NHL Rink Wrap: Big upsets, but not vs. Lightning; First Kraken win

Player of the Night

Tyler Bertuzzi

Considering the Lightning’s ludicrous comeback from down 6-3 with mere minutes remaining in the third period, you might want to hand this to a Bolt. The argument is there. You could easily name Nikita Kucherov (1G, 3A) or Victor Hedman (four assists) as the player of Thursday night in the NHL.

After all, they earned that all-valuable last laugh.

But Tyler Bertuzzi still forced Tampa Bay to pull off those heroics thanks to a blistering four-goal night. During the second period alone, Bertuzzi notched a hat trick. When he scored his fourth, Bertuzzi put the Red Wings up 5-3. Clearly, that wasn’t enough; heck, another goal wasn’t enough.

Impressive stuff nonetheless from a player the Red Wings might want to be able to bring to Canada this season.

Highlights from Thursday in the NHL

The Blue Jackets honored Matiss Kivlenieks with a ceremony before their season-opener.

Truly, it’s a lot of fun when a scoring chance is so promising, an announcer gets fooled. That’s what happened when Braden Holtby robbed Ryan Strome on a truly golden opportunity:

Drop your jaw in awe of that 11-goal overtime stunner between the Lightning and Red Wings. One big highlight reel, really.

Three Takeaways from NHL on Thursday

No Red Wings upset, but two other significant ones

After 82 games, we might not look at the Sabres beating the Canadiens or the Senators holding off the Maple Leafs as big upsets. Sometimes, teams make big jumps (and drops) in the NHL.

Right now, though? It absolutely feels bizarre to picture even a competent season from Buffalo.

If the Lightning didn’t come back, that would’ve been another big one. Maybe the larger lesson is that we shouldn’t take things for granted in the NHL? (Or, at least, this early part of the season could introduce some chaos.)

This could be a long, long season for the Coyotes

Heading into 2021-22, it seemed like the Sabres and Coyotes would engage in a tanking war. It would seemingly be the most brazen of its kind since … well, the last time the Coyotes and Sabres tried to be as bad as possible.

At least on Thursday night, the Sabres didn’t play that role in a presumed race to the top of the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.

The Coyotes, though? They fell 8-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Again, hindsight could tell a different story. But, heading into openers and early season games in the NHL on Thursday, it sure seemed like the Blue Jackets’ future skews closer to Arizona’s than contention (or even the playoff bubble).

Yet, in this one, the Blue Jackets cruised.

With two goals and two assists, Oliver Bjorkstrand made his own argument for player of the night for Thursday in the NHL. Max Domi notched three points. Patrik Laine, Jakub Voracek, and Jack Roslovic collected two assists apiece.

Plenty expected the Blue Jackets to beat the Coyotes. The sheer margin of defeat might be an upset, or at least upsetting, if you’re the ‘Yotes.

Kraken get their first win

After a tough loss in their debut on Tuesday, the Seattle Kraken are in the win column for the first time in their franchise history thanks to a 4-3 win in Nashville on Thursday night.

The Kraken used a perfect 2-for-2 not on the power play, as well as a pair of goals from Brandon Tanev, to get the win. Tanev scored one of the power play goals and also added an empty net goal late in the third period to make it a 4-2 game. Because Nashville scored just a minute later Tanev’s second goal, the empty net goal, goes in the books as the game-winner. Jared McCann (power play) and Alex Wennberg also scored goals for Seattle in the win. Philipp Grubauer stopped 27 out of 30 shots in the win.

Tanev’s empty-net goal was Seattle’s only shot on goal of the third period, but it was enough to get the two points.

Friday’s big story

A peek at the new-look Flyers

So far, we’ve seen the Seattle Kraken twice. The Blackhawks’ blueline makeover faced a big challenge. And, despite all of those changes, the Hurricanes look like they’ll keep opponents on their toes.

On Friday, we’ll finally get our first look at the Flyers after some bold offseason changes.

Can Ryan Ellis return to near-Norris-form after injuries derailed his 2020-21 season? Will the Flyers look smart after taking a chance on much-maligned blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen? Most importantly, was last season just a hiccup for Carter Hart, or a new reality?

Of course, we won’t get every answer about the Flyers one game into an 82-game marathon. Friday’s Flyers – Canucks game should be a better proof of concept than any exhibition though.

(And, hey, the Canucks made plenty of changes themselves.)

