The Nashville Predators limped into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak with losses in six of their last eight games.
The 10-day break couldn’t have come for a better time for an exhausted Predators team, who head coach Andrew Brunette described as “hitting the wall” because of the demanding nature of playing in his offensive system.
With 31 games left in the season and the Predators just two points back of the final wild-card spot, GM Barry Trotz has some decisions to make about the direction of the team with the trade deadline fast approaching.
You had questions and I have answers for you in this week’s Nashville Hockey Now mailbag:
(@lenzkyleymailc1) Question: Matt Larkin put out an article about trading Saros with a bunch of underwhelming returns. Say it was New Jersey or LA. What do you think a mock realistic return SHOULD be?
MG: I read that piece, and while I agree with Matt’s overall premise and reasoning for those trades, none of the trade packages that he proposed even come close to getting a deal done for Saros. I’ve checked several times over the last year and have been told every time that it will take a package of at least two top prospects plus a high draft pick to even get Trotz to have a conversation. That said, if New Jersey was throwing a package out, my best guess is it would take Simon Nemec and Alexander Holtz, the team’s No. 4 and 5 prospects according to The Athletic, plus a 2024 first-round pick and maybe another late-rounder. As far as the Kings go, it would likely take two of Quinton Byfield, Brandt Clarke or Arthur Kaliyev, the organization’s No. 1, 2 and 3 prospects, plus a first- or second-rounder. When I asked about why this deal fell through at last year’s trade deadline, I heard Nashville asked for both Byfield and Clarke.
(@grump_ol_shag) Question: According to some reports Casey Mittlestadt is kind of the odd man out in Buffalo. What would it take to acquire him in a trade and would he fit Brunette’s system?
MG: Considering he’s the Sabres’ leading scorer, I can’t imagine they’d be champing at the bit to trade him. He’s never turned into the elite center they hoped he’d be when they drafted him eighth overall in 2017, but he’s a solid player and he’s only 25. I don’t see him being a good fit with Brunette’s run-n-gun system because Mittlestadt is more of a passer and playmaker than he is a sniper or a strong skater on the rush. With this Predators team, he’d likely be about what Colton Sissons is but with a little more point production.
(@realzachmaddell) Question: A lot has been made about the Tomasino ice time and usage, but it seems like it stops at actually asking Bruno directly about his thoughts on Tomasino and specifically what is stopping him from top-6 minutes. Glass is another that hasn’t gotten tons of opportunity. What going on?
MG: Unfortunately, when that happened the team was on the road and all of the local reporters weren’t there because none travel to cover road games (the Tennessean might, but not as much as they used to). During the pandemic when the Predators were on the road, the communications department used to send us zoom links and we would have virtual post-games. I wish they would bring that back. When the team travels now, the only reporter that does post-game interviews is a team employee, and they certainly aren’t going to ask anything questions that even remotely rock the boat.
But I will say that Brunette was talked about Tomasino’s ice time and why he hadn’t been used much at the first home practice after the road trip. Brunette has also been asked multiple times about Glass, and he doesn’t really offer much more of an explanation than he’s not going what’s expected of him. I believe both are under-used and I would like to see them be put in better positions to succeed. I think moving Glass to the wing could be good for his confidence and take some of the pressure off his shoulders of having to perform like a top-six center. I also think Tomasino needs to be moved into the top six and start getting more minutes on the power play instead of being relegated to fourth-line purgatory.
(@jacobtitus18) Question: What’s a realistic potential trade that would immediately improve speed/offense? I like the (Senators) being a trade partner with tons of young pieces that would help our top six.
MG: Aside from landing Trevor Zegras, I don’t really think there is a trade like that out there, especially with Andrei Kuzmenko off the board. And honestly, the Predators shouldn’t be adding pieces right now (unless they’re young prospects that factor into the future), they should be selling some off. If you want to improve the team speed and offensive prowess, the best move Nashville could make would be to call up one or more of Egor Afanasyev, Joakim Kemell, Fedor Svechkov or Zachary L’Heureux. Afanasyev is NHL-ready and could stick in the lineup for the rest of the season. The other three still need some more seasoning, but giving them each a couple of games in the NHL could give good for their confidence and development.
(@seanpicklesimer) Question: On-ice product aside; why don’t the Preds ever do third jerseys? We had the mustard and navy alts in the past, but the moment we went gold the only new jerseys were WC, SS, RR. I thought with the 25th anniversary there could have been a chance to do a cool modern throwback.
MG: Third jerseys used to be much more commonplace during the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s. But aside from one-off events like the Winter Classic or Stadium Series, or special NHL initiatives like throwback night or reverse retro, most teams stick to their base-level uniform kit. And with the Predators being an organization that values tradition, there’s probably not really much desire for a third jersey.
— Michael Gallagher (@MGsports_) December 2, 2021
However, I will say bring back the all-navy jersey. Those were badass and need to be in the team’s permanent jersey rotation. NHL rules state any team that wears a third jersey must wear them between 12 to 15 times per season. Sign me up for double-digit games with the all-navies.
(@orangerob29) Question: Trotz said originally it was a 3-year plan, so I’ve got to assume if he’s buying at the deadline it’s young players. Who’s he most likely to target with Kuzmenko off the board now? Any chance he deals some forwards to make room for Milwaukee call ups?
