Season Preview: Nashville Predators
Nashville missed the play-offs for the second straight season last year, costing long time coach Barry Trotz his job.
Now with a new coach at the helm, and their star netminder healthy again, Nashville enters the new season full of hope.
But in a tough Division, do the Predators have enough to make it back to the post season?
Nashville’s offence received a serious and much needed injection of talent this summer. Free agents Derek Roy and Mike Ribeiro joined, and winger James Neal was acquired from Pittsburgh.
Neal has six straight 20+ goal seasons, dating back to his rookie year in Dallas. Even without all stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at his side, the 27-year old should be a reliable goal scorer for a team that have traditionally struggled to light the lamp.
Wisconsin native Craig Smith led the team in goals last year (24), but more will be expected of Viktor Stalberg and Gabriel Bourque this season – though for differing reasons. Rimouski native Bourque will be expected to continue his development, after a slight regression in terms of goals but a better overall season.
Stalberg on the other hand needs to rediscover the scoring touch that saw him pot 22 goals and 43 points in 2011/12.
After signing 1-year deals, both Roy and Ribeiro will be looked to to provide a 1-2 punch at centre, something the club has lacked over recent years. With veterans Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen and new arrival Olli Jokinen also in the line up, Nashville has depth down the middle.
The club will also be hoping prospects Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok live up to the hype – both have huge potential and are expected to become integral parts of the Predators. Given the right opportunities; one, or both, could be serious Calder Trophy candidates this year.
At The Back
Led by Shea Weber, Nashville’s blue line has been one of the more impressive in the NHL for several years now. A perennial Norris Trophy candidate, Weber led the team in scoring last season and is the cornerstone of the franchise.
Swiss blue liner Roman Josi, who hit the 40 point marker last season, continues to garner a growing reputation around the league while sophmore Seth Jones will hope to recapture the form he showed early last season, after fading away as the campaign progressed.
Veteran Anton Volchenkov joins after four years with New Jersey, but 23-year old Ryan Ellis remains locked in contract talks with the club. If GM Dave Poile can get a deal done with Ellis, the Preds defence remains strong.
Between The Pipes
Pekka Rinne played just 24 games last season. Had he been fit, Nashville may very well have finished ahead of Dallas and grabbed the last wild card spot – and in doing so saved Barry Trotz job.
Whilst Trotz is widely respected around the league, Rinne’s absence went a long way to proving the old adage ‘show me a good coach and I’ll show you a good goalie’. The Predators had become a strong defensive unit under the 52-year old, who served as Head Coach from day 1 in Tennessee, but struggled without the giant Finn and a lack of offence.
Rinne’s return to health increases Nashville’s chances of a post season berth significantly.
Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec will vie for the backup role, with both getting opportunities last year. Hutton in particular showed flashes of talent and will likely get the job.
Behind The Bench
Pete Laviolette becomes just the second coach in franchise history, bringing a much different philosophy to the Predators.
Expect the clubs offence to benefit from the former Hurricanes, Islanders and Flyers coach more dynamic approach. With the summer additions, Laviolette has the tools to compete in the offensive zone as well as the defensive one – giving Nashville fans more to cheer about than sound positional play.
Biggest Addition – James Neal
For a franchise who have struggled to create offence for years, the addition of a goal scorer like Neal is significant.
Whilst Nashville’s top 6 is a little different to Pittsburgh’s, Neal should still get good support from veterans like Ribeiro; giving the Ontario native a shot at a 30 goal season – and Nashville it’s first 30 goal scorer since 2009/10!
Biggest Loss – Patric Hornqvist
Hornqvist has carried a significant portion of the Preds offence over the past five seasons. Although Nashville acquired Neal in return for the Swede, it’s not outlandish to suggest Dave Poile would love to have had both on the team given the 27-year olds success on a defence first team.
Key Man – Pekka Rinne
Nashville’s difficulties during his absence last season were clear to see. As important to the team as Weber, the Finn will be heavily relied on again this season if the club is to have any chance of making the play-offs.
This Seasons Chances…
Nashville have made the grade based on strong defence before – but realignment has given them a much tougher task these days.
A fresh pair of eyes behind the bench and some significant attempts to boost the clubs offence help their chances though. They missed the cut by just 3 points last year, and although it seems unlikely they’ll be able to capture a top 3 spot in the Division, a wild card slot is a strong possibility with a healthy roster and key upgrades in place.
Posted on September 23, 2014, in Hockey, Nashville Predators, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged James Neal, Nashville Predators, NHL, Pekka Rinne, Season Preview, Shea Weber. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.