There’s No Happiness as a Preds Fan, Only the Mirage of It Upon the Horizon
By Clay Brewer
With this now being the fourth off-season since the incredible 2017 Stanley Cup final run, once again Preds fans have more questions than answers. This article will be no different, but I seek to bring a different perspective (starting from where it began) to the ever-growing question for all of us down south, “What in the hell happened?”
Let’s Step Back
Fire Trotz! Fire Poile! We just can’t get over the hump. It’s time to blow it up. April 14, 2014, Trotz is fired. May 6, 2014, Preds hire Peter Laviolette.
This is it! We’ve made it! Finally, an offensive coach and no longer the boring defensive nature of Trotz. Preds lose in 2014-2015 in 6 to the Blackhawks and the Sharks in Game 7 in 2015-2016. Both hard fought series, thus progress is here and success upon the horizon. In 2016-2017 they reached the apex becoming Western Conference Champions before losing to the Pens in Game 6 of the finals. But we had so many injuries, keep the boys together and we’ve got it.
The typical finals loss hangover was nonexistent the next year. The 2017-2018 regular season would be the Preds best yet, amounting to a 52-18-11 record to claim the President’s Trophy. The future is bright, so we thought. Instead, we found ourselves in a too close for comfort 6 game series with the Avs and an eventual elimination to the hands of the Jets in only 5 games.
We’re all sitting at home and a few months later on June 7, 2018, Trotz and the Capitals lift the Stanley Cup. It now comes full circle that those clairvoyant fans yelling Fire Trotz were, in fact, morons? But maybe it’s not that simple.
One more shot for Lavy, a first-round knockout and an odd 2019-2020 season resulted in the Fire Trotz crowd now having a new target for their ire. He was fired in January 2020 to be replaced by Hynes and a pandemic.
Trotz now has a Cup and Preds fans have now seen the golden age of Preds hockey phase out in three consecutive opening round series and a game of musical chairs of coaches and trades that continue to give us hope for happiness just ahead on the horizon. Yet the mirage continues. So…what are the hopes for this off-season with an expansion draft and yet again another mid-round pick that keeps us average once again, never having a true generational talent.
One would have thought that keeping the core together after the 2017 finals would have been the golden ticket, in fact, this is what happened and the players pushed hard for it. To go 6 games with the defending champions with key players such as Johansen, Ellis, and Fisher either out or significantly injured was a feat in and of itself. Not to mention such injuries led to Colton Sissons being our first line center lined up against either Crosby or Malkin. I love Sissons and his grit, but one would be far-fetched to call that an ideal matchup.
Off-Season 2021 And Where We Are
Preds management has some serious decisions to make, and Preds fans are as frustrated as ever. The most significant decisions surround the expansion draft (here primarily the Johansen and Duchene debate) and those approaching unrestricted free agency this year and next. The futures of Carrier and Fabbro among others are a whole other topic that likely warrant their own entire discussion in the near future.
UFAs This Year and Next
As for unrestricted free agents, questions undoubtedly arise around resignings, or not, of UFAs Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, and Pekka Rinne keeping in mind that after the 2021-2022 season Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, and Mattias Ekholm will be UFAs with Forsberg and Ekholm due a significant pay increase from their current team-friendly hits of $6m and $3.75m, respectively.
Saros had an impeccable year, but I do not see him being a steadfast number one that can bring this team over the top. He had a career year for even NHL standards, granted the stats below demonstrate against who primarily. Pekka is a Nashville legend who is likely to be the first Pred to have his number retired in Smashville but bringing him back for sympathy reasons does not make sense if the team is wanting to compete. Ilya Askarov is a shining hope, but the mirage continues as he won’t even chance the NHL waters for a few years anyways.
Granlund tested free agency last summer and ended up back in Nashville for another year. He would be a strong addition to bring back if the price remains low, he’s arguably been the best performer in Hynes’ new system. Jarnkrok is average, never doing anything great and never doing anything detrimental. It may be time to let him go, a possible expansion candidate?, and open up for new blood. Here comes the should have kept Neal crowd! Love you guys. Forsberg is likely the best player the Preds have ever had. He’s on a cheap deal right now, but the Preds best do anything in their power to ensure his return. Thus, a temporary rebuild is warranted but not a blow-up, you have a Norris trophy winner on the back end for goodness sake! Ekholm was on the shopping block during trade deadline, but Poile took the gamble to push. The business of hockey finds this decision to be excellent, the hockey business . . . perhaps not so much. He is also due a considerable pay raise next summer. However, with another year, he could be a good candidate for a team to pick up at the deadline next summer for a strong push. We shall see how next February plays out. As for me, keeping Ekholm, Ellis, and Josi permits Preds nation to maintain its strong back-end that it has always been known for. Then again, the age-old question returns, where does the scoring come from? Could you imagine the talent of the Preds being parlayed with a McDavid, McKinnon, Matthews, Hughes, or anyone even close to this caliber? Would a player like this warrant a 40point 82-game season? I’d wager, yes . . . even though I hate losing with a passion. It’s what is needed. But being average will produce average picks resulting in average results, average is what Preds are good at. Something must change. Maybe we should part with the mirage of happiness and bring on full sadness before we can try once again for glory. Once again, I’m a risk taker, so I’d wager . . .
