With the Nashville Predators' annual Skate of the Union event coming up on Wednesday, it's a fitting time to consider the position of the team not only for the upcoming 2011-12 season, but the longer term as well. I've often said that perhaps David Poile's greatest accomplishment here in Nashville is the way he manages the expectations of the media and the fan base, making clear that while the Preds tend to punch above their weight in the modern NHL, they are constrained in certain areas and shouldn't come into the season as favorites to win the Central Division or the Stanley Cup.
But must that always be the case?
With a Vezina trophy finalist in goal, and a world-class top pair on the blueline, the Predators have the requisite 2 or 3 "star quality" players that so many contenders do, they're just positioned on the defensive side of the puck. The window of opportunity is clearly open for this core group to contend, given the fact that Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne are all in their prime years, and the complementary crew around them (David Legwand, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher et al) are either on the ascent, or at least not yet on the decline.
The question I have, and I wonder how many other Predators fans will have, is whether that group can be supported with proven NHL talent in order to field a Cup-contending team right from the start of the season, or will the kids be given a chance to grow into those roles? The team did enjoy some success with all the callups from Milwaukee last season when injuries took their toll, but I'm not sold on going with those same options right out of the gate on Opening Night.
It's in the nature of the event on Wednesday for Poile to talk up the quality of the prospects in the organization, so I'm sure that's expected to be a large part of the sell. But talk of an all-draftee defense corps, or an all-rookie 3rd pairing, sounds more like an organization patting itself on the back rather than necessarily doing what's best competitively. I'm as impressed by the prospects just as much as the next guy, but don't want to see the development of those guys rushed just to give the team a "first ever to..." line that they can use in press releases in years to come.
Ponder your own expectations for the Skate of the Union while reading today's hockey news...
Nashville Predators News
Matt Dunigan reveals dark days with post-concussion syndrome - The Globe and Mail
Could the Nashville branch of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (the group which, among other things, votes on many of the major NHL Awards) open their membership to a blogger or two? That's what PWHA President Kevin Allen speculates about at the end of this piece.
Preds On The Glass: POTG Monday Headlines, News and Links
Buddy's morning buffet includes a story about how certain players are establishing themselves as a brand name through social media.
Smashville 24/7: Who replaces the off-season subtractions?
If Matt Halischuk is really seen as Joel Ward's replacement... whoa, boy, this could get ugly.
Left-handed Garrett Noonan was the right fit for the Predators - Nashville Predators Examiner
Noonan's sinister qualities appealed strongly to Paul Fenton and the rest of the Preds' amateur scouting staff.
A Bit About The Charlotte Checkers | Admirals Roundtable
A Q&A about Milwaukee's newest division rival.
Predators’ prospect Roman Josi is poised to earn a Nashville roster position | Nashville City Paper
If Francis Bouillon's not quite ready to go at the start of the season, that will only boost Roman Josi's chance of landing a job on the left side.
Around the NHL
Lightning GM Yzerman said he doesn't listen to Stamkos trade rumors, but since you asked ... | Follow the Tampa Bay Lightning blog: Lightning Strikes
Despite Steve Yzerman's valiant attempts, I'm sure the rumor-mongers will be up & early again this morning spinning their tales for cheap site traffic.
The 10 Best Free Agent Signings So Far - Stanley Cup of Chowder
3 Nashville Predators alumni makes this list of top savvy signings.
NBC to Start Selling League Advertising " Puck The Media
Is this a good thing? A bad thing? I have no idea!
School of Block: Prospects Pulse Pt. I - The Goalie Guild
Will Mark Dekanich inspire Steve Mason to perform better, by challenging him from below on Columbus' depth chart?
mc79hockey.com - No magic bullet: faceoffs and the penalty kill
An analysis on how much of a difference a good faceoff man really makes on the PK. I'm not sure that looking only at the initial faceoff of a PP is the way to go here, but it does bear repeating that the margin between good and bad faceoff guys is pretty small.
On Bruce Garrioch's personal vendetta against Brian Elliott - Silver Seven
When a sportswriter continues to grind an ax it reflects poorly on the writer. I remember Keith Gave waging a similar campaign against Scotty Bowman in Detroit back in the mid-90's. It was Gave who left town, not Bowman, who went on to win 3 more Stanley Cups.
Piecing Together a New World for College Hockey - Western College Hockey Blog
College teams are scrambling to find a conference home in light of the new Big Ten hockey conference, with Western Michigan even launching a website touting themselves to potential partners.
In comic book form, the Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg - Puck Daddy
I dunno, this just strikes me as obnoxious.