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Nashville Predators 2007-08 Regular Season Grades

Since we've got one more day before the first round playoff series with Detroit begins, it's high time to reflect on the 2007-8 Regular Season, and hand out the report cards for the Nashville Predators. First quarter and first half grades have been posted here previously...

My main statistical points of reference today come from, a great hockey stats site for any of you not already familiar with it. I've compressed and consolidated things down for legibility, and what I can present here is data for 5-on-5, 5-on-4 (PP), and 4-on-5 (PK) action. For each situation, you'll see columns for Games Played, Average Time On Ice per game, and then the interesting stuff:

GF On/Off Rating: The impact on the team's Goals For and Goals Against when a player is on the ice, compared with when he's not. This is pro-rated to 60 minutes of game time, so if a team is perfectly even Joe Superstar sits on the bench, but when he's skating they outscore the opposition by a goal per game, Joe has a 1.0 here. Similarly, if the team is even when Fred Pylon (no relation to this guy) rides the pine, but they get outscored when he's out there playing defense, Fred will have a negative number.

SH On/Off Rating: This is similar to the rating above, but in terms of Shots For and Against rather than Goals. Again, this is pro-rated to 60 minutes of playing time.

Penalty Rating: This reflects the difference between how many penalties a player draws and how many he takes, pro-rated to 60 minutes. This is similar to my Penalty Plus/Minus stat, but there may be minor differences (I haven't been able to rebuild my data yet).

So here are the numbers, with individual reports to follow:

The Centers
Jason Arnott (79 GP, 28 G, 44 A, 54 PIM, +19): His first season as Predators captain is perhaps one of the finest of his career; his 72 points are second-best to his 2005-6 campaign in Dallas, but in Nashville, Arnott has played a new role as #1 center. Look at his 5-on-5 GF Rating of +1.9, and you'll see that Arnie is as vital to Nashville's 5-on-5 play as Jarome Iginla is to Calgary. The only blemishes on his record this year are first a propensity to take needless penalties, and lackluster work on the faceoff, which may have played a part in Nashville's overall power play struggles. Notably on the power play, the top unit was heavily geared towards setting up Arnott's formidable one-timer; his 13 power play goals led the club by a long way. Grade: A-

David Legwand (65 GP, 15 G, 29 A, 38 PIM, -4): Legwand's hefty contract extension and career-best offensive year in 2006-7 had some expecting a 30-goal season from Nashville's original draft pick, but solid two-way play and top-notch special teams work are nothing to dismiss. His point-production on the power play actually exceed Arnott's (3.82 points per 60 minutes of PP time to 3.46 for the captain), and on the penalty kill, he was a key cog in the 3rd best PK squad in the NHL. Grade: B

Radek Bonk (79 GP, 14 G, 15 A, 40 PIM, -31): Look, I know that the Plus/Minus stat has its flaws, but when your shutdown center has the worst +/- figure in the entire league, I think that does say something. He did contribute on the power play (perhaps much more than anyone expected), and chipped in some timely goals, including one of the best of the season, as the Preds came back from 4-1 down midway through the 3rd period in Montreal to win the game in overtime. Overall, however, I have to think that the front office is somewhat disappointed in Bonk's season. Grade: D+

Scott Nichol (73 GP, 10 G, 8 A, 72 PIM, +12): Finishing atop the NHL leaderboard for faceoff percentage is no mean feat; although some would say that since the key to winning on the dot is to get down low, the vertically-challenged Nichol may have an unfair advantage. No matter the case, Nichol had a standout season in his role as checking center and PK specialist; he was a positive influence and even strength and shorthanded, and his 9 goals in the second half of the season were a welcome addition to what was, at times, a fairly thin offensive attack. Grade: A-

The Wingers
J.P. Dumont (80 GP, 29 G, 43 A, 34 PIM, +5): Career bests in goals and points, combined with a propensity to draw penalties rather than take them, made Dumont a huge contributor to Nashville's success this year. He's developed into a legitimate top-line winger and power play sniper, and is locked up with the Predators for four more years. Kudos, David Poile! Grade: A