Expansion . . . Again and the Return of the We Should Have Kept Neal Crowd
As for expansion, Johansen and Duchene become the obvious choices to send off with their massive cap hits of $8m. With Joey going through the 2024-2025 season when he will be 33 years old and Duchene going through the 2025-2026 season when he will be 35 years old. There doesn’t seem to be any other candidates unless there becomes some sort of wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, but the way Vegas has come out of the gate, teams seem to be less willing to do such a thing and set up a new franchise for such similar success so quickly. This is another story that makes me already hate to love Vegas, but money talks. It’s better to make a decisive move rather than try to navigate the hard cap we are to experience for some time in a post-Covid world.
Johansen is younger than Duchene and looking back at Joey’s performance in the 2017 playoffs and this past playoff, it is hard to not keep his upside in the back of your mind. When he is clicking, there’s no stopping him with his size and skill. But when he is absent, he’s really absent. He’s a British Columbia native, so would this fact make any difference at all when it comes to Seattle?
Duchene is older and has been averagely consistent most of his career. Flashes of brilliance make him an incredible talent, but he’s never been the massive scorer that his skill and name recognition make him out to be. He has a young family, loves country music, and is adamant on retiring in Music City. His performance has been average, yet his performance when it counted this playoff season was noticeably impressive. But resulted in nothing so how do you gauge?
Would these intangibles for both players matter at all? Many would probably call me an idiot, but I think these are questions that are reasonable to ask and consider. Everything matters from the mental health of the player both on and off the ice. Probably even more so off the ice considering it would translate directly to on.
There’s so much to talk about this off-season, but I find it most beneficial to set the stage first. Everything in the moment seems so obvious, and then again even more obvious in hindsight but with an opposite conclusion. The Turris trade (losing Sam Girard and well Turris was a disaster), the one-for-one Subban and Weber (ehhh depends on the year), Johansen and Jones (Jones is a top D-man but a top center was needed), the signing of Duchene after so many tries (you want what you want), and Fiala for Granlund (he just wasn’t producing and Granlund has been a top performer under Hynes). Sure, some may have hated the trades at the outset, but if you’re honest like I try to be . . . I was genuinely a fan of all of these, with some Duchene hesitation though I would admit. Now, I am willing to admit I was wrong, but we went for it.
But for now, I’ll set it up for the next article where I seek to provide answers to the many questions presented here.
What exactly does blowing it all up mean? Is it time to do that? Is consistently average good for business? I mean making the playoffs this year was most definitely beneficial with the full arena than not, right? Management has blown up the coaching staff, is the front office next, or the players? The core had their shot it appears. Is it now time to say goodbye to Poile? It pains me to write this because he’s an incredible person and executive, but he is the all-time winningest GM yet has never won anything . . .
But for now, I’ll leave you with this past season’s statistical breakdown. We made the playoffs . . . but yikes it wasn’t pretty. Maybe not even worth it . . .
Points: 64 (4th in Central)
Goals For: 156
Goals Against: 154
Record Against Playoff Teams: 7-16-1
Record Against Non-Playoff Teams: 24-7-1
Carolina: 2-5-1 Florida: 3-6 Tampa: 2-6
4-2 L 6-5 OTW 4-3 L
4-2 L 2-1 L 5-2 L
3-2 OTL 5-4 L 4-1 L
5-1 L 6-2 L 6-1 L
4-1 L 2-1 W 6-3 L
3-1 L 2-0 L 4-1 W
3-1 W 4-1 W 3-0 L
5-0 W 7-4 L 7-2 W
Dallas: 5-3 Chicago: 7-0-1
7-0 L 3-2 OTW
3-2 L 2-1 SOW
4-3 SOW 3-1 W
4-3 SOW 3-2 W
3-2 OTW 3-0 W
4-1 L 5-2 W
3-2 SOW 5-4 OTL
1-0 OTW 3-1 W
Detroit: 6-2 Columbus: 6-2
3-2 W 3-1 W
4-2 L 5-2 W
2-0 W 3-0 L
5-2 L 4-2 W
2-0 W 2-1 W
7-1 W 3-1 W
3-2 SOW 4-3 OTW
7-1 W 4-2 L