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Brewer: There’s A Clear Answer To Predators’ Rest Vs. Rhythm Dilemma



Photo of Juuse Saros by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Having already clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Nashville Predators currently sit at 95 points and are nine points back of the Winnipeg Jets and the Colorado Avalanche (104).

This makes it mathematically impossible for the Predators to claim a top-three spot in the Central Division, and as a result, the only thing left to play for at this point is to determine whether Nashville will be the first or second wild-card team.

The Vegas Golden Knights have 92 points and the Los Angeles Kings 95, both are jockeying for third place in the Pacific Division while the loser gets the other wild card. The St. Louis Blues have an outside chance of stealing that spot away with 89 points and three games remaining.

The biggest question that’s likely weighing heavy on head coach Andrew Brunette is should he rest any of his players?

In my opinion, the clear answer is no, and it may not be for the reasons you think.

The personal accolades that can be reached this season are fun milestones for fans to focus on like Jeremy Lauzon chasing the NHL hits record and Filip Forsberg chasing the franchise single-season goal number, to name a few.

It’s important to know that NHL players are not eligible under the Collective Bargaining Agreement for incentive-based bonuses, unless they are on an entry-level contract or on a 35-year-old plus contract.

The Predators have two players — Luke Evangelista and Spencer Stastney — on their ELCs but no players on 35-year-old-plus contracts.

Should Lauzon and Forsberg meet these numbers, it’s a great story, but there is no financial incentive.

Arguably the most important factors for a team heading into the postseason is to be mentally and physically in sync with each other. If records come with that, great. But no roster decision should be made on that fact alone.

I’m also a strong proponent of keeping players playing to work out kinks in the system — the power play, for example — as the playoffs approach. A team can live or die by special teams in the postseason.

Brunette seemed to have the same sentiment after practice at Centennial Sportsplex on Thursday.

“We’re just going to stay status quo and play and make decisions as we go,” he said. “There might be a guy out here, a guy out there, but it’s kind of a unique situation this year where you play three (games) in four (days) and then you probably don’t play for another week (until the playoffs start). So, rest is important. It’s kind of tricky because I don’t want us to wait that long. I never want to wait that long to play one, so we’ll just keep going straightforward with the same mindset we’ve had throughout the stretch of the second half here.”

Captain Roman Josi credited Brunette with how he’s stuck to his system and permitted the players to get better over the course of the season, adjusting over the last few weeks when things went great and when things went bad.

I would also advocate for limited practice, but not healthy scratches for games. Forsberg has practiced maybe a hand full of times over the last month, but he’s ready to play every night.

Obviously, I would not have anyone blocking shots unnecessarily or having key players like Josi or Ryan O’Reilly play 25-plus minutes in a game, but systems work and keeping with the flow of a game-day routine is critically important with the results being much different than risk-free practice time.

Brunette’s system is high-paced, so the pace shouldn’t subside now. This is when the real work is just about to begin. Of course, if a player is injured and needs time to recover, then sitting out is the go-to option, but if the main concern is fatigue or burnout, this is the time of year players want and need to play. Give that to them.

The only caveat I would add would be dealing with goaltending differently than skaters. Juuse Saros did not make the trip to Chicago and will be staying in Nashville to rest. This is the right move for the Predators, and it aligns with my position that goaltending should be more platooned than it traditionally has.

Saros has already started 62 games this season. The toll on a goaltender’s body each game is monumentally taxing. I mentioned this earlier when the Predators announced recalling goaltender Troy Grosenick from the Milwaukee Admirals to backup Kevin Lankinen.

The Predators regular season ends on Monday and they will be the first team to finish the season, so they will have a minimum of four days before the playoffs begin on April 20.

There are four possible teams Nashville can play in the opening-round of playoffs: the Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks or Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks, Avalanche, and Oilers end their seasons on April 18, while the Stars end their season on April 17.

The Predators focus right now should be to finish the season strong, work out any and all systems issues, and be prepared to take on one of the NHL’s best come next weekend.

Nashville Hockey Now’s Michael Gallagher discussed this topic recently on the Gold Standard podcast.

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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