This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Nashville Predators.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
Most of those faceoff wins went back to defenseman Shea Weber. He finished second on the team with 23 goals while leading the Predators in points (56) and ice-time (26:54). He also contributed 169 hits and 173 shot blocks, earning him his 3rd Norris Trophy nomination in 4 seasons.
His defense partner Roman Josi enjoyed a breakout season in his 3rd year. He posted career-highs in goals (13), assists (27), points (40), shots (168) and ice-time (26:25). His 10 goals at even-strength were the third most in the entire league among defensemen behind only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (15) and Weber (11).
Speaking of breakout seasons, Craig Smith certainly fits the bill here. Also in his 3rd NHL season, Smith led the Predators with 24 goals including 17 at even-strength, also a team-high. His +16 was 7 points better than anyone else in Nashville. He was also remarkably consistent, scoring exactly 26 points both at home and on the road, and scoring 0.54 points per game or better in all but one month.
Once Pekka Rinne went down with an injury, many thought the 1st overall pick was all but assured for the Predators. Career AHLer Carter Hutton filled in quite admirably, posting a respectable .910 save percentage and a 20-11-4 record.
After coming over from the Red Wings in the Legwand trade at the deadline, Calle Jarnkrok got his first taste of NHL action and was quite productive. He scored 9 points in 12 games including a 5-game point streak.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
After scoring 66 points in 126 games over his previous two seasons with the Blackhawks, Viktor Stalberg was signed as an unrestricted free agent to help provide some offense. He did anything but last season, supplying Nashville with just 8 goals and 18 points in 70 games to go with a less-than-stellar -14. He was relegated to less than 10 minutes of ice-time per game in 4 of his last 10 games.
Another player counted on to provide offense was Michael Del Zotto. After falling out of favor in New York, Del Zotto was traded to Nashville where he proceeded to score just 5 points in 25 games in just over 16 minutes played per game.
While offensive woes are nothing new for the Predators, it was their goals-against that was a problem this past season. The 242 goals they allowed were the most since the team’s expansion year in 1998-99 when they allowed 261.
It’s no coincidence that the goals-against went up as Pekka Rinne was having the worst season of his career. Even when he was in the lineup, he wasn’t very effective posting a .902 save percentage, the worst of his career thus far.
So what did they do to get better?
The big move of the off-season for the Predators was behind the bench, as 2014-15 will the first season in franchise history that Barry Trotz will not be their head coach. He was replaced by Peter Laviolette, who won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2005-06 and came within 2 wins of another with the Flyers 2009-10.
Another lifelong Predator left town this summer when Nashville traded Patric Hornqvist to the Pittsburgh Penguins for James Neal. Neal will be counted on to be the go-to goal scorer for the Preds. He’s scored 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games in his 3-plus seasons with the Penguins.
Joining Neal up front will be a trio of troubled centers.
The first is Olli Jokinen. The former 3rd overall pick has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but has shown he can still be productive in a limited role.
Since suffering a torn quad tendon in 2010-11, Derek Roy has not been the same player. In the 5 seasons leading up to his injury, his lowest point-per-game average was 0.84. In the 3 seasons since, he’s managed 0.55, 0.67 and 0.49 respectively.
Mike Ribeiro had scored 407 points in 461 games with Dallas before being traded to the Capitals in the summer of 2012. In his lone season with the Caps, he scored 49 points in 48 games. You can imagine the Coyotes’ excitement when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent. Well, personal issues basically tanked his season and his future in Phoenix last year. After scoring just 47 points in 80 games, including 6 in his last 20, the Coyotes bought out Ribeiro’s contract. The Predators signed him to a one-year, 1.05 million dollar deal hoping he can get his life, and his game, back on track.
Another cap-friendly, one-year deal was given to defenseman Anton Volchenkov this past summer. He’ll provide valuable leadership to a promising young defense corps that includes Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm.
Player to watch
Former 11th overall pick Filip Forsberg got his first taste of NHL action last season, as he got in 13 games with the Preds.
After scoring 34 points in 47 AHL games for Milwaukee, Forsberg didn’t look out-of-place once he got called up. He’s got good size, good two-way awareness and a quick release.
If he lands a top 6 role, look for him to possibly challenge for the Calder Trophy.
The Preds will do well simply to stay out of the division cellar.
They will make the playoffs if…
Pekka Rinne returns healthy and is in Hart, not just Vezina, form.
They will miss the playoffs if…
James Neal cannot find a way to score goals without Evgeni Malkin feeding him the puck. He never scored more than 27 goals before going to Pittsburgh.
What should we expect this season?
The Nashville Predators are undergoing quite an identity shift. Gone is the defensive mastermind that was Barry Trotz, who some claimed was too restrictive with his star players.
In his place is Laviolette, who has been known to play a more up-tempo style. It remains to be seen however if they have the horses to do so.
While Nashville is certainly better on paper, and has some good young talent, the Central Division will be a gauntlet the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time with at least 4 teams (if not 5) that can be considered legitimate contenders. The Preds will do well simply to stay out of the division cellar.
31-38-13 75 points, 6th in the Central Division, 12th in the Western Conference