As the Nashville Predators prepare to host the Calgary Flames tonight, an air of optimism surrounds the team with yesterday's news that regulars like Steve Sullivan and Jordin Tootoo are taking steps towards rejoining the lineup. Already having surprised most outside observers by holding down 4th place in the West despite a host of injuries to critical players, the Preds have put themselves in a competitive position for the final months of the campaign. But that introduces two interlaced questions ahead of the NHL's Trade Deadline, which approaches on February 28th.
First, what is the goal for this season? If it's simply qualifying for the playoffs and taking your chances that finally the bounces might go Nashville's way and allow for a deep run, then the team is already in pretty good shape, and the returning players should restore much of the depth which the Preds sported early on. OTF reader jmkiii58, however, published a FanPost yesterday arguing that expectations should be raised:
Barring a collapse in the second half, I as a fan do not care about how many points the team needs to make the playoffs. I want the Preds to finish first in the division and be in the top three playoffs spots...
The Predators are only six points behind Detroit. They have four games [remaining] against the standard bearer in the division. The goal of winning the division is obtainable.
The second question, which largely depends on your answer to the first, is what components might the Predators need to acquire on the trade market to best position themselves for the rest of the season? Could they use a Denis Grebeshkov-like puck mover on the left side of the defense? How about a center, in case Cal O`Reilly isn't ready for playoff action as he recovers from a broken leg? Or do the Preds need the big-time sniper on the wing which some fans have long coveted?
While you ponder those issues, follow after the jump for your morning hockey news, which includes a major coup for SB Nation...
The big news this morning comes from CNBC's Darren Rovell:
One of the original Internet columnists, Rob Neyer, has confirmed he's leaving ESPN.com after 15 years for SB Nation.
Yup, SB Nation has landed one of the biggest baseball columnists in the biz, Rob Neyer. This is a major deal for our baseball-loving comrades here, so congratulations to those folks. The new guy must be looking to make an impression, as he's already posted his first column!
Welcome the Preds back home tonight, as they have 9 dates coming up in the month of February at Bridgestone Arena, including this game against the Calgary Flames, and Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. Save some cash and get yourself some discount Predators tickets for these, or any other home game.
Preds Dan Redmond Honored As Tennessee Athletic Trainers' Society Trainer Of The Year - Nashville Predators
A nice award for the team's athletic trainer, whose partnership with Barry Trotz dates back to their time with the AHL's Portland Pirates.
Paul McCann - Game Night in Smashville
Paul's ready to welcome the masses back to Bridgestone tonight...
Weber’s Attention Turns Back To Regular Season - Predlines
Amanda grabbed a post All-Star Game interview with the captain.
Hockey Night in Nashville: Preds Finally Return Home
Robby points out two interesting stats for tonight. Martin Erat has lit the Flames up, while Pekka Rinne has yet to defeat them.
Hockey Night in Nashville: Dub's Monday Quick Hits
Phillip, on the other hand, gives a big thumbs-down to Tampa's new duds.
LIVE FROM RALEIGH: Saturday’s Mascot Game a huge hit… | Section 303
This is all kinds of awesome!
Preds On The Glass: Predators Begin Stretch Run Against Calgary and Tuesday Thoughts
Buddy previews tonight's game and has your morning links as well.
What The Puck: Your Morning Jed: Get Inspired
If you need an early pick-me-up, Rachel's got you covered.
Predators Prepare To Claw Through 2011 | The Hockey Writers
Jas has pictures from practice, and looks forward to seeing some of the missing Preds return to the lineup.
All-Star Summary / Caption Contest | Admirals Roundtable
Ryan sums up Linus Klasen and Mark Dekanich's day in Hershey.
NHL's road warriors back home thinking playoffs - USATODAY.com
Writing for McPaper, local scribe Teresa Walker notes how the home-heavy remaining schedule may help the Preds down the stretch. They have 21 homes game left, the most in the NHL.
Tootoo focused on now after being cleared to rejoin Predators | Nashville City Paper
David Boclair details Jordin Tootoo's return to practice yesterday, while also touching on the other roster developments as well.
Tootoo returns (transcript) - Predators Insider
Josh Cooper shares what happened during the post-practice media scrum yesterday.
Nashville Predators Jordin Tootoo returns to ice - The Tennessean
Whoever wrote the sub-headline here obviously doesn't know what they're doing.
Around the NHL
Spector on NHL: Tribute to a lost colleague - sportsnet.ca
Mark Spector shares the story of one linesman at the All-Star Game honoring a lost friend, NHL linesman Stephane Provost, who died in a motorcycle accident a few years ago and left behind a wife and two children.
Tampa Bay Lightning shows off its new uniforms for the 2011-12 season | Lightning Strikes
I love love LOVE these new uni's for the Lightning... very "Captain Marvel".
FBI Wasting Taxpayer Money, Time on Finding Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup Winning Puck - Dangerous Servant
Preds fan George Scoville rounds out the whole "FBI helping find the Stanley Cup puck" story by looking at what the FBI's mission truly is, and whether their agents should really be involved here.
This **** is Getting too Complicated! - Behind The Net
Read this before you get all excited about Sergei Kostitsyn's league-leading shooting percentage.
Down Goes Brown: Phil Kessel's all-star draft text messages
DGB captures the text-by-text ribbing that the last pick in the All-Star Game would have received in their world. Listening to Toronto's Hockeycentral radio show yesterday, you would have thought Kessel will be scarred for life from the psychological damage he sustained Friday night.