Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Nashville.
If you can believe it, the Predators have six forwards under contract through the 2023-24 season. That’s a lot of certainty, but also a double-edged sword. Turris is one of those players and Nashville already needs to shed his contract. Seattle would be an option, but for the sake of this exercise, we’ll stash him on the fourth line. Tomasino, the 2019 first-rounder, will be an impact player in five years, so some juggling will be necessary with the vets. Johansen could be a shutdown guy, albeit an expensive one. Mismash and Watson gives the Preds a heavy bottom-six. Tolvanen needs to break through and if it doesn’t happen soon, you can probably pencil him in for another locale. Jachym Kondelik is another option up front.
Defense has been a strength in Nashville for years and the future won’t change that. Josi, Ellis and Ekholm give the back end tremendous experience, leadership and skill, which will allow the franchise to fold in youngsters such as Fabbro, Davies and Del Gaizo in the coming years (Fabbro’s up first with a shot at the 2019-20 roster). If the Preds want to play things a bit safer, they could flip the two-way Fabbro and offensively-driven Del Gaizo – but Fabbro should be getting top-four minutes.
As crazy as it sounds, eventually Pekka Rinne will not be playing for the Nashville Predators. Surely the legendary goaltender will have his number retired once he’s finished and that could be as soon as the summer of 2021, when his current contract runs out. If he wants to play another season, the Preds would probably accommodate him, but in five years the crease will belong to someone else. Will it be Saros, who has looked very good in his early NHL days, or the bigger Vomacka, who looked solid in his freshman campaign at the University of Connecticut? Prospect Connor Ingram is another name to keep in mind.
Overall, the Predators should still be one of the better teams in the West in five years, though a lot of decisions will have to be made up front. If the kids can push for top minutes, some of the veterans may be moved or pushed down the lineup. Nashville will still have one of the most talented defense corps in the league and while goaltending may be a bit of a question mark (Saros’ 31 appearances last year was a career high and 5-foot-11 is not ideal for a starter these days), it’s not a serious concern.
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