MG: Aside from Colton Sissons, I don’t think any forwards on Nashville’s roster, at least ones it would be willing to part with, have much trade value. Of anyone not named Forsberg or O’Reilly, I think Tommy Novak would probably be the most sought after at the deadline but I can’t see Trotz moving on from him. Conversely, aside from Zegras, there’s not really anyone on the trade market that makes sense for the Predators to acquire. I do think Gurianov and Sherwood could be replaced with Afanasyev and another Admirals skater at some point though.
(@kingkairos2) Question: Should we be concerned with how this latest draft class is struggling? Molendyk looks amazing but all of the rest of the class seems to be having bad years.
MG: Aside from Felix Nilsson, who has just one goal and three points in 33 games in the SHL, I don’t really think the rest are struggling at all. Molendyk is tied for the ninth-most points among WHL defensemen (40). He’s also fifth on the Saskatoon Blades in points and leads his team’s defensemen in scoring. Matthew Wood has the second-most goals (8) and points (16) for UConn, which still has eight more regular-season games left plus the Hockey East Tournament plus the Frozen Four. Aiden Fink (15 goals, 32 points in 26 games) and Sutter Muzzatti (19 points in 26 games) were both named nominees for the Hobey Baker, and Fink is lighting up the scoresheet at Penn State. Kalan Lind has 31 points in 29 games in the WHL and Joey Willis has 38 points in 46 games in the OHL. I think everyone is pretty much on par with where the Predators scouting department expected them to be at this point (keep in mind, most of these kids are three to four years away from the NHL, at least).
(@berggquistmax) Question: In your opinion, what top-6 potential forwards are there in Milwaukee? I can only see Kemell and Svechkov. My point is that next year we need to take those guys up, hope it works out so we can make the playoffs in 2 years. Otherwise not trading Saros right now is just a waste
MG: I agree on Kemell and Sevechkov, and I’d even throw Afanasyev in there too. I know some think he’s more of a third-line player, but he’s got ideal size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and can be a great second-line power forward with the right line-mates. He has a nose for the net, and after the Admirals coaches turned him loose this season, he’s put up 19 goals (seventh-best in the AHL) and 38 points (ninth-best) in 40 games. While I think L’Heureux and Reid Schaefer will be fine NHL players, both strike me more as third-and fourth-liners.
(@jasonmisslich) Question: How do you balance wanting to bring up the young guns in Milwaukee with the expectations of the Nashville team? (Do you bring any of them up or do you let them go on another deep run?)
MG: After watching how things played out in January, I think some of them should start getting looks pretty soon. It’s clear the Predators, right now, are an average hockey team. I don’t see a deep playoff run — or any playoff run, for that matter — in their future with the team as constructed. In my opinion, Trotz’s best course of action would be to cut some of the dead weight (Tyson Barrie, Denis Gurianov, Kiefer Sherwood, etc.) and give their spots to some of the kids who have earned it (Afanasyev, Kemell, Svechkov).
(@orangerob29) Question: Are there any contact extensions being discussed? Toronto made sure to sign Nylander early in the season, Poile waited until after the season to sign Forsberg, what can we expect from Trotz?
MG: Well Cole Smith signed his extension, so it’s all downhill from there. Juuse Saros is the big one on the horizon. I imagine Trotz, who’s already made it known he want to lock Saros up long-term, wants to get something done as soon as possible once the season is over. The issue there is Saros will want Connor Hellebuyck money ($8.5 million over seven years) and I’m not sure Trotz wants to dish out that kind of term or AAV. Other than that, the only other two that seem of any importance are Tommy Novak and Alex Carrier. I don’t foresee any issues signing either.
(@genierissler1) Question: Could (Jankowski) and (Afanasyev) be called up together as they’ve been playing very well together?
MG: That’s a good question. Jankowski isn’t a prospect, so there’s no real upside to bringing him to the NHL roster when he’s been such a key player for the Admirals, who’ve won 12 straight and are looking like a Calder Cup favorite. Afanasyev, on the other hand, should be the first forward called up when there is one, and honestly, if he plays in Nashville like he has in Milwaukee, I don’t see any reason why he can’t finish out the season with the Predators.
(@ajs3677) Question: What’s wrong with all these flat starts? You’d think they’d have some urgency.
MG: Slow starts have been a problem for this team dating back to the Peter Laviolette days. I can’t explain it, I don’t have an answer for how to fix it, and I don’t think anyone in that locker room does either. My best solution would be to bench some of the players who haven’t really been performing or contributing offensively (yes, I know there’s a lot of them) and maybe give their playing time to some of the young, hungry players in Milwaukee and roll the dice with that youthful energy and hope it gives the team the shot in the arm it needs.
(@berggquistmax) Question: Do you think Nashville will win a Stanley cup with Forsberg and Josi still on the team?
MG: As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think that will happen. Forsberg is only 29, so there’s a greater chance the Predators win a Cup with him on the roster than Josi, who’s 33 and likely has five or six more years left at most. Unfortunately, Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber never got to win a Cup in Nashville, so if you’re a fan, you hope one (or both) of Forsberg or Josi gets to have that kind of moment before their careers are over.
(@channingrome) Question: How can the Predators hit less posts and score more goals?
MG: Oh, I know this one! They need to shoot the puck more between the red pipes and below the red crossbar and less in every other area that’s not those.
Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_