Thursday’s NHL scores

Sabres 5, Canadiens 1
Senators 3, Maple Leafs 2
Panthers 5, Penguins 4 (OT)
Stars 3, Rangers 2 (OT)
Blue Jackets 8, Coyotes 2
Hurricanes 6, Islanders 3
Lightning 7, Red Wings 6 (OT)
Kraken 4, Predators 3
Kings 6, Golden Knights 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators aren’t really rebuilding or contending

A troubling thought was truly cemented with the Mattias Ekholm contract extension: the Nashville Predators are in rebuild denial.

No, they’re not unique in that regard. There are other teams with older, borderline-lifetime GMs who remain stubborn to accepting short-term pain for long-term gains.

Unfortunately, the Predators join the Sharks as teams uncomfortably likely to experience a lot of pain both now, and later.

To some extent, the damage has already been done. That said, the Predators can get their rebuild back on course. They just have to make some difficult choices — and one of those might involve removing that borderline-lifetime GM.

Troubling lack of vision for Predators in recent months

Break down three phases of recent Predators’ decisions, and you’ll wonder whether the team should give David Poile the old Glen Sather “promotion” out of the GM position.

Balking at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline

Heading into the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, many wondered if the Predators would trade Ekholm.

In retrospect, they at least should have considered trading Ryan Ellis and/or Viktor Arvidsson around that time. After all, they traded both for very meager returns during the offseason. Were there better offers during the trade deadline? Such thoughts should give Predators fans serious pause.

Either way, the Predators didn’t accelerate their rebuild during the trade deadline. This Poile quote sure makes it feel like the Predators’ process would change with moods, a streak, or maybe a gust of wind.

“[My philosophy on the deadline] certainly changed game by game,” Poile said, via the Predators’ website.

What did the Predators leave on the table because Poile went with his heart, not his head, at that trade deadline?

Either way, the dominoes kept falling, making a shaky situation mostly look worse.

Selling low

Early in the offseason, the Predators made gestures toward a rebuild. Unfortunately, they stumbled instead of leaping forward.

A package of Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, a second-rounder, and a third-rounder might be OK for one of Ryan Ellis or Viktor Arvidsson. For both? That’s painful.

In the grand scheme of things, moving on from Ellis, in particular, made sense for a would-be rebuilder. But selling low on both Ellis and Arvidsson after they dealt with injuries that might not repeat in 2021-22? That hurts.

And then a few gusts of wind dampened even those modest returns.

Digging in

If there’s a move that captures the spirit of how lost the Predators feel, it might be re-signing Mikael Granlund.

Don’t get it twisted; Granlund can play. It’s just that the 29-year-old’s not at the point where he’s likely to move the needle. After all, the Predators stalled out with Ellis and Arvidsson; why hand out such term for diminishing returns?

Between Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, and Granlund, the Predators devote $21M in cap space for four seasons (plus one more with Duchene). They’re all 29-or-older, and it’s hard to imagine the ceiling going much higher.

[Preview for 2021-22 Predators season]

Once Ekholm’s extension kicks in, the Predators will invest about $15.3M in Ekholm and Roman Josi. In 2022-23, that could be a steal. Unfortunately, both Josi and Ekholm are 31, and carry serious term (Josi’s $9.059M cap hit runs through 2027-28).

If the Predators’ long-term commitments fall victim to Father Time, a bad situation could get downright dire.

Still some hope for a Predators rebuild

To some extent, the damage has already been done.

It’s hard to imagine the Predators trading away the twin $8M nightmares of Ryan Johansen (2024-25) and Matt Duchene (2025-26). Most likely, they’re stuck with them. Frankly, if there’s a deal out there, it might not be worth bribing a team with precious draft picks.

A stomach for short-term pain, long-term gains

But the Predators could still make waves with a rebuild. Doing so might require a brave soul, though, and waving goodbye to favorites.

  • Filip Forsberg, 27, is in a contract year on a $6M cap hit. Don’t pull an Ekholm and extend Forsberg. Instead, think big picture. He’s a very good player, but the timeline isn’t right for him to be that guy for the Predators.
  • Saros, 26, is a gem. In the grand scheme of things, his greatest potential value might come from a future trade. A Predators team with a clear vision is penciling in Yarsolav Askarov, 19, for the top spot eventually anyway … right? Hopefully?
  • Whenever the Predators get a reality check, few things should be sacred. That means being open-minded about trading almost anyone, including Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Head over heart

To aim higher than the middle of the road, the Predators might indeed need to move on from Poile as GM.

