The gut wrenching playoff exit the Predators experienced last season left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone involved with the team. Seeing them come so close to beating the eventual Stanley Cup champions while being shorthanded due to injuries wasn’t easy, but it gave many hope that a big step forward would be taken this season with the roster still mainly intact.
It’s no secret that hasn’t panned out thus far. The fear of Fisher and Ribeiro taking a step back in production has rung true, and the unexpected slide in Rinne’s success have, among other factors, contributed to the team fighting for a wild card spot instead of the division crown.
Many might think that is unacceptable and clearly a failed season unless they make a significant run in the playoffs. Fair, but it’s not all doom and gloom. The team is climbing to its apex and not falling from it. The roster’s age and construction lends to there being much better days ahead in the coming years.
Look no further than the transformation of the top three forward lines in just two years. While this is coming from a very short sample with Fiala and assumption of Wilson returning from injury in the near future, but a likely current third line would have been the top line two seasons ago.
A whole new top six has been added with only one significant loss in Patric Hornqvist. That’s kind of crazy to think about. In addition, only two of the nine forwards above are described as being past their prime. The backend of Josi, Ekholm, and Ellis are all entering their prime as premier defenseman. Wouldn’t that suggest the team is only going to become more successful in the next couple of years?
The window by no means is closing. An outside view of the team may see the long time faces of the franchise being on the wrong side of 30, and that causes angst in the thinking they have to succeed right now. But really, the team is building in a sustainable manner for years to come. Nashville has currently compiled the most talent it has ever dressed.
Yes, Weber won’t be at a top pair level forever, and there isn’t a replacement since the Jones trade, but Rinne isn’t currently playing at a level that suggest a huge drop off will occur when his career comes to a close. The path the Predators are heading towards will not force them to possess elite goaltending in order to compete with rest of the league. That has never been the case for Nashville.
This isn’t a call for Nashville to pack in the season and play for next year. Far from it. Who’s to say they don’t string a few win streaks together and find their groove? That’s absolutely not out of the realm of possibility.
However, let’s say they barely squeak into the playoffs and suffer an early exit. Many would clamor for this season to be labeled a huge disappointment, but the fact remains the roster is in a better shape now and moving forward that at any point in the 18 year history of the franchise.