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2021-22 Nashville Predators Preview: Rebuilding on the fly

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Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) meets with goaltender Pekka Rinne (35) after an overtime loss against the Carolina Hurricanes in game six of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been many years since the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so the animosity between the two teams is nearly non-existent. After a season apart, the two teams will meet three times this regular season.

Where they left off

At the trade deadline, the Predators weren’t really buyers and they weren’t really sellers. The team made a single trade, acquiring veteran defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Ottawa Senators for prospect Brandon Fortunato and a 2023 seventh-round pick.

The addition didn’t make much of a difference. The Predators ended last season with a 31-23-2 record. They just barely squeaked into the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Central Division. That set the Preds up for a meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes.

While Nashville battled, they ultimately lost the series in six games.

When the playoffs ended and the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Predators’ front office decided it was time to rebuild and let the youth take over. On July 1, they traded Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2021 second-round pick and 2022 pick in the third round.

A few weeks later, they sent defender Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick. The team then flipped Patrick to the Vegas Golden Knights for Cody Glass.

The first-round exit also marked the end of an era for the Predators. Just weeks after the team’s ousting, long-time goaltender Pekka Rinne retired. Although Rinne spent the past few seasons sharing the net with Juuse Saros, he ended his career on a high note. He received the 2021 King Clancey Memorial Trophy, an award given every year to the player who exemplifies leadership qualities from both on and off the ice.

At the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, the Predators lost Calle Jarnkrok, a top-six forward.

2021 Entry Draft

Draft weekend gave the Predators plenty of picks to work with and they used them. Along with the team’s 19th overall pick, Nashville traded two second-round picks to gain the 27th pick overall.

With the 19th pick overall, Nashville selected Russian forward Fyodor Svechkov. Our friends at On the Forecheck are excited about Svechkov’s “...above-average intelligence on the ice, his defensive maturity, and his creativity in one-on-one battles.”

At 27th overall, the team selected forward Zachary L’Heureux. According to On the Forecheck, “In 2020-21, L’Heureux scored 19 goals and 39 points in 33 games for the Halifax Mooseheads. Among draft-eligible QMJHL forwards, L’Heureux led all of them in primary points per game (1.00) and was second in even-strength primary points per game (0.697).”

Since the team traded away both second-round picks to acquire L’Heureux, Nashville didn’t have another pick until the third round. They moved up a few spots, trading their third-round pick and fifth-round pick to select defenseman Anton Olsson at 72nd overall.

According to On the Forecheck, “Olsson won’t be confused for an offensive threat often, as he managed just four assists in 39 games with the Redhawks this season. But it’s impressive enough that Olsson earned that much ice time—just over 11 minutes per night—at 18 years old. Only two other draft-eligible defenders suited up for more than ten SHL games this season: Simon Edvinsson and Martin Schreiber.”

Nashville had three more picks in the draft, selecting defenseman Ryan Ufko at 115th overall, defenseman Jack Matier at 124th overall, and forward Simon Knak at 179th overall.

Roster

In free agency, the Predators made some small moves.

They chose not to re-sign pending unrestricted free agent Erik Haula. The forward later signed with the Boston Bruins.

Nashville added 29-year-old goaltender David Rittich to backup starter Juuse Saros. Rittich signed with Nashville for one year with a $1.25 million cap hit.

Nashville also signed forward Matt Luff to a one-year, two-way deal and former Sharks defenseman Matt Tennyson to a two-year, two-way deal. Both players are expected to start the season with Nashville’s AHL team in Milwaukee but could see time with the big club if there are injuries during the season.

With free agency behind them, the Predators took care of some RFA business.

Nashville re-signed Mikael Granlund to a four-year deal with a $5 million AAV. They came close to arbitration with both defenseman Dante Fabbro and goaltender Saros, but ultimately reached deals with both. Fabbro resigned for two years with a $2.4 million AAV, while Saros received a four-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5 million.

To round things out, the Predators re-signed forward Eeli Tolvanen to a three-year deal worth $1.45 million per year. Tolvanen finally broke into the Predators lineup last season, scoring 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 40 games. Six of those goals came on the power play.

All told, with Rinne ($5 million AAV) retiring, Haula ($1.75 million AAV) signing with Boston, and trading away Ellis ($6.25 million AAV) and Arvidsson ($4.25 million AAV), the Predators saved a ton of cap space and then spent it on the younger generation. CapFriendly reports that as of Sept. 12, the Predators still have just over $11 million in cap space.

According to Daily Faceoff, this is what the team will likely look like at the start of the season:

Forwards
Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Eeli Tolvanen
Mikael Granlund — Matt Duchene — Luke Kunin
Nick Cousins — Cody Glass — Philip Tomasino
Yakov Trenin — Colton Sissons — Mathieu Olivier

Defenders
Roman Josi — Philippe Myers
Mattias Ekholm — Alexandre Carrier
Mark Borowiecki — Dante Fabbro

Goaltenders
Juuse Saros
David Rittich

What can we expect in 2021-22?

Even though the Predators did a minor rebuild on the fly, they still have some great, young players and they have cap space if they want to make a run at the playoffs. They’re in a good place to compete for a playoff spot, even as divisions return to normal.

Whether they make it or not, there’s a bright spot for Preds fans. They get an outdoor game! If all goes to plan, the Predators will host the Tampa Bay Lighting on Feb. 26, 2022 at Nissan Stadium. This is the second outdoor game the Predators have participated in and the first one they have hosted.

The Sharks and Predators play three times this season. The first meeting is Oct. 26 in Smashville.