I started my hockey blogging this season at The Hockey Writers -- and while I'm thankful to Dirk to now be contributing here at On the Forecheck, I owe a debt of gratitude to Preds fan Jas Faulkner and THW editor Bruce Hollingdrake for giving me a platform to write about the greatest sport on earth. I spend too much of my day job focused on politics and public policy, so it was great this year to follow my other passion.
You can check out my short THW archive here, but I wanted to revisit some preseason predictions I made in my "Top 10 Things to Look Forward to in the Nashville Predators 2011-2012 Season" post (I wound up weaving fifteen actual predictions into my list). Follow after the jump to see how I'm stacking up...
2. Another playoff round victory. That’s right — despite perennial naysaying of hockey bloggers and reporters the continent over, I’m counting on the Preds returning to the playoffs. More than that, I’m counting on them to go at least as deep this coming year as they did last year.
Well, part one of this has come true. As Ryan Porth reported on March 28, an Anaheim Ducks win over the San Jose Sharks "[punched] the Predators' ticket to the playoffs." Ryan also has a great rundown of how previous playoff clinchings have gone for the Preds, noting that this year was the first time it has ever happened on an off day.
As for the second part, only time will tell -- but the conventional wisdom says the Predators have "paid their dues," and should go deeper this year than in years past.
Prediction one: correct. Prediction two: undetermined....
4. Having Lane Lambert behind the bench. Brent Peterson was a great associate coach, and he’ll be missed as he focuses on his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. But Lambert has worked with a number of the Preds’ youngest talent already in Milwaukee — and in David Poile’s infinite wisdom, they’re going with what’s in the cupboard this year…again… I’m also eager to see how, if at all, Lambert changes Nashville’s abysmal power play.
Coaches named Lane don't have a great history in the state of Tennessee, but Coach Lambert has turned out to be a welcome addition to the bench. It is difficult to say what specifically his addition contributed to the number one power play in the league, but I think I speak for Preds Nation when I say that this has been a welcome breath of fresh air.
I'd be remiss to not mention here the stunning recovery former associate coach Brent Peterson has begun making from Parkinson's, thanks to deep brain stimulation treatment. Keep it up, Coach -- we're all rooting for you!
Prediction three: correct.
5. A breakout year for Jordin Tootoo. The little pesky Eskimo sought treatment last year for substance abuse issues, and was a new man when he returned to action — his end-of-season stats speak for themselves.
While he's still two goals shy of matching last year's career best (with only two games left to play -- and he's been scratched for the last couple of games), Tootoo's 24 assists this year have meant a career scoring year for the young bruiser. As I noted last September, Barry Trotz and the Predators scouts clearly knew something about Tootoo's game that the rest of us didn't, or had overlooked. This incredible turnaround for Jordin on the ice has no doubt been overshadowed by his turnaround off the ice, which helped him earn the team's nomination for the Bill Masterton Trophy this year . . . but both Trotz and Tootoo deserve a great deal of credit for his increased on-ice contributions.
Prediction four: correct.
7. Saturday, October 29. The Anaheim Ducks will make their first trip of the season to Bridgestone Arena on this date. It’ll be great, because Nashville will win — and they’ll do it by diving all over the place.... You know, to put that awesome power play to work for a competitive advantage (see #4). Also, Corey Perry will cry.
And indeed, Pekka Rinne pitched a 3-0 shutout as the Nashville Predators embarrassed the visitin Anaheim Ducks in their first meeting since last year's playoffs. I'm not aware of Corey Perry crying during or after the game . . . even Ryan Getzlaf couldn't bring himself to blame the Predators for how poorly the Ducks played that one. Bonus: the Predators took zero diving penalties, and went 1-6 on the power play.
Prediction five: correct. Prediction six: correct (when you assume I meant "diving all over the place" to be tongue-in-cheek). Prediction seven: surprisingly correct. Prediction eight: incorrect.
8. Thursday, October 20. The boys will storm into Rogers Arena for the first trip of the season on this date, and find out how much they’ve learned in the off-season after being ousted from the 2011 Western Conference semifinals by the Vancouver Canucks. Alex Burrows will bite someone, Ryan Kesler will hold someone’s stick at a key moment in a game (and the Canadian media will drool all over him), but the ultimately very boring game will be decided by one goal — probably 1-0.
I confess: I was dead wrong about the outcome of this one. The Vancouver Canucks put on a clinic in front of the home crowd, downing the visiting Nashville Predators 5-1. But the Predators did find out how much they had learned from their playoff-ending run-in with the Canucks the previous summer: not very much. The Preds took 11 penalties in the game, and surrendered two power play goals. Also, Burrows didn't bite anyone, and Kesler didn't chicken wing anyone's stick.
I really hope we don't have to meet the Canucks in the postseason again this year.
Prediction nine: technically correct. Prediction ten: incorrect. Prediction eleven: incorrect. Prediction twelve: incorrect.
9. The NHL trade deadline. I don’t know whose fault it was, but the whole Shea Weber arbitration fiasco was just horrible for the Preds. David Poile, a perennial favorite for GM of the Year looked like me attempting to play fantasy baseball. He’ll have a real mess on his hands next spring trying to re-sign not only Weber, but Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne as well. I’m not optimistic that he’ll get everything done without another multi-millionaire partner/owner or two willing to spend on personnel, so expect some fireworks at the trade deadline. If they’re buyers at the deadline, and I think they will be, it’ll be fun to speculate about who goes out and who comes back.
I don't think anyone will understate how active David Poile was leading up to and at the trade deadline this year. In addition to claiming Brandon Yip off waivers in late January, and sending Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, and a 2012 second rounder to Montreal for Hal Gill (aka Treebeard) and a conditional fifth rounder in 2013 in mid-February, Poile acquired Andrei Kostitsyn from the Montreal Canadiens for a second rounder in 2013 and the conditional fifth rounder they gave up in the Gill trade, and Paul Gaustad from the Buffalo Sabres and a fourth rounder in 2013 for a first rounder in 2012 at the deadline. But perhaps the most interesting acquisition of the year came well after the trade deadline, when prodigal son Alexander Radulov made his return to the NHL.
Poile did manage to lock up Pekka Rinne back in November with a blockbuster 7-year, $49 million contract renewal; but all the trade acquisitions are rentals, Ryan Suter will still be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov will both still be restricted free agents . . . and none of them yet have deals in place with the Predators, each taking the position that they'll focus on the task at hand, see how things stack up, see if ownership is serious about winning, and negotiate after the season.
If any one of them says David Poile didn't do everything within his power to make the team a Stanley Cup contender this year, they would be selling the organization short. But I digress.
Prediction thirteen: partially correct (Canadian millionaire Brett Wilson officially joined the ownership group in mid-November, shortly after Pekka Rinne signed his extension; I'm assuming for the sake of argument that the expectation of an influx of cash leading up to Rinne's deal helped green-light Poile's negotiations). Prediction fourteen: correct.
10. Watching Shea Weber and the rest of the boys hoisting the Stanley Cup at Bridgestone Arena. A guy can dream, right?
I've got my fang fingers crossed up here in Northern Virginia -- do you?
Prediction fifteen: undetermined.