Tonight we drop the puck Bridgestone Arena on the preseason, so it's a good time to look ahead to what the 2010-2011 season holds for the Nashville Predators. There have been a few significant changes from just a few months ago, and as Chris wrote earlier this week, it's truly the dawn of a new era for the Preds.
Follow after the jump for your comprehensive season preview...
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2009-2010 Season Recap
Despite some dire predictions and a six-game losing streak in October, the Preds rallied to their 3rd 100-point season in franchise history, and came close to edging out Detroit in the Central Division standings for the first time, falling two points short of 2nd place. Patric Hornqvist developed into a prime-time goal scorer, leading the team with 30 goals, and Pekka Rinne (after receiving a two-year contract extension) carried the team to a strong finish during the regular season.
The two-week Olympic break provided an opportunity for most of the guys to get some rest, while a chosen few shone on hockey's brightest stage. In particular, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter starred for their Canadian and US squads in the gold medal game, and both played pivotal roles in their teams' medal-winning efforts.
As a whole, the team continued to suffer from a poor power play (29th in Goals For/60 minutes of 5-on-4 play), and a surprisingly disappointing penalty kill (27th in Goals Allowed/60 minutes of 4-on-5 play). Their saving grace was team discipline, which kept the team out of the penalty box more than most (2nd fewest PK's after New Jersey). Combined with solid 5-on-5 play (12th in Goals For/Against), The Preds were a competitive, albeit not dominant team. A continuing headache for Nashville fans was the defensive pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein, which seemed to consistently cough up dangerous scoring opportunities. On the @Predfans Twitter group, the chants of #split28 grew into a crescendo.
Once in the playoffs, however, the Preds gave the division champion Chicago Blackhawks their toughest battle of the post-season. The series hung in the balance in the late stages of Game Five in Chicago, with the series tied two games apiece, and the Preds leading late in the 3rd period after having trailed 3-1 earlier in the game. From there, however, Nashville pulled off what I can only term the most spectacular collapse I've ever seen in playoff hockey, coughing up a shorthanded goal in the final seconds of regulation, then failing to score on an extended power play to win the game in OT. Shortly after the major penalty to Marian Hossa expired, he tapped in an easy goal to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 series lead, and a confidence boost that fueled their Stanley Cup run.
The Preds were eliminated in Game 6, and while on paper it looked like just another first-round elimination, the taste that it left with players, coaches and fans was that this was truly a special opportunity that was lost, and that going forward, a deep playoff run is a tangible, imperative goal.
While the departure of Dan Ellis and Dan Hamhuis was expected, the fact that David Poile got some assets in return (Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan Parent) made for a small, but significant return. The big news came on June 19 when captain Jason Arnott was traded to New Jersey for a 2nd-round pick and the rights to prospect Matt Halischuk, just weeks after a public debate erupted over whether Arnott should even retain the captaincy for the upcoming season.
The Arnott trade was then followed by the signing of Matthew Lombardi as a free agent, a development which saw Nashville pick up the top center on the UFA market, and fill a top-line role that would have otherwise been prematurely thrust on a younger player like Colin Wilson. While Lombardi doesn't bring the resume that Arnott has built up over a productive 16-year career, Lombardi (and his 3-year contract at $3.5 million per) is a better fit for this team going forward. Arnott's age and concussion history make a return to 80-game duty unlikely, whereas the 28-year-old Lombardi is still in the prime of his career.
Just when we though the opening roster was set, David Poile pulled off one more move by swapping out Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson for Vancouver defenseman Shane O'Brien and a minor leaguer. O'Brien is expected to add a physical presence in front of the net, and be a more reliable, durable performer than the oft-injured and still-developing Parent.
In total, then, looking at likely NHL'ers...
Internally, a big move was made when Shea Weber was named captain of the team during the Skate of the Union event in mid-July. Will his leadership command a better performance out of the team as a whole, and inspire him to a Norris Trophy-type season? Only time will tell...
- Forward depth - while not having a likely point-per-game player up front, Nashville should be able to roll out three lines on a nightly basis which can score and play confidently against Top Six opposition. Based on previous trends, David Legwand & Joel Ward will combine to battle the top opposing line, freeing up the other lines to hopefully take advantage of softer minutes. In the event of injury, there appear to be players available at the AHL level who can step up and fill gaps in the short term, such as Jamie Lundmark and Nick Spaling.
