The NHL has officially hit the halfway mark. With the All-Star Game rapidly approaching, the midway point will quickly fade and the playoff push will be here before we know it.
For the Predators, the season hasn’t exactly gone to plan so far.
After locking up Filip Forsberg to an 8-year extension and adding veteran pieces in Ryan McDonagh and Nino Niederiter, the hope was that this would be enough to push the Preds into the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
Currently sitting three points out of the last wild card spot, Nashville is not in that stratosphere. But the season is only halfway over, so let’s look at what has gone right and wrong for this team so far.
This team wouldn’t even be close to a playoff spot without him.
After a rocky first month, the all-star Saros has returned to Vezina finalist form. Currently holding a 2.68 Goals Allowed Average (GAA) and a .921 Save Percentage, he has been the rock that Nashville has needed to carry them into playoff contention.
Juuse has been even better at even strength, with a .929 Save Percentage this year. The 27-year-old continues to be in the top-5 discussion on a yearly basis, but the Predators will likely need to throw him a bone down the stretch in order to conserve him for when it really matters.
If they don’t, they risk suffering the postseason consequences of a backup starting in net once again…
It’s been an up-and-down first year for McDonagh, but overall, the veteran has been a positive for this team both on and off the ice.
After missing time with an upper-body injury, McDonagh has returned and has been what this team traded for: a veteran voice in the locker room, and a complimentary shutdown defenseman. Now playing more minutes alongside Roman Josi, the pair has become easily a top-10 defensive pairing in the league.
While he no longer has the scoring ability he had in New York, he is on pace for a point-total similar to his days in Tampa. If the Preds can get to the playoffs, expect McDonagh to shine as a penalty killer and leader on this team.
Something that the Preds haven’t seen in a while is an influx of fresh and young talent.
Enter Cody Glass and Juso Parssinen.
Glass, who was the first pick drafted by the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, has bounced around the league after not living up to expectations. Now with Nashville, he has found his game and is making noise to finally stick. Glass has already topped his career point total for a season and can make a case for the top 6.
Parssinen has been a warm welcome to this team as well. In his first season, the 21-year-old has 18 points through 31 games and is developing into a player that will be a part of this core for years to come.
Who could have seen this coming?
After career seasons from Forsberg and Josi, the pair of stars have been worse than average through the halfway mark. The regression was bound to come for Josi after a historic season, but the 2020 Norris Trophy winner barely cracks the top 10 in points for defensemen.
Josi has been the driving force for the Preds in previous years and will need to have a better second half if this team wants to make noise.
For Forsberg, it’s been even more abysmal. After signing an 8-year, $68 million extension, the forward is having one of his worst seasons offensively. He is still on pace for the same ice time and shot total as he’s accustomed to seeing, so Forsberg will need to play like the star forward this team needs down the stretch to make up for his early season woes.
This one everyone saw coming.
It’s only been the Predators’ weakness for, what? A decade now? Even still, sitting as a bottom-three unit in the league at the halfway mark is below expectations.
The opportunities have been there, but with very few results. Nashville has had 151 power plays on the season, good for 10th most in the league, and the Preds have a measly 15.89 power play percentage to show for it. The penalty kill has been better, hanging right around the median of the league with an 80% kill.
Both numbers are nowhere near the caliber of the playoff contenders this year, and both need massive work if Nashville wants to compete.
The Downright Average
Sitting just outside the last wildcard spot in the weaker of the two conferences, it’s just what this team is right now: Average at best.
It’s a tough spot for the Preds to be in after making the moves for Neiderriter, Mcdonagh, and signing Forsberg. If this team can’t make the playoffs, where do they go from here?
Is it time to sell off major pieces and get younger with Glass and Parssinen? Or do the Preds make an improbable run down the stretch?
They’ve done it before, and they have the pieces. The Preds just need to put them together.