Simply put, Poile might be too close to what he’s built with the Predators. A more objective set of eyes would see a mess. But, for the person who made those choices, it may simply be too difficult to acknowledge defeat.

It’s crucial to strike while the iron is hot, and that’s where there’s a concern with Poile running a potential (partial?) Predators rebuild. The Predators seemingly missed the ideal window to trade the likes of Arvidsson and Ellis. Will we see the same with Forsberg?

[PHT’s Central Division predictions]

Again, some damage is already done. But there’s a lane to go from middle-of-the-road to having a brighter light at the end of the tunnel.

Elite Prospects ranks the Predators’ prospect pool as 10th-best. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman places them 16th.

From Askarov to Philip Tomasino, the Predators boast some solid pieces. They just need more of them, even if it means suffering more now for better things later.

The Predators might prefer living in the playoff bubble, while hinting at a rebuild. The way things are going, though, they might not have much of a choice. The Predators might as well embrace the rebuild now.

They certainly haven’t been doing so lately.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

No trade talk here: Predators keep Mattias Ekholm with 4-year, $25 million extension

The Nashville Predators are in a very interesting spot. The team is clearly on a certain trajectory where a rebuild could be on the horizon, not only due to the declining play of the team the past couple of years, but also given the fact they traded veterans Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis this offseason.

Mattias Ekholm, who is entering the final year of his current contract (with a salary cap hit of just $3.75 million), figured to be a popular name in trade speculation this season if things on the ice did not pan out for the Predators.

You can probably put that speculation on hold after Wednesday’s news that the team has reportedly signed the veteran defenseman to a four-year, $25 million contract extension, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. That contract will keep him in Nashville through the end of the 2025-26 season as he continues to lead their defense along with Roman Josi.

[Related: NHL Rink Wrap: Begin the Kraken; Tom Wilson vs. Rangers]

Ekholm, 31, has been an outstanding two player in Nashville for the past eight years making big contributions offensively and defensively. He has had a strong defensive impact and also been a steady 35-40 point player offensively. His last contract was a steal against the cap and one of the most team-friendly deals in the league among defenders. But it is still interesting to see Nashville make this sort of commitment right now.

There should be real concern about how good this team is actually going to be in the foreseeable future. It was going absolutely nowhere last season until Juuse Saros turned into superman around the halfway point of the season and carried it to a playoff spot. It is a team that has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years now, and just this offseason traded two long-time standouts in Ellis and Avridsson for future assets (Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, and draft picks).

It does further point to the idea that the Predators might be trying some sort of “competitive rebuild” rather than a full scale rebuild, where they try to keep an eye on the future while also not giving up on the present. That is a tricky thing to successfully pull off, and usually just results in a longer window of sustained mediocrity. We will see what direction Nashville takes this in.

Now that Ekholm is signed all eyes are going to turn to their other significant pending free agent, star forward Filip Forsberg.

Forsberg has been Nashville’s top offensive player for the past seven years and just turned 27 a couple of months ago. Does he become a trade chip later this season if things do not go as planned? Or is there still room in the plans to keep him long-term?

Philadelphia Flyers: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Philadelphia Flyers.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 25-23-8 (58 points); sixth place in East Division
• Postseason: Missed playoffs, moved first-rounder in Rasmus Ristolainen trade.
• Offensive leaders: Claude Giroux (16 goals, 27 assists), James van Riemsdyk (17 goals, 26 assists), and Jakub Voracek (nine goals, 34 assists), all at 43 points.

• Free Agent Additions: Ryan Ellis (trade from Predators), Rasmus Ristolainen (trade from Sabres), Cam Atkinson (trade from Blue Jackets), Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, Nate Thompson, Derick Brassard, Adam Clendening.
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jakub Voracek (trade to Blue Jackets), Nolan Patrick (traded, eventually ended up with Golden Knights), Shayne Gostisbehere (trade to Coyotes), Philippe Myers (trade to Predators), Robert Hagg (traded to Sabres), Brian Elliott (Lightning), Carsen Twarynski (Kraken expansion draft).

Biggest question for Rangers

• Will goaltending derail all the changes?

Glance up at the additions and subtractions above, and you risk becoming dizzy from all of the movement.

If nothing else, you can’t accuse Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher of sitting idly by after a disappointing season. Instead, the Flyers are a very different team in 2021-22.

Will they be better in a way that truly matters? To an extent, that hinges on some of those changes. Was a tough season all about injuries for Ryan Ellis, or could his decline be more permanent (and rapid)? Are the Flyers right (and the charts are wrong) about Ristolainen?

