In the past, the Predators have been among the best defensive teams in the NHL. The 2016-17 season was an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final and it was in large part, a result of the Predator’s elite defense
This team was lead by defensemen, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. This was Subban’s first season with the Predators after being traded to Nashville for former Predators captain, Shea Weber. Subban came in and made an instant impact and he was key in the Predators Stanley Cup run. That season, the Predators had 4 of the best defensmen in the league with 3 of their 4 top defensemen ranking in the top 35 in points among defensmen.
The team traded away Samuel Girard in 2017, traded Subban in 2018, and extended Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis in 2019.
Statistically, the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons were strikingly similar. The Predators finished with the 7th best penalty kill in both seasons and they finished with the 2nd and 3rd least goals against respectively. The main difference between the seasons was the playoffs. Despite similar defensive performance, the Predators were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs in 2017-18 after a hard fought series against the Jets. The 2017-18 defense was still among the most talented in the league and ESPN.com ranked the Predators as the second best defense in the NHL.
Uncoincidentally, the 2017-18 regular season was the Predators best as they won the Presidents Trophy after tallying 117 points.
The 2018-19 season was up and down but the Predators ultimately made the playoffs as the top seed in the central division. The team made many trades, mostly forwards, in an effort to improve their offensive threat. The defense held up well enough that it was not a major concern throughout most of the season. All 4 of the Predators top defenseman, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and P.K. Subban, ranked among the top 50 defensemen in points as they did in the season prior. Ultimately, the Predators were knocked out by a more physical team in the Dallas Stars.
However, after these strong defensive seasons, the defensive production dropped immensely. This season, the first without P.K. Subban, the Predators had the 14th most goals against and the 4th worst penalty kill in the NHL. In addition to the statistical decline, the defense was clearly struggling. The poor defense directly affected the Goals Against Average and resulted in an exceptionally demanding season for Pekka Rinne.
This season has been the Predators worst statistical season since 2013, both defensively and as a whole. As a result, Head Coach, Peter Laviolette, was fired midway through the season.
The defense has improved under new head coach, John Hynes, but is it elite?
The current answer is no. The Penalty Kill percentage declined 7% from last season and the defense has looked lost.
The top defensive pairing of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis has been among the best in the league but the other lines have not been so strong. Roman Josi has had another outstanding season and is the front runner for the Norris Trophy. Unfortunately, one player does not make an elite defense. It is the entire unit. Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro have been pretty consistent but Fabbro's lack of experience has shown on many occasions. The third line has been the biggest liability. The Predators traded away 3rd pair defenseman, Matt Iriwn, and promoted Jarred Tinordi, pairing him with Dan Hamhuis.
John Hynes has made a clear impact on the defense and drastic changes have been made. Under Hynes, the Predators defense can get much closer to 2018 levels, even without P.K. Subban. Trading Subban made it clear that the Predators had a lot of faith in Dante Fabbro, even after he played just 4 games in 2018-19. With Dan Hamhuis becoming a free agent this offseason, the Predators may completely change up the 3rd pairing which could be just what they need.
While the season has been shaky, the Predators have a fresh start in the 2020 playoffs. The Predators will face the Arizona Coyotes, likely in August. A break away from hockey may be just what the Predators needed to improve in many aspects of the game.