, evaluate and work with [coach John Hynes] to identify how we can get better and play the game the way he believes will lead the team to success,” Poile said.
Poile said those changes could come in different forms, including the promotion of several prospects already in the pipeline. He wouldn’t elaborate, specifically, however.
“I can’t tell you what these changes will be in the next couple months,” Poile said. “All I can say is all options are on the table to make our team better for the 2020-21 season.”
Nashville will have to make roster decisions based on the NHL salary cap for next season, which will remain at $81.5 million; a start date for the 2020-21 season has not been announced.
The free agency period this offseason will begin after the 2020 NHL Draft (Oct. 9-10) and Stanley Cup Final are completed. In addition, the expansion draft to stock the Seattle Kraken, who will begin play in 2021-22, is scheduled for June 2021.
Among the players on the Predators roster scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after this season are forwards Craig Smith, Mikael Granlund and Colin Blackwell; and defensemen Dan Hamhuis, Korbinian Holzer and Yannick Weber. In addition, forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Jarred Tinordi are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after next season.
“Do I see the possibilities of us being better with these same players? I absolutely do, but I’m saying that we got to make some changes,” Poile said. “A couple years ago I sat here and felt we were really close. I don’t quite feel the same way today. I think some movement on our team would be good … bring in some younger players for sure, but you’re not changing the whole team.
“We’ve got to see how it all plays out in terms of who we sign or who we don’t sign.”
Nashville signed 29-year-old center Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million contract (average annual value $8 million) on July 1, 2019. He scored 13 goals in 66 regular-season games and two points (one goal, one assist) in four postseason games. Duchene scored 23 and 31 goals in his previous two seasons.
The Predators signed 28-year-old center Ryan Johansen to an eight-year, $64 million contract (AAV $8 million) on July 28, 2017; and signed 30-year-old center Kyle Turris to a six-year, $36 million contract (AAV $6 million) on Nov. 5, 2017.
Nashville’s top line of forward Filip Forsberg (three goals, two assists in four postseason games), who has two seasons remaining on a six-year, $36 million contract ($6 million AAV) he signed on June 27, 2016, Johansen (one goal, four assists) and forward Viktor Arvidsson (three goals) did much of the work against the Coyotes. Duchene had one goal and one assist, Granlund had one assist and Turris was scoreless.
“I think the skill is there and, for the most part, our work ethic,” Bonino said on Wednesday. “We’ve talked as a group about mental toughness and maybe that’s an area we can clean up. There’s so much parity in this league, that it’s the littlest things that can win or lose games and this year those little things didn’t go our way.”
Goalie Pekka Rinne turns 38 on Nov. 3 and will be an unrestricted free agent after next season; goalie Juuse Saros will be a restricted free agent after next season. Saros took over as the No. 1 goalie after Rinne struggled this season and the 25-year-old went 12-5-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in his last 20 games (18 starts) before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He had a 3.22 GAA and .895 save percentage in four games against the Coyotes in the Qualifiers.
“Saros took a huge step to play most of the games down the stretch and all the games in the playoffs,” Poile said. “I still believe in [Rinne]. I think he still has a lot of good game and with Saros as a young guy and Pekka as the older guy, they form a great tandem.”
Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette as coach on Jan. 7, a little more than a month after he was fired as coach of the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 3. Nashville, 19-15-7 when Hynes was named coach, went 16-11-1 after the change.
The Predators had a better power play (18.1 percent under Hynes; 16.8 percent previously) and penalty kill (79.3 percent under Hynes; 74.1 percent previously) following the coaching change.
“The more games we played under [Hynes], the better we got,” Predators captain Roman Josi said. “He had a lot of conversations with the players (during the NHL pause due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus), getting to know them a little more. Training camp helped us get used to his system a lot more and I think he’s done a great job.”