Either way, it’s fascinating, and it harkens back to the Paul Holmgren era.

But, for all of the changes the Flyers made, they’re still primed to sink or swim with Carter Hart.

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

By most advanced metrics, the Flyers were a respectable team last season. They weren’t really showing signs of being a juggernaut, but a brief playoff appearance wouldn’t have been out of order. Unfortunately, they suffered from the worst goaltending in the NHL.

Hart’s Goals Saved Above Average (-22.57) was by far the worst in the NHL last season. Second worst? Well, that would be his now-former creasemate Brian Elliott (-14.01).

You don’t need to scroll far at Hockey Reference to see Elliott’s replacement. With a -11.71 GSAA, Martin Jones ranked fifth-worst in the NHL last season.

With Hart, the Flyers can hope that he merely puts last season behind him, and regains his form in 2021-22. A rebound isn’t out of the realm of realism.

Still, between Jones and Hart, there’s a lot of wishful thinking. The Flyers must be thinking “Carter Hart can’t be this bad again in 2021-22.” In the case of Jones, they have to hope that Jones wasn’t this bad — it was just about the Sharks.

Goalies are unpredictable, so who knows? But Martin Jones has been wallowing for years now. That ugly -11.71 GSAA is actually his highest mark from the last three seasons. With so much on the line, the 2021-22 Flyers might regret the dubious insurance policy they took out in net.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Would it be a bold Flyers offseason without spending to the salary cap? In that Holmgren spirit, it’s not clear if the Flyers will get what they’re paying for. But they’re not being shy about opening up that wallet.

Some moves look more promising than others.

It’s tough to blame the Flyers for signing Sean Couturier to a contract extension. In the early years of an extension that kicks in next season, Couturier should be well-worth that raise to $7.75 million.

And, for all of Carter Hart’s struggles, it’s not hard to understand the $4 million investment in the 23-year-old. (If it doesn’t work out, the contract expires after 2023-24. If it does, the Flyers retain RFA leverage.)

Joel Farabee could easily be a steal when his $5 million kicks in during the 2022-23 season. (That said, it seemed like Travis Konecny was a big steal. Then he ended up a fixture in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse.)

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Plenty of GMs risk the future in hopes that long-term deals will pay off in the present. The Flyers have to hope that Chuck Fletcher’s big swings pay off where they didn’t make contact often enough with the Wild.

There are still some lingering decisions, however.

  • Claude Giroux (33, $8.275M cap hit) enters a contract year. The Flyers are wisely taking a wait-and-see approach. Will they make the right call?
  • Rasmus Ristolainen (26, $5.6M) also heads toward a pivotal contract year. Will the Flyers make the right call here if it’s clear he simply isn’t worth a big contract? If he turns things around, how much will he cost? Tricky stuff.
  • With two years remaining at $7M, James van Riemsdyk’s future is also unclear.

Overall, the Flyers’ salary cap situation is a mix of good and bad. If there’s one undeniable thing, it’s that this isn’t a cheap operation. Don’t be surprised if patience dries up along with this team’s cap space.

Breakout Candidate

Morgan Frost

Let’s assume that Joel Farabee’s already broken out. His advancement might sneak up on people, but not Flyers management. You don’t get a $5 million extension based on potential alone.

Where Farabee feels safe to the point of cheating, betting on a Morgan Frost breakout is a gamble.

That’s not meant to insult the player. Instead, there’s apprehension about what he’s gone through. A shoulder injury derailed a key developmental season for Frost. While there’s an opening with Kevin Hayes recovering from surgery, it may be tough for Frost to hit the ground running.

The talent’s there, whether Frost breaks out for the Flyers in 2021-22, or needs more time.

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Flyers

Carter Hart enjoys a brilliant rebound, and Jones regains his confidence enough to be a solid backup. Those big changes translate into a dynamic defense. Vigneault pushes all the right buttons, including rekindling what was once a deadly power play. The Flyers make a legit push to win their division, and rank as a dangerous playoff opponent.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Flyers

Hart and Jones are basically as porous as they were last season. The Flyers regret ignoring the red flags with Ristolainen. Injuries greatly limit Ellis, who was once borderline-elite. Remember those meltdowns against the Rangers? That happens far too often, and against far too many foes. The Flyers fail in 2021-22, and then make a bunch of panic moves as a result.

