Thirty-three games into the season, the upstart Nashville Predators have been one of the pleasant surprises in the NHL.
After a 5-10 record through the first 15 games, the Predators are 14-4 in their last 18 games — a stretch that included separate win streaks of six and four games. Is the Predators current pace of play sustainable? When will a Tyson Barrie trade happen? Is anyone else on the trade block?
You had questions and I have answers for you in this week’s Nashville Hockey Now mailbag:
Q: What position would you try to upgrade in a trade scenario? Would you sign [Juuse] Saros long term and trade (Yaroslav) Askarov or go in all-in on Askarov? (@JesseT2012)
MG: I don’t believe the Predators should be looking to upgrade any position because doing so would mean they’d be parting with assets they should be holding onto. The only reason you look up upgrade any position would be to gear up for a playoff run, which they shouldn’t be worrying about in a transition year.
As far as Saros goes, I’ve always been of the mindset if choosing between a proven commodity and the potential of another, you go with the player you know is already good. Barry Trotz has already said he plans to meet with Saros’ agent over the summer and hash out an extension, and I expect the route they take is riding Saros, promoting Askarov and having a 1A-1B situation like they did with Saros and Pekka Rinne from 2016 to 2021.
Q: What is a random rule change you’d like to see take place, even if it’s absurd? (@SleepyRon29)
MG: I would like to see the league make referees available to speak with reporters after games just like the players and coaches. If a player makes a bone-headed play, or a coach makes a questionable lineup decision, they have to answer for it. Why not make referees do the same? I just can’t wrap my head around letting non-players possibly affect the outcome of a game and not have to take accountability for it.
Q: Who will be a better NHLer, (Joakim) Kemell or (Fedor) Svechkov? (@GenieRissler1)
MG: While I believe both will be really good NHL players, I’m going to go with Kemell. Both have eight goals, and Kemell is third on the Milwaukee Admirals in scoring (19 points) while Svechkov is fifth (15 points). Svechkov has been a pleasant surprise, showing a well-rounded skillset and flashing top-line center potential. But Kemell has been on a heater lately, scoring four goals and 11 points in his last seven games, and showcasing elite, top-of-the-lineup scoring ability. His shot from the slot is lethal, and he’s going to look really good scoring goals in Nashville’s lineup next year.
Q: What letter grade would you give the Preds for the season so far? In your estimation, what needs improvement?(@MrEd315)
MG: Before I answer, I’d like to point out that only four teams in the NHL have more wins than the Predators right now — the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights. I’d also like to point out the Predators are just four points out of first place in the Central Division, and they’re one of just three teams without an overtime loss as well. So for those reasons, I’d give them an A. Had they occupied one of the top three spots in the Central, it’d be an A+.
Q: Seems like there were no good offers for (Tyson) Barrie and he is back in the lineup. Has everyone forgiven, forgotten, and moved on, or…. (@BraddPro)
MG: The Barrie drama is far from over. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to be in Nashville, Trotz has made it clear he doesn’t really fit with the direction the organization is heading, and both sides clearly need some distance from one another. I wouldn’t read Barrie being back in the lineup as any sort of deterrent to a trade either. Trotz has made it known he’s calling teams and gauging interest, but the problem is only a handful of them have the cap space to take on Barrie’s contract. I do think a deal gets done sometime in the next few weeks, but Trotz is clearly being diligent about making sure any potential deal makes sense for the Predators and isn’t done solely to accommodate Barrie.
Q: Any of (Philip) Tomasino, (Cody) Glass, (Juuso) Parssinen, (Tommy) Novak, (Yakov) Trenin or (Kiefer) Sherwood getting moved before trade deadline? I mean their value is all time high right now thanks to (Andrew) Brunette(@BerggquistMax)
MG: The only players on Nashville’s roster that I would anticipate being moved at or before the trade deadline are Barrie (for reasons mentioned above) and one of Alex Carrier or Dante Fabbro because of the defensive logjam the Predators currently have and the desire to get Spencer Stastney a more full-time role in the NHL. All of the players mentioned minus Sherwood are 26 or younger and are considered part of the team’s new core of players.
Q: How will the games be streamed/broadcast next season with Diamond Sports returning the broadcast rights back to the NHL? Can we expect a different broadcast crew? (@Grumpy_Ol_Shag)
MG: This situation is fluid and I don’t believe anything has been or will be finalized until after the season ends. It was recently announced that Predators games will continue to be broadcast on Bally Sports for the rest of the 2023-24 season and then the television rights will revert back to the NHL. I’m sure the league is working with the 11 teams that stream their games on Bally Sports to come up with a plan for the 2024-25 season. I can’t imagine the current Predators broadcast crew of Willy Daunic (play-by-play) and Chris Mason (color analyst) will be going anywhere.
Q: There has been a lot of talk around trading D (Fabbro, Carrier and Barrie) but what forward(s) do you think could be on the block? (@Jolt3R)
MG: I don’t believe any forwards are on the block. The Predators are playing great, Saros appears to have figured things out, Brunette’s system is paying off in spades, and the team appears to finally be gelling. If forced to pick, however, I’d say Gustav Nyquist is the likeliest forward to be traded. Even still, I’d put that at about a 10% chance of happening, and that’s solely because he could potentially bring back a solid draft pick and/or prospect closer to the deadline, and Nashville has plenty of players in the AHL — Kemell, Egor Afanasyev, Denis Gurianov — that could step in to fill his role.
Q: Trotz wants secondary scoring. Who could he target? (Andrei) Kuzmenko? Any shot he goes for a guy like (Jake) Guentzel? He’s 29 but would pair well with Forsberg/O’Reilly. What prospects would you give up for someone like Guentzel in order to compete while Josi/Forsberg are in their primes? (@Casey__Weeks)
MG: Again, I don’t think trading for a scorer is in the cards. The point of this season is to evaluate and see what the team has in its young players (Evangelista, Parssinen, Tomasino, Novak) while deciding which veterans (Sherwood, Colton Sissons, Michael McCarron, Cole Smith) are worth keeping around to mentor the young guns. Adding another piece only creates more of a logjam in the lineup and will likely cost some form of draft compensation or a prospect.
That said, if the Predators were to trade for a scoring forward, Kuzmenko is intriguing. He’s just 27, he’s making a modest $5.5 million per year, he’s under contract through 2024-25, and he’s a 39-goal scorer. Because of those reasons, his asking price is likely steep. If the Predators could land him for either Barrie or Fabbro plus one of their extra third- or fourth-round picks in 2024, then I say go for it.
I’d stay far away from Guentzel. He’s 29, will be a UFA at the end of the season, and frankly, I have reservations about his ability to score 30 goals when he’s not playing next to Sidney Crosby.
Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_