Last season saw some sad songs being sung in the Music City. One of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history saw the team struggle scoring goals on the front end and a lack of defense on the back end with the loss of Ryan Suter.
This time around, GM David Poile took an unconventional approach to free agency and decided to be aggressive with adding talent around the core players already established. In the off season he added Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks, Eric Nystrom, and Viktor Stalberg. Those additions as well as first round draft pick Seth Jones are all expected to contribute this season.
One thing to note about the Preds, is they have had to deal with one of the toughest schedules in the NHL. Year in, year out they had to battle with Detroit, Chicago, and in recent years St. Louis. Now with Detroit and Columbus in the East, things can be more competitive on the ice and in the standings.
With the forward group, one difference between 2011-12 and 12-13 was scoring. 2011-12 saw seven players scoring at least 43 points each, and last year saw them score the fewest goals in the West with 111. While the four signed players mentioned above isn’t expected to lead the team in goals, they will however provide second and third line depth scoring.
Martin Erat is gone, after being traded at the deadline last year. This means the scoring load will depend on centers David Legwand and Mike Fisher. Legwand has spent his entire career in Nashville and is entering the final year of his contract. With the rest of the core players being signed long-term, expect Legwand to play well enough to earn another contract this summer.
Gabriel Bourque scored 11 goals from the left wing, sandwiched between Legwand and Fisher in terms of goals scored. He’ll see action on the top line as well as special teams units.
They had many players with double-digit assists last season but lacked goals. Players expecting to perform better this season include Sergi Kostitsyn (3-12-15) and Patric Hornqvist (4-10-14).
If Colin Wilson (7-12-19 in 25GP) can stay healthy and on the ice, he’ll play a big role in helping Nashville’s power play unit jump back among the best in the league. They were the best at 21.6 percent in 2011-12 but slipped to 17th at 17.1 percent last season.
The loss of Suter put extra pressure on Weber to stay on the ice. He logged the sixth most ice minutes per game last season at 25:55. And it could have been more if it weren’t for his 48 penalty minutes (most PIM among the top 10 under TOI/game). Seth Jones should help that, but it’s unrealistic to depend on an 18 year-old (19 in October) rookie to add quality your defensive corps.
Other players to watch include Roman Josi, and Kevin Klein. Poile was so impressed with 23 year-old Josi, that he signed the Swiss international to a contract extension during the off season. Ryan Ellis, Victor Bartley and Mattias Ekholm are also expected to compete for a spot in the lineup.
The defense has to improve on the penalty kill, where they were the second- worse in the league last season killing 75.5 percent of penalties.
Pekka Rinne will remain the No. 1 goalie in Nashville after Chris Mason left for Italy this summer. He’s still considered an elite goalie, as he won 15 games with five shutouts last season. But he’s going to need to improve on his stats last year where he finished with 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage. I have faith he will, as he has an outside shot at a spot on the Olympic team. But he’ll have to outperform Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen, and Niklas Backstrom.
Poile brought in Carter Hutton from Chicago Wolves of the AHL to serve as backup.
Things did get easier for them in the division. In terms of playoff or bubble teams, they removed Detroit and added Minnesota, Dallas, and Colorado in the equation. I believe that from the additions Poile made, the Predators are a playoff team. My biggest concern is on defense. Should any injuries happen to Weber or Renne, they could face some difficult challenges with finding players to step up and fill in the missing role.