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Who are the Real Nashville Predators?

As we enter the final third of the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season, some teams are more curious than others. Where do the Nashville Predators sit as contenders at this point in the campaign?
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As we enter the final third of the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season, some teams are more curious than others. We know the two Florida franchises are excellent. 

We know the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche also are very good. But there are also teams that make you scratch your head in wonder of who they are and what they’ll do before the March 21 trade deadline. I looked at one of those teams – the Dallas Stars –  over the weekend. Today, I want to look at a team in the same Central Division, and one that has serious decisions to make in the next month.

Nobody outside the Nashville Predators organization viewed them as an elite Stanley Cup threat before the season started, but Nashville rode tremendous goaltending from Jusse Saros to a 19-10-1 record before the NHL shut down in mid-December over the COVID-19 pandemic. That record included a seven-game win streak that ended after the league returned to play, but they recovered and quickly posted a five-game win streak that improved their record to 24-11-2.

However, after reaching that mark, the Preds have slowly but steadily slipped down the ranks of the Central. A four-game losing skid in mid-January was followed by the current four-game losing streak they’re in the midst of. They’ve dropped to fourth in the division, and the Stars are charging and are only four points back of the Predators, with Dallas having one game in hand. Missing the playoffs is now a very real possibility for Nashville.

There is an argument for the Predators to be a buyer at the deadline. Per CapFriendly.com, they currently have more than $10.5 million in salary-cap space. They also have a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent in forward Filip Forsberg, Nashville’s top goal-scorer (25 goals in 37 games this year) and first-line winger who is second on the team in points (41). How do you look at your veteran players in the eye if you trade Forsberg and tell them you believe in them as a unit? On the other hand, if you’re not prepared to give Forsberg a significant raise on the $6 million he’s earning this season, how can you hold onto him and watch him walk away in the summer for a more lucrative offer from another team?

It’s all a conundrum for Predators GM David Poile to figure out. And it’s got to be figured out in the next four weeks. Unfortunately for the Preds, the schedule is not their friend before the deadline: of the 12 games they have before March 21, Nashville has only three games you could call “gimmes” - Seattle on March 2, San Jose on March 5, and Philadelphia on March 17. 

Of the other nine games, six see them take on teams currently in a playoff position - Florida, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. They’ve also got a game against Anaheim (a team two points out of fourth place in the Pacific Division), and the other two games are home games against the Stars. Needless to say, their four games within the Central are going to be huge.

If you put Forsberg on the trade block, teams are going to line up to make bids on him. At 27-years old, he’s in his prime, and he could make a team like the Maple Leafs or Penguins offer up a hefty haul in return for his services. He can be a pure rental player, or he can ask Poile to move him to a team that is prepared to sign him long-term. But the way the Preds perform in the next month may give him and the team cause to keep him around.

The Predators still have time to salvage their season. Saros gives them a chance to win every night, but they have not capitalized on his stellar netminding. Between now and March 21, they’ve got to decide who they are. 

It’s still a mystery, but time will change that.

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