Season Preview: Nashville
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com
second place finish in the Central Division last year, no team will enter the
new season under circumstances similar to those the Predators will face this
year. Their captain, Shea Weber, signed an offer sheet with another team, and
his long-time partner on the Nashville blueline, Ryan Suter, signed a
blockbuster deal to leave town and join the Minnesota Wild. The Preds two best
-- and most recognizable -- players were successfully courted by other
organizations, and only one remains. Also gone is Jordin Tootoo, who had been a
mainstay for Nashville since the last lockout.
Nashville will ask a number of youngsters to take on a significant role in the
lineup moving forward. How they respond will determine where the Preds finish
the coming season.
Remember the Alexander Radulov debacle? At the end of the regular season and
into the playoffs, the Preds rolled the dice on the talented Russian, and it
backfired. However, the Preds did appear to find a winner in Craig Smith, who
was among the rookie leaders in most offensive categories last season.
Smith, Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque will bring young skill to an older group
of forwards that will include Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad for a "full" season.
With the transition of their blueline, Nashville will need more offense; they
failed to have a single player pass the 60-point plateau last season.
Veterans Kevin Klein and Hal Gill were retained in free agency, providing depth
around Weber. But with Suter departing, the talented group of blue line prospect
that has been built up by the Preds over the last few years will find itself
between the crosshairs quickly.
Roman Josi posted 16 points in 52 games and could see his role increase. Ryan
Ellis and Jonathan Blum played 32 and 33 games, respectively, last year but
combined to register only 18 points. Mattias Ekholm is a fourth young defenseman
that could factor in the mix on Nashville's blueline in the coming season; he
played in two NHL games last season.
Pekka Rinne got paid last season, but lost half of perhaps the best defensive
tandem in the NHL when Suter left. Nashville will ask more out of their elite
netminder this year as they find new chemistry on the blueline.
Nashville isn't the only team in the Central to lose a key player over the
summer, and they certainly have a strong enough group of young players to begin
filling in the NHL roster. How Barry Trotz uses his young defensemen, and how
they respond, will carry the organization.
Up front, however, the team will hope to have more luck with their health this
year; only three forwards -- David Legwand, Tootoo and Patric Hornqvist --
played more than 75 games last season. And only two, Hornqvist and Fisher,
scored more than 20 goals. The offense will need to carry more weight while the
blue line sorts itself out.
3 Players to Watch
Josi stepped into the lineup and was effective through the regular season
last year, but he disappeared in the post-season. With zero points and a
minus-four rating in 10 playoff games, Josi was as disappointing as any
Predator player not-named-Radulov (or Kostitsyn) in the spring. The
opportunity will be there for someone to replace Suter, and Josi might be
the guy to step into that void.
Five of Wilson's 15 goals were game-winners last season. With Legwand and
Fisher both 32 (nine years older than Wilson), the Preds will need him to
continue producing as he helps build a young foundation of forwards in
Nashville. Wilson and Smith will be major factors in the Preds' offense this
For all the wrong reasons, watching Weber will be interesting this year. The
All-Star will have a new partner, and how fans in Nashville respond to his
play after signing a blockbuster offer sheet with the Flyers will be