Or, "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Variance". Merrick Wolfman back with a deep dive into the Predators descent, and rise.
Much has been said of the Nashville Predators start of the year. We are all aware of the 5-1, 6-2, 7-3 start, followed up by 1 win in 18 games. It’s overplayed and overdone. The league enjoyed their laugh.
Desperation swirled around the Preds and GM Scott Davidson seemed to be chasing his tail and not accepting defeat. The first 27 games of this year led to a league-worst 7-16-4 record.
Everyone has watched this sideshow with a cheeky grin. None more than Vancouver GM Aaron Sanderson. GM’s actually reached out to GM Davidson on the regular. Some sincere with condolences also not understanding the state of the Predators, others with advice and ideas, and some with what came across as actual charity trying to offer pieces in trade that they truly felt would help.
But as frustration mounted, Davidson finally seemed at peace with the situation. He, after a brief reflection of the job done by Rick Tocchet, came out and gave him a vote of confidence and committed to him remaining as Preds head coach.
So now we sit on day 109, 55 games now into the inaugural BEARD season, and the Preds are coming off of a 3-2 victory against the Devils. This on the heels of a 5-3 loss to the Avalanche, which was their second consecutive loss (2-1 OT loss to Arizona) at the time. Now, there is a different attitude in Nashville.
The league is aware that the Preds have been better of late, winning games here and there. I am sure GM’s have noticed the odd victory in great thanks to the Meme’s created by Buffalo GM and league Co-commissioner Thomas Gidlow (editor's note: wow LOL), but just how the Preds fared may surprise some people.
Would it surprise many to hear that in the second 27 game stretch of this season, that is games 28-54 on the Preds schedule, they have gone 15-10-3 for a winning percentage of .536. This would translate to 3rd place in the Pacific division but only a wildcard position in the death division of the Central.
I will keep this to the West because, well we all know the East is the ECHL of the BEARD league. Break in down even further to the past 23 games and the Preds are 14-7-2 even with 2 recent losses in the past three contests. This is a winning percentage of .609 which would put the Preds just below the Coyotes and second in the Central.
So what happened in Nashville? Where is this recent surge coming from? I hesitate to call it a streak because it's been really half of the season as we stand today. Who are the Preds really? Is it too little too late? What are the goals in Nashville now? What caused this turnaround? So many questions as the season pushes into its final 27 games.
So let us take a quick look back at day 54 (Feb 18th) or thereabouts and see what changed:
· Feb 17 - Stripdown begins with dumping Joel Edmundson for a 2nd round pick and farm goalie Chad Johnson
· Feb 18 - Jarred Tinordi claimed from waivers
· Feb 18 - Karson Kuhlman added from the Isles for a 4th
· Feb 19 - Jordan Weal sent to the Isles for a 4th
· Feb 24 - Brad Marchand traded for from the Devils for Vlad Tarasenko, plus
· Feb 26 - Dillon Heatherington claimed from waivers
· Mar 4 - Filip Forsberg traded for from the Sens for Teuvo Teravainen
· Mar 5 - Cedric Paquette returns from injury
· Mar 6 - Oliver Ekman-Larsson shipped out for Nathan Beaulieu, Nick Ritchie, and futures to SJ
· Mar 15 - Beaulieu and Chad Johnson sent back out for Farm help in Dion Phaneuf and future goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
· Mar 15 - Martin Jones sent to LA, for Oscar Sundqvist, Luke Clendening, and Jon Gillies.
· Mar 16 - Louis Domingue promoted to Pro
· Mar 24 - Alex Wennberg sent to St. Louis for Nathan Bastian
· Mar 29 - Leon Draisaitl, Max Domi moved to the Rangers for Mark Scheifele, Jakub Chychrun
· Mar 29 - Potential first overall moved out to LA for future starter Igor Shesterkin
· Mar 30 - Brandon Sutter claimed from LA
· Apr 15 - Torey Krug added from St. Louis for Futures
Looking at the progression, the early moves into this stretch were of cost cutting measures and adding in minor pieces to fill holes. Then the focus changed into big time shake up for players we wanted for NEXT YEAR.
Brad Marchand was brought in to be the leader he is and will be a lock on the Preds moving forward. In the 25 games since his arrival, the Preds are 13-9-3 and Brad has 22 pts in that time.
