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Struggling Predators moving closer to rebuild in Nashville

As the trade deadline quickly approaches, Bob McKenzie details the questions that the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins must answer and how the salary cap will impact their decisions.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Just three seasons removed from hoisting the Presidents’ Trophy, the Nashville Predators find themselves on the verge of rebuilding.

The only question is when does the NHL’s winningest general manager start tearing down what he’s built.

David Poile wants to see how the Predators fare over a stretch against the Central Division’s best. Poile recalled earlier this week Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, which the Predators followed by winning the Presidents’ Trophy the next season.

Rebuilding isn’t a word Poile wants to use, not the GM who built this franchise from the ground up starting with expansion.

“Obviously at the start of this season we were perfect fodder for any conversation for trades and a rebuild, and that’s going to continue until we either climb higher in the standings or we actually make a trade,” Poile said Tuesday on ESPN 102.5 The Game.

Yet Nashville is just 1-8 against the top three teams in the Central Division after a 5-4 loss to Florida on Thursday night. After winning four of five to show signs of improvement, the Predators have lost two straight. Injuries to defenseman Ryan Ellis and goalie Juuse Saros don’t help either.

Nashville currently is sixth in the Central Division, nine points out of the last playoff spot. The Predators are 24th overall with a 10-13-0 record.

The team that created Smashville showing off the likes of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill with catfish chucking the signature lucky charm can’t match that star power on the ice.

Nashville is 28th scoring an average of 2.35 goals a game, and only five teams are giving up more goals per game than the Predators’ 3.17. The Predators also rank 28th in 5-on-5 play.

They’re also last trailing after both the first and second periods. The Predators have been outscored 52-22 through the first two periods combined, though they have a 30-21 edge in the third.

“There’s something we have to fix and pretty quick,” said forward Filip Forsberg, the Predators’ leading scorer with 22 points in 23 games.

It’s been an issue all season. Nashville has led after the first period only three times this season and is 1-2 in those games. Forward Viktor Arvidsson, who had three assists Thursday night, said they know they can play better and just need to play that way for 60 minute instead of the final 20.

“I don’t know why we’re not doing that,” Arvidsson said.

Poile made a rare in-season coaching change in January 2020, firing Peter Laviolette and hiring John Hynes a day later. Hynes has had to coach through the NHL’s pause, a restart that Nashville lost its best-of-five qualifying series to Arizona in four games.

Hynes has been trying to get the Predators to start games better. He said Wednesday they had to understand they can’t “dip our toe into the water” to see how a game might go.

“We seem to be a reactionary group,” Hynes said. “We’re going to go in the game and see how the game’s going to be played. That’s not how you get off to a good start.”

Hynes’ job security also is in question. He’s 26-24-1 through 51 games. Asked if he’s concerned about his job after the latest loss, Hynes said no.

Once Poile decides it’s time to rebuild, defenseman Mattias Ekholm could be the first traded. He has nine points in 16 games, including four goals in four games, earning $3.75 million a year through next season. Forsberg has another season left at $6 million. Forward Mikael Granlund will be a free agent.

But Nashville will be limited by some of the contracts Poile gave out.

Ryan Johansen, who scored his first goal this season Thursday night and has only five assists, is being paid $8 million a year through the 2024-25 season. Center Matt Duchene also is getting $8 million through the 2025-26 season. Yet Duchene has just eight points in 23 games with a minus-11 rating.

Poile wants to see what happens through an eight-game road trip ending March 21 at Dallas.

“This next stretch of games playing against the Carolinas, Floridas and Tampa Bays are really going to show us whether we’re one of the top teams in our division, a playoff team or possibly that we’re not,” Poile said.