Martin Erat (76 GP, 23 G, 34 A, 40 PIM, -3): Like Dumont, Erat set a new career high in goal scoring this season. With his speed and puckhandling ability, however, one is always left with the impression that with the right linemates, Erat could take his game up another level. An underappreciated aspect of Martin's play is his penalty-killing; despite averaging better than a minute per game on the PK, he was only on the ice for four goal-against all season. On the power play, he helped pepper the net with shots (more so than his teammates), but the goals didn't quite come at the same rate. Grade: B+

Alexander Radulov (81 GP, 26 G, 32 A, 44 PIM, +7): Nashville's super sophomore took a solid step forward this year, playing major minutes with top-line duty. What A-Rad needs to develop, though, is consistency; in the last 19 games of the season, he only scored in one game, a two-goal effort against Detroit on March 20. When it comes to the playoffs, there's precious little time to wait for a sniper to find his mark. Grade: B+

Vern Fiddler (79 GP, 11 G, 21 A, 47 PIM, -4): Fiddler was asked to fill a number of roles this season, from spot duty with Arnott & Dumont to "energy line" work with Nichol and Gelinas, Vern's the multipurpose tool on Barry Trotz's belt. His penalty-killing greatly improved as the year went on; his Goals Against/60 minutes on the PK ranked only behind Erat & Nichol on one of the best such groups in the NHL. Grade: B+

Jordin Tootoo (63 GP, 11 G, 7 A, 100 PIM, -8): A hip flexor injury derailed what was a real coming-out party for Tootoo this season; extraordinary discipline in terms of penalties (especially considering his high-intensity, physical game) and badly needed goal scoring have combined to make Tootoo a valuable NHL forward, earning him a two-year contract extension. He didn't spend significant time playing on special teams, but in 5-on-5 action he helped tip the balance in terms of Shots For and Against, and provided the hard hitting that makes a team difficult to compete against. Grade: B

Jerred Smithson (81 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 50 PIM, -9): Tasked with shutting down opposing offensive lines, Smithson's 5-on-5 metrics don't look good, on a level roughly alongside Radek Bonk's. On the penalty kill, Smithson performed much better, posting decent defensive numbers and playing a part in 5 shorthanded goals for the Preds. Grade: C-

Martin Gelinas (57 GP, 9 G, 11 A, 20 PIM, +5): Besides the locker room leadership that many around the team credit Gelinas with, the veteran was having a much more effective season than the basic statistics would suggest. If you look at his 5-on-5 numbers, all of them swung positively when Gelinas was on the ice; scoring, shooting, and penalties all shifted towards Nashville's favor. Here's to hoping that he re-signs with the Predators this summer, so we can see what a full season of action might offer. Grade: B

Darcy Hordichuk (45 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 60 PIM, -1): Mostly relegated to limited action, Hordichuk got in his requisite number of fights without compromising the team's effectiveness by running around and not playing his position. All the same, his impact on team success was relatively minor. Grade: C+

Jan Hlavac (80 GP, 12 G, 23 A, 40 PIM, -1): In 18 games as a Nashville Predator, Hlavac racked up 3 goals and 10 assists, earning a spot on the top line and surprising just about everyone with his performance. Easily one of the most successful acquisitions made throughout the league at the trade deadline. Grade: A-

Brandon Bochenski
(40 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 12 PIM, +6): Another deadline pickup, Bochenski hasn't had the same impact as Hlavac, but has the potential to earn a job in Nashville next fall. Grade: Incomplete

The Defensemen

Dan Hamhuis (80 GP, 4 G, 23 A, 66 PIM, -4): Hamhuis led all Preds skaters with 22:43 of ice time per game, with relatively average performance (within the team) across all areas. That's not as bad as it sounds; having a guy who can soak up that much duty and fill a variety of roles is a solid foundation upon which to build a potent blue line. Grade: C+

Ryan Suter (76 GP, 7 G, 24 A, 71 PIM, +3): Suter seems to be finding his way as an offensive-oriented defenseman; his instincts are often quite good on the rush, and occasionally he'll follow one of his point shots to the net and go for the rebound. His opportunism at one end is too often paired with careless puckhandling at the other, however, and turnovers on the defensive side remain an issue. Grade: C+

