The Nashville Predators recently wrapped up their season following a blowout loss in game seven of the western conference semifinals. Nashville demonstrated poise throughout their playoff run, defeating the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the first round, a round in which many experts picked the Ducks to win. However, were the Predators a year away from making a serious run, like the “experts” were predicting?
As many people know, the Predators play in the central division, the toughest division in hockey. Nashville finished the season with 96 points, well enough for them to gain the first wildcard spot. This matched them up against the Ducks, who finished with 103 points, which put them in first for the pacific division. However, had the Ducks played in the central they would have been in the third spot. Essentially, the Predators were accustomed to playing really good teams on a regular basis, so that playing pacific division teams, in theory, should have meant they were on an even playing field, aside from the extended travel to get to and from California. Therefore, the narrative that Nashville did not stand a chance against the pacific division playoff teams was an oddity, and to the surprise of many, Nashville took care of business in the first round, despite being down 3 games to 2 at one point. A team that is a year away from being able to really compete for a Stanley Cup Championship does not make it as deep as Nashville did.
Another reason the Predators were not a year away, is the fact that their star players are not getting any younger. Pekka Rinne, the superstar goalie for Nashville, is currently 33 and will turn 34 during the 2016-17 season. This is not a knock at his ability because he played the largest role in why the Predators made it as far as they did, making spectacular saves left and right. The fact of the matter is that he is currently in his prime, and it is impossible to tell how much longer that will last. Four other players who are starting to get up there in age include Mike Fisher, Barret Jackman, Mike Ribeiro, and the captain, Shea Weber. It is safe to say Fisher is past his prime, but throughout the playoffs he was still playing some phenomenal hockey. Nevertheless, at 35 years old it is hard to tell how much longer the veteran will be able to keep this style of play going. Lastly, Shea Weber, who will be 31 by the time the next season starts, shows no signs of slowing down, despite playing in probably the worst game of his career against the Sharks in game 7. This was more than likely due to fatigue, but the fact remains that Weber’s age will slowly start to creep up on him in the future. Now it is very possible that all of these players come out and have career years next season, but as the old adage goes, “Father time is undefeated.”
Before the playoffs started, it was assumed the Predators had a solid core of players set to make a deep run. While some players’ game did not carry over into the playoffs in terms of production, such as Ribeiro and Forsberg; others stepped up and in a big way too. Colin Wilson, most notably, had a huge increase in production. During the regular season Wilson scored just six goals in 64 games, whereas in the playoffs he scored five goals in 14 games to go along with his team high 13 points. James Neal and Mike Fisher also were huge producers, but that was expected as they had been playing at a high level all season. Ryan Johansen, whom Nashville acquired midseason via a trade with Columbus, also performed well tallying eight points in the playoffs. Add this to the fact that the Predators have the best d-pair in the NHL, and quite possibly one of the best second line d-pair in Ellis and Ekholm, Nashville had the roster necessary to go deep in the playoffs, and had a legitimate chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
So the question remains, why is Nashville still not playing if their team was good enough to win the cup? Fatigue could be taken into account, for Nashville traveled more miles than any other team in the playoffs, and they also played a game every other day since their playoff run began on April 15th, other than the extra day off before game 7 against the Sharks. This could be a reasonable excuse, but the real reason is they just flat out lost. That’s right, they got outplayed and lost to a very good San Jose team. The truth may hurt, but the fact is that good teams, even great teams, lose games they aren’t supposed to.
Now I’m not saying Nashville should have beaten the Sharks in game 7, but every player on their roster went into that game with the mindset that they were going to win. Just because they lost does not mean that next year is the year Nashville is supposed to be a real contender, although they very much should be. The effort and work Nashville put in this season should not be discredited just because they lost a heartbreaking game 7. The Nashville Predators were a serious contender this season and the idea that they were not is just absurd.