PointsbetPhiladelphia Flyers’ Stanley Cup odds

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL season (Part 2)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue counting down the 30 biggest storylines to watch across the league for the 2021-22 season.

We are looking at 10 storylines each Monday until the start of the season. We continue today with storylines 20-11, including looks at the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, the top rookies, pending free agents, the salary cap, and new Stanley Cup contenders.

[You can read Part 1 here]

What stories make the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

20. The Philadelphia Flyers offseason. Now this is the type of offseason you expect from the Flyers. Big moves! Bold moves! Maybe even crazy moves! The trades for Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson have the potential to be huge additions, but the Rasmus Ristolainen trade is a little difficult to figure. Do they think they can turn his career around? Of course, all of these moves will be rendered pointless if Carter Hart does not play better in goal this season.

19. What do the Montreal Canadiens do for a repeat? The Canadiens shocked the NHL by making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final. Carey Price found the fountain of youth and helped lead them to upsets over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas before running into the Tampa Bay Lightning buzzsaw.

They are bringing back a very different roster, however. Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are gone, Tomas Tatar left in free agency, Shea Weber will not play this season, while Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, and David Savard join the team. They are also getting Jonathan Drouin back after he missed most of the 2020-21 season and all of the playoffs. They also have potential breakout seasons for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield to look forward to. But is this roster good enough to even get back in the playoffs in a tough division?

18. The salary cap situation in the NHL. We are still looking at a situation in the league where salary cap increases are going to be minimal in the coming years. There are obvious ramifications for contending teams close to the cap and with pending free agents to sign. It could also make more players available in trades and allow teams with excess salary cap space to utilize that in trades.

17. Potential unrestricted free agents. A lot of significant players are entering the final year of their contracts this season with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alexander Barkov, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, John Klingberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Mika Zibanejad leading the way. Many of those players will re-sign with their current teams. Some might even retire (Fleury? Bergeron?). But there are a few players that they could end up changing teams, including Forsberg, Hertl, Gaudreau, and maybe even Rielly.

16. The rookie of the year race. Always one of the more intriguing individual award races because it highlights new stars coming into the league. This year’s favorites have to include Caufield in Montreal, Spencer Knight in Florida, Moritz Seider in Detroit, Quinton Byfield in Los Angeles, and Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

[NHL Power Rankings: Calder Trophy candidates for 2021-22 season]

15. Can Islanders break through to the Stanley Cup Final? It has been three decades since the New York Islanders played in a Cup Final, but they are getting closer every year. They just can not seem to get over the final hurdle that is the Lightning, having lost to them two years in a row in the Eastern Conference Final/Semifinal round. They are bringing back mostly the same roster, but will have a full season of Kyle Palmieri, a returning Anders Lee, and the offseason additions of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention one of the league’s best coaches and a sensational goalie duo with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

Their regular season performances never look impressive. But they are probably one of the last teams you want to see in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs.

14. New York Rangers changes. The Rangers’ rebuild was not going fast enough for ownership, so a lot of changes were made this offseason in the front office, coaching staff, and even on the roster. Chris Drury takes over for Jeff Gorton in the GM chair, Gerard Gallant replaces David Quinn behind the bench, and the team attempted to get tougher this offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich, while also acquiring Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, and Barclay Goodrow. It is the Tom Wilson impact. The Rangers can say it is not all about Wilson all they want, but it is pretty clear that is what this is about. Is that the right step for a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate (Artemi Panarin), a Norris Trophy-winning defender (Adam Fox), and an impressive collection of young talent? We are about to find out.

In the end, though, the success or failure of this season will depend on the development of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin. If that quartet becomes impact players, the Rangers will be very good. If they do not, the Rangers’ rebuild will remain stuck in neutral.

13. Panthers becoming a Cup contender. This might be the first time ever that the Florida Panthers are entering a season with real, championship level expectations. This is a really good roster with a couple of All-Stars at the top of it (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) coming off the best regular season in franchise history They also added Sam Reinhart to the mix this offseason. If Spencer Knight can take over the goaltending job and play to his potential this could be a sleeper Cup team.

12. Can Avalanche get through Second Round ceiling. On paper the Colorado Avalanche might have the best team in the NHL. They are loaded from top to bottom with a deep, talented group of forwards, an excellent defense with young stars, and a strong goalie with the offseason addition of Kuemper. They have been Cup contenders and favorites for a couple of years now. But they remain stuck in the Second Round, having lost their three years in a row.

