Following a surprisingly successful season, where they reached the playoffs after a horrible first two months, and following a familiar, disappointing first round exit in the playoffs, the Nashville Predators have a precarious offseason to navigate over the next few weeks.

At the Preds’ final press conference of the 2020-21 season on Thursday, David Poile and John Hynes laid out a consistent message about how they felt about this year’s progress and what they need to do to take the next step.

Here’s a rundown of everything we learned on Thursday.

David Poile is happy with direction of team

Perhaps the theme of the press conference on Thursday was David Poile’s belief that the Nashville Predators have an identity again. Poile, alongside John Hynes, mentioned this several times throughout the hour long availability, including at the very beginning of this comments.

“At the end of the last season, when we were in the bubble, I said that the results that we had were unacceptable and that we needed to make changes and to develop an identity,” Poile said. “Sitting here today, I’m definitely disappointed that the season is over, but I do believe that our changes helped bring us the identity that we wanted.”

While many of the changes they made in December were subtractions, like buying out Kyle Turris’s contract, he mentioned several additions that were instrumental in helping rediscover this identity. The addition of key veterans and the emergence of young forwards like Tanner Jeannot and Yakov Trenin were ones he mentioned specifically.

“We competed harder, we had urgency in our game. We became a tough team to play against,” Poile said of this past season’s squad.

It’s hard to argue with an intangible thing like “being tough to play against” though I imagine even most casual fans would agree with that sentiment. The team did have more “fight” in their game and the effort was never in question over the course of the season.

But the progress of this team from a championship attainment perspective has not changed. Three straight first round exits belie the confidence David Poile has in the team’s direction.

Some changes for next year’s Preds

Given that the team is no closer to winning a Stanley Cup than they were four years ago, David Poile admitted there would be changes to the Nashville Predators’ lineup for next year.

“Internally, we’ve started some evaluations,” Poile said. “So that’s going to continue for the next couple of weeks. I’m not ready to say what those changes are going to be for next year, but as we prepare to do that I think it’s fair to say we can expect some changes in our lineup.”

With eight unrestricted free agents and nine restricted free agents to deal with this summer, and only $17 million to work with, there’s almost no way there won’t be changes. Certain UFA’s seem destined for new homes (Luca Sbisa, Brad Richardson for example) while some RFA’s are in limbo as to their future (Dante Fabbro).

The other main obstacle is the upcoming Seattle expansion draft.

No indication on protection plans for Seattle draft

David Poile was tight lipped on the team’s plans for the expansion draft on July 21st.

“We need to have our [protection] list in by July 17th,” Poile said. “We are starting to work on that, in terms of meeting with our people and going over different scenarios and mock drafts. See what is available and what we want to do. There should be trades before that, so I certainly won’t be able to answer your questions right now as to who we are protecting or who we are leaving available.”

Poile added later that he had no interest in “tipping his hand” when it comes to the expansion draft. He did mention a desire to talk with Ron Francis, Seattle’s General Manager, and work a deal that would be mutually beneficial.

The possibilities for the Predators and the expansion draft are numerous, much more so than in 2017 with Vegas. I’ll be working on a few articles relating to the expansion draft in the coming weeks, but I can say this: David Poile is accurate in that there’s almost no way to predict how this thing will go with 6 weeks left before the draft.

RFAs Dante Fabbro, Juuse Saros will be key

When it comes to the Preds’ restricted free agents, there will be a big focus on getting them signed to bridge contracts as opposed to just CBA-required minimums.

Dante Fabbro, Eeli Tolvanen, and Juuse Saros are the three biggest pending RFAs, but don’t count out Rem Pitlick, Mathieu Olivier, and Tanner Jeannot as guys David Poile wants to sign as well.

“We have our work cut out for us to get a lot of those contracts done,” Poile said.

Dante Fabbro is an interesting case. While he’s only 22 years old and seems like a big part of the Preds’ future, he didn’t play a single minute of the six game series with Carolina. Alex Carrier seems to have passed him in the development track of young defensemen.

“Adversity reveals character,” Hynes said of Fabbro. “He didn’t get an opportunity to play in the playoffs, but I had several conversations with him. This kid’s a great teammate, he understood the situation that his play needed to be better.”

After the loss to Carolina in Game 6, Hynes was asked if Fabbro was a part of the team moving forward. He mentioned that Fabbro needed to have a great summer and come back ready to compete.

Hynes explained further what he meant by that on Thursday.

“He’s an average size defenseman, he’s a good skater, he moves the puck well. We really think if his speed and quickness have to get to another level, and his strength where he’s gonna be in situations where he can play against the Jamie Benn’s or the Nathan MacKinnon’s or the Gabriel Landeskog’s, Tyler Seguin and those guys in the hard areas of the ice. Dante’s a young guy and we really talked with him specifically about his speed, his quickness, and just getting physically stronger where he can compete in those areas on a regular basis.”

Increasing one’s speed and quickness and strength in one shortened offseason seems like a tall task. Given the challenge at hand for Dante Fabbro, I have my doubts that he will be a part of this roster moving forward, especially with the emergence of Alex Carrier.

Poile: “Identity” intact, now look to improve roster

“One thing I can say that the work done by John Hynes and his staff,” Poile said on Thursday, “is we do now have a clear identity, and I think that’s probably the most important thing that we accomplished this year.”

With the team’s “identity” seemingly in tact, the team needs to improve dramatically to be able to compete with teams like Carolina, Colorado, Vegas, and Tampa in the playoffs. Part of that, at least according to David Poile, will mean getting big forwards like Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen to improve their play in the regular season. Part of it will also mean leaning on younger forwards like Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino to make large leaps in development for next year.

“I think we all feel better, the way that the season played out this year, versus the previous two seasons. I believe we took some steps this season. I am encouraged with the development of our younger players that showed they can play and contribute. Their continued development will certainly make us better. I think as an organization we recommitted to ‘the Predator way’ and I give a lot of credit to John Hynes and the players for icing it.”

“But we’ll have to make some changes to continue to evolve, as we look to build on what we experienced this season in order to make and take the steps forward that we want to do.”

— Featured image via Russell Labounty/USA TODAY Sports —