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How Long Will Predators Stanley Cup Window Remain Open?


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Smashville endured a long climb to the top ranks of NHL franchises. Expansion clubs were dealt a difficult hand in 1998, when Nashville started their first campaign. Unlike Vegas faithful, Predators fans had to wait for 12 seasons before celebrating their first playoff series win in 2011. Nashville’s Stanley Cup odds stand at +1000 early this season, among the favorites to capture a championship in 2019, according to sources obtained by Canada Sports Betting.

After their surprise run to the finals in 2017 and subsequent playoff disappointment in 2018, the Predators will consider a Stanley Cup the only acceptable result in 2019. Common wisdom suggests that teams must experience losing before capturing an NHL crown, which implies that Nashville should be in prime position to emerge from the west.

The Predators championship window is open wider than most franchises, but the salary cap era will create difficult decisions for Nashville’s front office sooner than expected.

A Rinne Conundrum

Few teams win Stanley Cups without excellent goaltending. Philadelphia’s a fine example of a club with excellent forward and defensive depth, sabotaged by traditionally shaky netminding since the early 1980s.

Pekka Rinne earned his first Vezina last season, winning 42 of 59 starts while posting a 2.31 GAA, .927 SV% and eight shutouts. In the post season, Rinne had a 7-6 record with a 3.07 GAA and a .904 SV%. He has a career .237 GAA and .919 SV% in the regular season and playoff stats of 2.45 GAA and 915 SV%. In seven playoff campaigns, he’s posted a .911 SV% or worse five times.

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These stats create uncertainty surrounding Rinne during the post season, despite his status as an elite NHL goalie. When his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, Nashville faces a difficult choice. Stick with an aging netminder who doesn’t have the best playoff bona fides or invest the cap space elsewhere.

Sergei Bobrovsky represents a younger option with superior regular season stats. He’s never played with a genuine Stanley Cup contender, which could reverse his terrible post season numbers. The Canadiens are in the middle of a rebuild after falling apart last season. Nashville already has a history of trading with Montreal, which lifts the odds of a Carey Price trade from nil to slim.

The most likely scenario will result in Nashville resigning Rinne instead of pursuing intriguing possibilities with greater risk.

The Roman Josi Bidding War

Part of the Nashville Predators success revolves around a series of smart contract signings and extensions which have locked up outstanding young leaders at an extremely reasonable cap hit. At the end of the 2020 season, Roman Josi will become one of the most sought-after unrestricted free agents in the NHL, likely to receive offers which potentially triple his pay.

The Preds currently have about $7,000,000 in cap space this season, projected to jump to $15 million for the 2019-2020 season. This number will vary depending on how much Nashville decides to spend in net. A large contract for Rinne or another goaltender may reduce the cap space available, along with other free agents over the next couple of years. Perhaps the front office will follow the example set by Ryan Ellis, offering a significant extension before Roman’s current contract expires. Josi should be one of the easiest decisions for the Predators, a no-brainer as an elite NHL defenseman.

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Will Predators Forward Depth Remain A Strength?

Johansson, Forsberg and Arvidsson form an elite top three, but the Predators scoring depth boosts the club above most western competitors. Kevin Fiala broke out for 23 goals and 48 points last season. He’ll become a restricted free agent in 2019, which will result in a significant raise from his current cap hit of $863,333.

Craig Smith netted 25 goals and accumulated 51 points in 2017-18, marks which he may eclipse before his current deal finishes in 2020. His current cap hit of $4.25 million provides outstanding value in the current market. Austin Watson will probably earn more than his current $1.1 million cap hit when he becomes a UFA in 2020.

Nashville probably won’t be able to afford expensive new contracts for all of these forwards, especially if Fiala and Smith continue to produce at a 50-60 point level. Maintaining secondary scoring will probably not be possible through spending alone, requiring development of young, skilled forwards to replace more expensive options.

Talent like Eeli Tolvanen fits the bill. Tolvanen’s excelled overseas, a steal at 30th overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft. He still needs to fight his way onto the roster by acclimating himself on smaller ice surfaces in the minor leagues. His upside projects to a top-six forward position, with the potential of filling in on the top line when needed.

When Will The Stanley Cup Window Close?

Nashville’s front office operates within a tough salary cap structure, masterfully negotiating a series of contracts which have locked up more than half-a-dozen valuable performers. Unlike most teams, the Predators appear ready to remain contenders well into the next decade.

All championship windows close eventually, adding urgency to current free agent scenarios. Making the right decisions over the next two years could result in the first of multiple Stanley Cups. Losing talent to free agency or spending too much on the wrong player could relegate the Predators to a long list of franchises unable to make the final leap.