When a team like this can’t get through a particular round, or can’t take that next step, it is easy to get frustrated and think that some kind of change needs to happen. We heard it constantly with the Washington Capitals and how they needed to change and who they needed to trade. We heard it all the time with the Lightning. Eventually talent breaks through and wins. The Avalanche have the talent to get there. They just need to be patient and stick with the process and talent they have. It is championship caliber, and still has its best days ahead of it.

11. Can the Oilers finally take advantage of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are the two best offensive players in the world. They are both league MVPs, winning the award in three of the past five seasons. Most teams will go decades, maybe even their entire existence to this point, without getting one player like this, let alone two of them together at the exact same time. You can not waste that luck. The Oilers are wasting it. Badly.

They made some significant changes this offseason with the additions of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci. But even with that depth still looks suspect, as does this defense (largely due to the changes there with an aging Keith and Ceci replacing Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson), and they are counting on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to have another strong year when he has only had one good season in the past three seasons. Still a lot that can go wrong here, even with two megastars at the top of the lineup.

Nashville Predators 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Nashville Predators.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 31-23-2 (64 points) fourth place in Central Division
• Postseason: Lost in first round in six games to the Hurricanes
• Offensive leader: Roman Josi (48 games, eight goals, 25 assists, 33 total points)

• Free Agent Additions: Cody Glass (trade with Vegas), Philippe Myers (trade with Philadelphia), David Rittich
• Free Agent Subtractions: Ryan Ellis (trade to Philadelphia), Calle Jarnkrok (Seattle Kraken), Pekka Rinne (retirement), Erik Haula, Viktor Arvidsson (trade to Los Angeles)

Biggest question facing the Nashville Predators?

• What is their overall direction?

It is not really a question of an individual player or position, but a big picture outlook and what this team is hoping to accomplish in the short-and long-term. Nothing about their offseason approach seems to suggest they believe they are a contender right now. If they did, they would not have traded Viktor Arvidsson for draft picks. They would not have traded Ryan Ellis for two young players. They would not be entering the season with more than $10 million in salary cap space.

This is a team that has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years now, and as recently as the halfway point of this past season looked like a team in desperate need of a total rebuild. Then Juuse Saros started to play out of his mind and carried the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, pretty much by himself.

If they are going to rebuild, they need to commit to that. If they want to contend, they need to act like it. Being stuck in the middle with a “competitive rebuild” does not do anybody any favors and only pushes the next window for contention further down the road. No team wants that.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen contracts are not giving them a great return on their investment at the moment (more than $8 million per season each), and Roman Josi makes $9 million against the cap. Those are three significant contracts taking up space, and even with that the Predators still have more than $10 million in salary cap space this offseason.

Filip Forsberg‘s contract is up after this season so a decision needs to be made there, and a couple of other players will be due raises as restricted free agents (specifically, Luke Kunin). Finding a way out of Duchene and/or Johansen’s contracts would be helpful, but the salary cap situation is fairly manageable right now.

Breakout Candidate

• Cody Glass

Glass is one of the players acquired in the three-team Ryan Ellis trade, and he is getting a fresh start with the Predators. He showed a lot of potential in parts of two seasons with the Golden Knights and produced respectable numbers given his lack of ice time and limited role. The talent is there, and he should get an opportunity on a Nashville team that says it is looking to get younger.

Eeli Tolvanen is another player worth watching. The Predators have been waiting for him for a couple of years now and he showed signs of breaking out in his first full season. So while the long-and short-term future looks unsettled with this team they do have a couple of young players worth keeping an eye on.

Best-Case Scenario

It all revolves around Saros being able to duplicate his 2020-21 performance and play not only like a franchise goalie, but also one of the best goalies in the world. That is what got Nashville in the playoffs, and that is what it will need again. Without Ellis the defense is definitely taking a hit, and Pekka Rinne is no longer there to share the workload. All of that puts even more pressure on Saros. If Saros can play at a high level, and they get a boost from a healthy Forsberg, and maybe some big steps forward from Glass and Tolvanen they might have a shot to be a playoff team. Making the playoffs and a First-Round exit might be this team’s ceiling right now.

Worst-Case Scenario

They have had lousy special teams for two years now and lack impact players beyond Forsberg and Josi. If Saros regresses even a little bit it is going to expose all of the flaws that were hidden in the second half of last season. This is a tough division with Colorado, St. Louis, Dallas, and Minnesota at the top, and what should be an improved Chicago team all competing for playoff spots. Nashville does not have much margin for error here. Most goaltending dependent teams do not.

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