The Nashville Predators are, obviously, off to a rough start this season. With a record of 3-6-1 after ten games, it’s time to make an honest and fair evaluation of what’s keeping the team from reaching their full potential.

Forward Lines

I’ve already written about this topic twice, but it needs an update. After making major changes to the Predators forward line before the game against Washington, things didn’t go so well. When moving Granlund to the wing and Glass to center the second line didn’t yield immediate results, Hynes 3rd period lines looked like something out of a Mad Libs book:

That’s not a mistake, Zach Sanford is playing on a line with Granlund and Duchene. Notably, that’s Granlund, who played the previous two periods of hockey as a second line winger, playing back at center. That’s also Cody Glass, who was given two full periods of hockey at 2C to figure it out, then tossed back to the 4th line centering known offensive powerhouses Cole Smith and Michael McCarron. Unsurprisingly, these changes didn’t produce anything good either.

Against Edmonton, John Hynes returned the Predators 2nd line back to where it started at the beginning of the season:

Kiefer Sherwood started the season in this spot, but was moved after one and a half games. This time, he made it through about half of the game before taking two penalties and getting switched, once again, with Tolvanen.

It seems like the team has moved on from Sherwood as an NHL option as they waived him Wednesday, but that doesn’t solve this problem. Sherwood wasn’t the problem and neither are Cole Smith, Zach Sanford, or Michael McCarron.

The problem is the revolving door issue I’ve brought up before. Hynes seems so intent on continuing to give chance after chance after chance to AHL-level talent that when they don’t perform up to standards, you see an almost immediate reactionary move. This is the second time Tolvanen has been switched to the second line to replace Sherwood mid-game. At some point, if Tolvanen is your go-to when your AHL level player plays, well, like an AHL player in the NHL, you should just stick with Tolvanen.

Lines have to develop chemistry. Development happens over time; it doesn’t happen after two shifts at the tail-end of a sloppy, one-sided game. Believe it or not, the season is still young and there’s plenty of time for chemistry to develop. Had Tolvanen been left on the second line, the team would have an 8.5 game sample of Tolvanen-Johansen-Niederreiter by now.

Look back at that last tweet and see that Cody Glass’s reward for two periods as the second line center was to become a healthy scratch in the very next game. After a very heartwarming moment where Cody Glass was told that he made the NHL roster prior to the Global Series trip, the Preds have bounced him around from line to line or healthy scratched him. At some point, it would seem that even with a lack of trust in Glass and Tolvanen, they’d be better off playing on the 4th line developing chemistry each night than being thrown randomly into the lineup like darts at the balloon popping game at the county fair.

To really round things out, bring Philip Tomasino back up and stick him on that line and let the trio marinate for awhile with 12 minutes per night. Stick whoever you want on the second line with Niederreiter and Johansen, just leave them there for awhile. Or, trade a passel of AHL level forwards (there are plenty on the roster) for one NHL-caliber forward and let it play out. It’s got to be better than what we’re seeing each night.

The Predator Identity (or lack thereof)

John Hynes has been developing the Predators to fit a certain identity. It’s been one of his major talking points since he took over the team. The team certainly had an obvious identity last season–a hard charging, physical, grinding team that would wear the opposition down over time by forcing them to earn every inch of ice they got while making them think twice about going after a loose puck in the corner. While it’s true that identity didn’t line up very well with faster teams like Colorado, Carolina, and Edmonton, when combined with Vezina-caliber goaltending from Juuse Saros, it got the job done quite well.

The team still seems to favor this type of identity (see the 4th line in literally every game this season), but it’s not working very well. It doesn’t help that the most recent game was against Edmonton (one of those “speed” teams I already mentioned), but the other major concern is the lack of transitional speed. Most noticeably, the Predators seem to have a hard time transitioning from offense to defense. It seems like opponents have a very easy time entering the zone with possession. Forcing teams to dump the puck in or breaking up passes at the blueline have been a hallmark of the Predators defensive game, but it isn’t happening.

The biggest concern moving forward is if the physical, grinding game doesn’t yield positive results, you’re left with a slow team that struggles with transitional play. Slow teams that struggle in transition usually wind up in the draft lottery. Not exactly the identity anyone associated with the Predators organization is looking to embrace.

Top Talent

The Predators came into the start of last season after a summer where Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene were left unprotected for the Seattle expansion draft. Neither was chosen and there seemed to be a huge emphasis on getting big production from the highest paid players on the team. And that’s exactly what happened. Career years for Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, and Matt Duchene coupled with great years from Johansen and Mikael Granlund made the season for the Predators. It didn’t hurt that Juuse Saros, as mentioned earlier, played Vezina-caliber hockey.

This season, though still new, is a bit different:

Matt Duchene finished last season with 43-43-86, currently on pace for 16-57-73

Filip Forsberg finished last season with 42-42-84, currently on pace for 25-57-82

Roman Josi finished last season with 23-73-96, currently on pace for 8-41-49

Mikael Granlund finished last season with 11-53-64, currently on pace for 8-57-65

Ryan Johansen finished last season with 26-37-63, currently on pace for 33-16-49

Aside from Johansen eclipsing last season’s goals and Granlund barely matching last season’s over all points, things look pretty bleak. This is regression. People who pay more attention to stats than I do (like Alex Daugherty) have been concerned about the “regression monster” since the middle of last season. Unfortunately, it seems like career years last season may have likely been career years and the Predators are experiencing the woes of regression all at once, much like they experienced the opposite last season.

That overachievement, combined with stellar goaltending from Saros, may have overinflated the confidence in this team after last season. All of these issues crashing down at once could lead to very bad results.

It will be interesting to see who the Predators recall from Milwaukee, but one call up isn’t going to make or break the season. This season will be won or lost based on the way players are deployed and giving lines a chance to develop the chemistry that comes with familiarity. Once that chemistry develops, perhaps the team can embrace an identity that allows them to win games. If not, at least the players can get a head start on vacation and the team will have a chance at a high draft pick.

–featured image via Chris Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports–