December 13, 2017 | 9:45am ET
BY Hannah Spraker, The Fourth Period
SMOOTH AS TENNESSEE WHISKEY
ANAHEIM, CA -- What comes to mind when you think of Nashville? Is it the Country Music Hall of Fame? The world famous Tootsies? The booming roar coming out of Bridgestone Arena and passionate Predators fans? Or maybe the lingering smell of Jack Daniels in the air? Whatever your list may include, be sure to add Kyle Turris to it.
It all happened back in early November when the hockey world was hit with a three-way trade between the Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators. The deal included Matt Duchene going to the Ottawa Senators (a.k.a. struggle city) and Turris going to Nashville for which Colorado received picks and prospects.
Part of the deal was that Turris would sign a six-year, $36 million extension with the Predators, and so far that is looking like a steal. Nashville appears to be the winner of the three-way trade.
We’ve dissected that trade to death, but now that the players involved have settled in and seen a large enough sample size of games with their perspective clubs -- how is it panning out, and how are these teams looking?
Well, on one end there’s Duchene, now with the Senators, which could and should be going a lot better than it currently is, and then there’s Turris and Nashville -- and that is where the story is at.
Before this trade took place, Nashville was already doing well, as I think most of us expected them to, even with some key players out with injuries. They’ve gone from good to great with Turris, and they still have yet to get some key guys back in the lineup before they are firing on all cylinders. I would expect this club to play leapfrog in the Central Division standings with St. Louis and Winnipeg for a good chunk of the season.
Turris, who is averaging nearly a point per game since the trade, and is leading the team in assists, was a huge win for the Preds. Through this acquisition, the Preds now have two legit top centers in Turris and Ryan Johansen. He brings strength down the middle that they have needed, and added versatility. The Preds have multiple players that can play multiple positions, which is a huge asset to have when the injury train comes in. Since the trade, the Predators have played 15 games, 11 of which they’ve taken home a ‘W’.
The trade also seemed to prompt a surge in scoring across the Preds roster. Turris’ line mates, Kevin Fail and Craig Smith, have been scoring regularly, when prior to the trade goals were in short supply from the top line. Calle Jarnkrok is the real deal, sitting at center on the Preds second line, he is a huge benefit to this team. An extremely smart two-way player, Jarnkrok is a steal at two million and it looks like exposing James Neal in the expansion panned out for both parties.
Between the top four defensemen; Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban have a combined 55 points already and they are an absolute force on the blue line. Of course we cannot forget Filip Forsberg; leading the team in goals (14) and in points (29) he is at a point per game and if he can avoid the injury plague, I think he is going to do much more damage. He has looked really good this year and if you have him on your fantasy team, I’m jealous.
Achy Breaky Start
Nashville is one of the many teams who have had a rough time with injuries to start this season. Ryan Ellis is nearing a return to the Preds lineup after undergoing knee surgery, as he has recently been skating, but there is not a return date as of yet -- but sometime mid January is the guess. President of the Ryan Kesler fan club, Ryan Johansen, has also been bitten by the injury bug and recently placed on the Preds injured reserve with an upper body injury. Scott Hartnell, who has missed a month of playing with a lower body injury, is expected to return very soon sometime in the next week or so is the general assumption.
One advantage that Nashville has over other teams that have had impactful injuries, like the Anaheim Ducks, is that Nashville is killing it -- they can afford to let these guys recover 110% before throwing them back in and risking further injury or irritating old injuries.
Let’s Do That Hockey
The Preds have caught fire since this trade and they’re igniting a playoff discussion from the hockey world. So the big question, are the peaking? Is this just a hot streak that will come to an inevitable end?
I don’t think they’re peaking, on the contrary, I think they’re heating up. Preds management has really done a phenomenal job building this team. Whether it was the Shea Weber/Subban deal or going after Turris, GM David Poile has put this team in a position to thrive, even when the odds might not be in their favor. Peter Laviolette has done a great job trying to balance everything out while injuries are present; this team has been stacked in recent seasons and that came full circle when they nearly won the cup last June. On paper, there isn’t a reason that they shouldn’t win a Stanley Cup -- can you imagine a Stanley Cup parade in NashVegas?
The Preds penalty kill and powerplay are near the top in the League, their blueline is arguable the best in the entire League and their record at home is very impressive. They’ve got all the makings of a Stanley Cup team, they were close last season, and I would expect them to be coming into the post-season with redemption in mind, so what are some things to fine tune so ensure a solid effort from top to bottom?
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. This is a very physical, gritty team. They are fast and they pack punch—the whole package, but being the most penalized team in the NHL is not exactly the bragging right you want to have. The Preds already have 394 penalty minutes under their belt this season, many of which coming from Cody McLeod. McLeod has stirred up a bit of controversy over his role on the team, many arguing that he should not be on the roster, that he is an enforcer who offers nothing else of value. My response to that; he plays minimal ice time, he is not the relentless enforcer he used to be, and he is doing what they have him there for, so lower the pitchforks. While their penalty kill is solid, this is still something that can be extremely costly down the line, so they need to be careful about taking bad penalties and crack down on playing a more controlled game.
The one thing that I don’t understand about this team is their third period performance. It is like they just run out of gas too soon. In their past 10 games, the Preds have allowed 29 goals, of which 16 were in the third period. Playing a whole 60 minutes of hockey is vital to any team’s success. We see this often with numerous clubs, they get in these slumps where in a certain period they just can’t seem to perform at their normal caliber, and vice versa -- but in the long run this is something that has to be addressed. Many of the losses they’ve had have been because of that third period alone. They’re shooting themselves in the foot if they cannot keep stay dialed in for the final period of play.
Goaltending is a hot topic of discussion, per usual and Pekka Rinne at the forefront. Is he in the discussion for the Vezina as of now? Probably not, but I would expect he will be as the season goes on. Rinne has been great, but the concern is that he has to stay great while staying healthy and not getting overworked at 35. Nashville’s backup situation is a bit iffy. Juuse Saros was recently backing up Rinne, but was sent down while Anders Lindback was recalled. Lindback, at 29 years old, has not seen NHL ice since February of 2016 and in 130 NHL appearances he is 45-58-8 with a .904 sv%. The fact that he has been away from the NHL for a while is concerning as we’e seen the game evolve quite a bit in the past couple years -- is he still NHL caliber?
I’m sure that is not the ideal situation for the Nashville Predators, and for that reason it is vital for Rinne to stay healthy and continue on playing lights out if they want continued success. This team is stacked in every other aspect. Johansen, Ellis and Hartnell all go out with injuries and the Preds don’t only keep their head above water, they shine. Although I don’t see that being the case if it were Rinne on injured reserve.
I think that we can expect too see some exciting hockey as we dive further into the season. To say things are going smooth as Tennessee Whiskey for the Nashville Predators is an understatement. . . I’m more of a scotch drinker myself, but hey, to each their own.
Thinking Out Loud on Anaheim
“When your legs don’t work like they used to before, and the team seems to be obsolete.” Maybe Ed Sheehan can perform at the All-Star Game in Tampa... just a thought.
Oh yes, more and more injuries for the Anaheim Ducks as we inch closer and closer to Christmas. Just when you thought this team was regaining health -- Hampus Lindholm, Nick Ritchie and Corey Perry are the latest to be hit with an injury. The Ducks have had more injuries than Burns and Karlsson have combined goals.
Nearly the entire Ducks roster has rotated in and out with some kind of injury this season, and it’s only the beginning of December. Some are on injured reserve, some listed as day to day, but one thing is for sure; no one is safe from the Great Injury Plague of 2017. Here’s hoping the upcoming New Year brings better health for the Anaheim Ducks. Some mixed feelings about this club around the league; some have given up hope, others are convinced that they will once again seal the deal and snag first place in the Pacific Division. Are the Ducks as bad as they look? Or will they be as good as they appear on paper once healthy? (If* ever healthy) There are a ton of question marks revolving around this hockey club, so let’s discuss.
All They Want For Christmas is Their Two Top Cs
Some good news coming from the Ducks organization -- Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are coming back to the lineup. Getzlaf is already back, though Kesler has no definite timeline, but is expected soon. This is huge for the Ducks. They’ve been without their top two centers for quite sometime now, and with the injuries continuing to pile up, they need this break.
I would expect Getzlaf to hop right back in and produce at his normal rate, just this time rocking the visor. Kesler, on the other hand, I’m not so sure. He’s coming back from a major hip injury and at 33 years old, that might not be so forgiving, but if there is one thing we know about Kesler it is that he loves the adversity. He thrives on the naysayers, and he is determined to win -- now more than ever after a heartbreaking finish to last year’s playoff run. So perhaps some bad news for you “Ryan Kesler haters” out there, (as we know there are quite a few in the league), he will be back soon enough to terrorize teams in the NHL. Someone might want to let Johansen know.
Trick of the Trade
It was just a matter of time before Ducks GM Bob Murray made a move. While Derek Grant was thrown in as No.1 center, the guy just isn’t that caliber player. He is not a No.1 center, and at 27 he probably won’t ever be. Credit where credit is due, he stepped up, but the Ducks needed to make a move to get a bonafide top-six guy, and preferably a left handed shot (something they have been seeking for a while now).
No doubt the guy who was expected to go was defenseman Sami Vatanen, but the return was not quite who I was expecting. Vatanen was traded to the New Jersey Devils with a conditional third round pick in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third round pick. I know some Jersey fans were up in arms about it; believing that that was overpaying for Vatanen, but I thought this was a great trade for both hockey clubs -- and it just goes to show how valuable a top pairing defenseman is in this league -- at least for teams who are in need of one.
Vatanen will be able to thrive in New Jersey. Anaheim’s blueline is their strongpoint, as it has been for quite some time now, so on a team where defensive talent is in surplus, Sami became the Ducks most tradable asset. Jersey on the other hand is another story. Already playing on that top defensive pairing with Andy Greene, he is exactly what this team wanted, offering much needed help on the powerplay. No doubt Sami will be missed in Anaheim, he could always be relied on for a good laugh, whether it was joining a media scrum -- using a water bottle as a mic, or joking around with the guys post-game, he’s a character and a fan favorite for sure.
Henrique is already making a huge impact with the Ducks. While holding down the fort as No.1 center until Getzlaf’s return; Henrique has been exactly what the Ducks need -- the perfect bandaid for the time being. Already a handful of goals and assists for Henrique as a Duck, he is fitting into the system seamlessly. I have to say, I was impressed by the chemistry and production of Corey Perry and Henrique off the bat. Perry, now week-to-week with a lower body injury -- because, of course -- had been in a bit of a slump and inserting Henrique into the Ducks roster seemed to be the solution... which is good news once Perry returns from injury.
Birds of a Feather
We’ve joked this season that this team looks more like the San Diego Gulls than the Ducks, and while that certainly is true -- there is something to note here. The guys who have come up the 5 freeway are shining. I don’t think there are many other teams in this league that can go down their top two centers, start the season without two of their top defensemen, rotate a plethora of other injuries up and down the roster, and still remain within reach of a playoff spot. I would keep my eye on Kevin Roy and Jaycob Megna. They may have just been called up to fill in the gaps while the team gets healthy, but they don’t look out of place.
Kevin Roy looks like he is making an argument for himself as a left wing on the Ducks roster. Twenty-four years old, a left shot, and four goals with the Ducks already in just a handful of games. Last season with the San Diego Gulls he nearly broke the 50 point mark in 67 games, 16 goals and 30 assists for 46 points. Jaycob Megna is an absolute beast on the blue line. The 24 year old defenseman stands at 6’5, 219 pounds, and he fits in well.
We all know the Ducks play a physical game and this is right up his alley. In 62 games with the San Diego Gulls last season, he picked up 27 points and is a stellar passer. For a stay at home defenseman, I think he is a doing exactly what they expect of him and he is a great asset to this organization. Silver lining to all of these injuries -- the AHL guys are getting some quality ice time and experience in the NHL, further showcasing what they can do, what they’re worth, and what we can expect from them down the line. I would also keep my eye on Josh Mahura and Jacob Larsson as well. Bob Murray has really done an excellent job with putting his club in a position to succeed -- whether that is talent to bring up or talent to use as a trade chip.
It was just a matter of time before Brandon Montour got the recognition he deserves. He is such a dynamic player and has quickly become one of the Ducks most valuable defensemen. What stands out to me about Brandon Montour is that he is all over the place, but it works for him. He just plays a great 200 foot game and the league is finally taking notice. I’ve heard his name thrown out there for projected All-Star rosters here and there.
If there is one big critique I can make about the Ducks right now, it’s their 3 on 3. They have been awful at 3 on 3 this year and basically play keep-away until they reach a shootout. This season the Ducks have gone to bonus hockey 9 times, winning only 2 of those games, both ending in a shootout. While it is great to get a point, at some point they have to figure this out. Their 3 on 3 is just atrocious, and they have barely any shots on net in those instances. While you need to be smart with the puck in overtime, it can’t be just a game of keep away the entire time.
How this team is keeping their head above water with the amount of injuries, and the severity of the injuries, is beyond me. Randy Carlyle has done a phenomenal job coaching through all of the misfortune this club has seen. Looking at most of their losses; they’re either an overtime loss, or a loss by a goal or two, it is rare that they are getting blown out and destroyed. It has long been said; this team is resilient.
Goaltending has been absolutely solid for the Ducks, which is a sigh of relief when everything else looks uncertain. John Gibson and Ryan Miller have been lifesavers for the Ducks. Gibson has been standing on his head, blocking sometimes 50 shots, and like I said before he has taken huge strides in his game and he looks more and more technically sound as the season progresses. Miller, who recently got his 40th career shutout, has kept the Ducks alive in many games, bringing them to the shootout and win or lose, I haven’t seen many goals where you can totally fault him. He has done exactly what they brought him to Anaheim to do and I can only imagine how pleased management is with these two goaltenders.
Week In, Week Out
If there’s one thing owe know in this league, it is that a week can make all the difference in the world. One week you’re in, the next you’re out. Recently I wrote about how bad the Dallas Stars were on the road, and what do they do? They go out and win 4 games in a row -- 3 on the road, which gave them a much needed boost in the standings.
As it stands now, the Pacific Division is still pretty wide open. The Ducks are only a few points out of a playoff spot, even with all of the injuries. They have the potential to really catch fire and take off with it here once they get healthy and they get their top two centers back. Again, it will be interesting to see how Kesler is once he is back.
“If” he comes back and can still perform at the pace that he used to then I have no doubt that he will be their number two center. That being said, Henrique has been phenomenal thus far and I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlyle slots him in on that second line instead and Kesler goes to 3C -- at least at first. Maybe move him to the wing, but I think this is all going to depend on where Ryan Kesler is and at what pace he can play.
I would not count out the Anaheim Ducks yet. We’ve seen this many times with this Ducks team -- lackluster start to the season and then after Christmas they take off running. My guess is they will be a playoff team, “if” the injury plague moves on from the Anaheim locker room.