- Mobile, puck-moving defense - Shea Weber & Ryan Suter, if they remain united, represent one of the top defensive pairings throughout the NHL. Kevin Klein and Cody Franson are all at varying levels of delivering on their potential, while Shane O'Brien and Francis Bouillon provides the stay-at-home presence which can support the young guns.
- Goaltending - Pekka Rinne assumes the position of #1 goaltender with all the appropriate support mechanisms in place. He's playing behind a hardworking bunch of skaters, has a new two-year contract, and should get all the starts he wants.
- Coaching - Barry Trotz wasn't nominated for the Jack Adams Award for nothing. At the very least, we can expect an honest, coordinated effort from the Preds.
- Power Play - a longstanding concern ever since Paul Kariya left town, the PP has been a sore spot with Preds fans for years. Jason Arnott was actually one of the team's best performers on the power play, so what's the plan without him?
- Penalty Kill - usually a Nashville strength, the PK was awful last season, and when you compare its performance to the power play, the PK cost the Preds almost twice as many goals when compared to the NHL average than the PP did.
- Backup goaltending - there isn't a backup in the organization with any NHL experience, putting lots of pressure on Anders Lindback to deliver when called upon. If Rinne goes down, what will the Preds do?
- Finances - as always, we know that there's no white knight riding over the horizon, in the form of a star-quality player acquired for prospects and picks. While David Poile likely has $1-2 million to work with over the course of the season, don't expect a Peter Forsberg-like acquisition any time soon.
Left Wing: Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward, Colin Wilson, Jonas Andersson, Sergei Kostitsyn
Defense: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein, Francis Bouillon, Cody Franson, Shane O'Brien, Alexander Sulzer, Aaron Johnson.
Note: Some of the wingers shuffle back and forth between the right & left side.
This 2010-2011 edition of the Nashville Predators boasts superior depth to last year's version, although the top-end talent should be pretty much the same. One good indicator of the skaters' ability and the overall team system is to look at 5-on-5 Shots For & Against numbers. By that measure last season (data from Behind the Net), the Preds were 12th in the league, and that's about what I'd expect going forward:
|Team||GF||GA||GF/GA Ratio||SF/60||SA/60||SF/SA Ratio|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||156||174||0.90||32.1||28.8||1.11|
|Detroit Red Wings||149||155||0.96||32||29||1.10|
|New Jersey Devils||156||136||1.15||28.7||26.8||1.07|
|Los Angeles Kings||153||139||1.10||28.1||26.4||1.06|
|St. Louis Blues||150||158||0.95||29.3||29.1||1.01|
|San Jose Sharks||176||138||1.28||30.4||30.3||1.00|
|New York Rangers||154||148||1.04||29.2||29.6||0.99|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||148||170||0.87||27.7||29.4||0.94|
|New York Islanders||149||178||0.84||29.3||31.2||0.94|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||140||168||0.83||27.8||30.2||0.92|
What may hold some potential for improvement, however, is the goaltending and special teams. The following table reflects an off-the-cuff projection for Goals Against based on Pekka Rinne turning in an average starter's season (.915 Save Percentage) over 65 starts, with the backups delivering something a little less than what Dan Ellis provided last season:
|Goalie||Starts||Shots Against||Sav %||Goals Against|
Shaving 7 goals off would be worth probably 3 points in the standings. That balances out what is probably an unsustainable 8-4 record in shootouts last season (those are basically coin-flipping exercises). Combined with a very modest special teams improvement, I'm going to project the Preds for 100-102 points, good for 3rd in the Central Division a playoff date with another tough opponent in the playoffs.
Can the Predators make some noise in the Stanley Cup dance after five straight disappointments? We'll save that question for April...
As for a few individual predictions?
A new franchise record, with 37 goals scored.
Serious consideration as a Selke Trophy candidate, getting well-deserved recognition as a top defensive forward.
Double-digit goals as an emerging power play threat.
20 goals and 40 points in a breakout campaign.
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