Filip Forsberg was then added as well looking to next season in another huge move. In Forsberg’s 21 games as a Pred he has 16 points and the team is 12-7-2.
After the acquisition of these two big time wingers, Davidson went once again into cost cutting mode (Ekman-Larsson) and put a massive focus into the farm team adding veterans, Phaneuf, Clendening, Gillies, Dillon Heatherington, and the young Bastian, who has yet to play due to injury. This farm focus was intentional as an effort to try and push the farm team towards the playoffs and to strengthen those around the young developing players in Colin White, Anders Bjork, Daniel Torgersson, Luke Evangelista and Tyler Foerster.
Having what we felt was a young goalie to develop on the farm in Luukkonen and a veteran to help him along in Gillies, it was time to move on from Martin Jones to not only save cash but bring in pieces that may also be moved for more futures and allow Louis Domingue to fill that void for a written off season.
Louis Domingue had played well on the farm having a 14-10-1 record for Milwaukee but his effect on the Pro team wasn’t expected. At that time the Preds were just looking to ride out the year and put together a team we felt could contend next season.
Domingue since his promotion has been very solid going 4-2 with a .907 save percentage and a shutout playing along with Marcus Hogberg who has been a solid backup all year even during the debacle going 10-8 on the year with a .908 save %. Since Jones was shipped out of town, the Preds have gone 8-6-2 with much lower rated goalies.
That early surge after Jones departure seemed to reinvigorate Davidson, as both the Pro and Farm teams were playing well. Still with focus on next season primarily, two massive deals hit Nashville on the same day on 87. Draisaitl and Domi out and Scheifele and Chychrun in.
Chychrun was added as our NHL rerate as he is having an incredible NHL season and will be a top defenceman for us next season, while Scheifele is a only slight downgrade from Leon and having a fantastic BEARD season made this trade an easy one to make.
The same day our first round pick was moved to bring in Igor Shesterkin, who is projected to be our backup next season while we add a free agent goalie to carry the load. This is being done with the intent that Shesterkin would be an NHL rerate candidate the following offseason if he doesn’t project to number 1 in re-ratings.
Davidson was finally in a place feeling good about his team again. Having Chychrun to anchor the D, an incredibly deep group of forwards and now a defence corps that looks like a Pro D now with Cam Fowler and Tyler Myers in the group, and Matt Grzelcyk on the rise. Wins kept piling up and the Preds threatened to climb out the basement.
No longer owning our first round pick, now the goal is to push as hard to the playoffs as possible while not messing with next season’s lineup. Brandon Sutter was added from waivers and has played well. Torey Krug coming available fits both this year and next year’s needs. Krug fits into the top 4 easily and is signed beyond this season.
One other very intriguing part of the Preds season is a 3rd line player who has missed a good chunk of the season. Cedric Paquette started the year in a checking role on the 4th line. The team was 5-1-1 before his injury. He has since returned and now played in 27 games registering 13 points playing mostly a 3rd line role and top PP and is a +8 on a team filled with negative +\- guys.
The teams record in games with Cedric Paquette in the lineup, is an incredible 16-8-3 for a .648 winning percentage. The team with Paquette out of the line-up is 5-18-4 for a .259 winning percentage! Shocking!
Can one player be the absolute cost of an entire franchise’s season? Perhaps it's as simple as a Cedric Paquette knee injury? This could be true and the numbers speak to it. Maybe the rest is window dressing? Or maybe, the mix is finally right.
Clearly to me the biggest factors are that even though Jones was a better rated goalie he certainly didn’t show it. The move of Jones out, and an almost completely different defence corps, along with the addition of Marchand and Forsberg seem to be the biggest factors. Draisaitl out and Schefele in did little to derail the progress (6-3-2 since that deal) made by the other acquisitions and is regarded more as a lateral move with huge next year potential.
So with all that now said, enjoy the final ⅓ of the BEARD season and anything can yet happen. Even if playoffs aren’t in the Preds future given the absolute arms race in the Central let alone the West, one thing is sure. This edition of the Preds is much more fun to watch, much more spirited, with better morale and a unified goal in mind……..
.....to destroy Thomas’s lottery odds on the Nashville pick!
Until next time, Merrick “Schmerick” Wolfman...out!