Shea Weber (54 GP, 6 G, 14 A, 49 PIM, -6): No, he's not Nashville's version of Dion Phaneuf, but Weber is establishing himself as a tough, hard-hitting and hard-shooting blueliner. Leg injuries ruined the early part of the season, however, and his overall numbers lag accordingly. On the power play, he was on the ice for 5 shorthanded goals against, the worst rate in terms of playing time on the team. As a PP quarterback, however, Weber has shown the "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality that the coaches have been asking for. Grade: C

Marek Zidlicky (79 GP, 5 G, 38 A, 63 PIM, -5): Asked to provide the offensive spark in the wake of Kimmo Timonen's departure, Zidlicky did just that, rebounding from a poor 2006-7 campaign. His positive effect on Shots For and Against in 5-on-5 was the best among Nashville regulars. Grade: B

Greg de Vries (77 GP, 4 G, 11 A, 71 PIM, +7): A steady presence at even strength and the penalty kill, de Vries has largely provided the veteran stability asked of him among a gang of relatively young defensemen. Grade: B

Greg Zanon (78 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 24 PIM, -5): For a stay-at-home blueliner to only rack up 12 minor penalties is a fine thing, and Zanon's shot-blocking ability (176, 7th in the NHL) boosted his credentials as well. For a while, however, he became prone to dropping to the ice too quickly, and opposing forwards took advantage of this to score some pretty embarrassing-looking goals. Zanon's defense-first philosophy served the team very well on the penalty kill, where he led all Predators with 3.9 minutes per game, but at even strength it led to being out-shot and out-scored due to usually playing too much within the Nashville end. Grade: B+

Ville Koistinen (48 GP, 4 G, 13 A, 18 PIM, +13): Despite playing just more than half the season, Koistinen's Plus/Minus was second only to Jason Arnott's, and when Shea Weber was injured early on, Koistinen stepped in and helped lift a dreadful power play to a decent stretch for several weeks. While perhaps his lack of speed has caused the coaching staff to scratch him at times due to the competitive depth on the Nashville blue line, the results here would seem to indicate that Koistinen is a guy that Barry Trotz needs to find ice time for. Grade: A-

Kevin Klein (13 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 6 PIM, -3): Beaten out by Koistinen on the depth chart, Klein has seen limited action this season. There was some thought put into moving him up to forward when injuries decimated those ranks, but that never panned out at the NHL level. He'll assuredly have another chance this fall to crack the lineup, as there have been flashes of outstanding potential there. Grade: Incomplete

The Goalies
Chris Mason (51 GP, 18-22-6, 2.90 GAA, .898 Sv %, 4 SO): The big question mark heading into this season was whether Mason could carry the load as a #1 starter, and things didn't work out well on that front. Outstanding efforts would be followed up with lousy efforts that would get him pulled in the 1st period. It wasn't all bleak, however, and he was an unsung hero in the comeback from 3-0 down in St. Louis last month, when he stood tall in relief and helped make possible a gigantic victory in the Preds' playoff drive. Grade: D+

Dan Ellis (44 GP, 23-10-3, 2.34 GAA, .924 Sv %, 6 SO): Just when you thought the bubble was about to burst on Ellis' breakout season, he put in his best work and helped lift Nashville into playoff position. Were it not for inclement weather Ellis would have been benched in favor of Pekka Rinne for the March 22 game at home vs. Chicago. Since Rinne's equipment didn't make it, Ellis got another chance, and logged 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout victory. He then went on to record the longest shutout streak in the NHL this season, and heads into the playoffs with the highest save percentage in the league. Ellis gets my vote as Team MVP for 2007-8. Grade: A

The Coaches
This season represented the ultimate roller-coaster; considering the ownership and lease drama, along with the salary purge and uncertain goaltending situation, Barry Trotz and his crew have done a remarkable job keeping the team focused and motivated towards making the postseason. The younger players continue to develop positively, and one particular area of focus, penalties, has improved as well. This year Nashville had 358 power play chances compared to 335 times on the penalty kill, a +23 difference that is slightly better than last year's +21, yet without the high-flying talent like Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg who help draw opposing penalties. In 2005-6, for example, Nashville's total in this respect was -21.

Ultimately, the coaches did a fine job this season, and should be rewarded with contract extensions shortly after the Predators are done playing this spring. The 2007-8 season has been like a long walk out of the darkness for Nashville hockey fans, and it's hard to imagine another head coach leading the way as they head towards sunnier days. Grade: A- (gotta do something about that power play!)