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Nashville Predators analysis: How to replace Sullivan, Dumont, Ward and Goc?

One of the tougher questions to sort through this summer is whether or not the transition among the forward ranks for the Nashville Predators will work out to be a positive, or a negative. David Poile is certainly taking a gamble with his strategy of promoting from within, and relying upon more young players and bargain acquisitions like Niclas Bergfors. But what exactly was lost with the departure of the veteran forwards this summer, and how well can the kids fill that gap?

Follow after the jump as we dig into that question...

The following table was built using some 5-on-5 data from Behind the Net, along with some extra prestidigitation of my own (departed players shaded gray). We'll leave out the power play for now, as pretty much everyone agrees that fresh faces can hardly hurt there.

 NAME  GP   TOI/60   Corsi/60  Rel Corsi  NetZS  Adj Corsi/60 Adj Rel Corsi Team Shoot %  Save %   G/60   A/60   Pts/60 
 David Legwand 64 14.6 +1.8 +7.4 -86 +8.2 +14.1 9.4 931 0.97 1.22 2.19
 Mike Fisher 82 14.0 -9.7 -13.5 -10 -9.1 -12.7 7.9 917 0.73 0.36 1.09
 Martin Erat 64 13.8 +3.8 +7.9 -41 +7.1 +11.6 8.7 939 0.61 1.70 2.32
 Cal O`Reilly 38 13.7 +0.4 -0.9 -17 +2.7 +1.8 8.7 917 0.58 0.93 1.50
 Marcel Goc 51 13.6 +2.3 +2.4 -49 +7.1 +7.3 10.5 926 0.69 1.21 1.90
 Joel Ward 80 13.2 +1.3 +4.4 -131 +9.7 +13.2 7.5 923 0.28 1.02 1.30
 Patric Hornqvist 79 12.9 +6.4 +11.2 +58 +2.6 +7.5 8.6 925 0.88 1.12 2.00
 Sergei Kostitsyn 77 12.6 -2.2 -0.9 -11 -1.3 +0.3 10.7 928 1.11 1.05 2.16
 Steve Sullivan 44 12.1 0.0 +1.0 +32 -3.7 -2.1 8.8 923 0.67 0.89 1.57
 Jerred Smithson 82 11.8 -10.9 -12.2 -256 +6.9 +6.0 6.8 934 0.31 0.50 0.80
 Jordin Tootoo 54 11.7 -3.9 -1.6 -4 -3.4 -0.8 8.3 952 0.76 0.96 1.72
 Colin Wilson 82 11.4 -0.7 +1.3 +20 -2.1 +0.1 8.9 941 0.90 0.90 1.79
 Nick Spaling 74 11.0 -8.7 -9.2 -67 -3.1 -3.4 6.1 924 0.44 0.44 0.89
 Matt Halischuk 27 9.9 -13.3 -10.5 +22 -18.4 -14.5 12.4 938 0.90 1.81 2.70
 J.P. Dumont 70 9.5 +4.2 +5.5 +80 -3.8 -2.5 6.8 936 0.81 0.54 1.35
 Blake Geoffrion 20 8.2 -6.9 -0.1 +14 -13.5 -8.7 11.8 927 2.19 0.73 2.92

Legend is at the bottom.

What was lost

Considering first what was lost, we can lump those four players into two groups. Ward & Goc logged heavy minutes in relatively tough roles (Ward had the 18th-lowest Net Zone Starts in the league last season), and managed to push the play in a positive direction consistently. In terms of offensive contribution, however, both are secondary performers, rather than leaders (you'd prefer something north of 2.00 Pts/60, at least). In other words, they were pretty much ideal Nashville Predators!

For Sullivan & Dumont, however, the results were more disappointing. Despite given a healthy dose of offensive-zone opportunities, neither player was able to shift the balance of shots for & against in Nashville's favor as well as you'd like (look at those Adjusted Corsi numbers). Even when we look at basic results like Goals, Assists, and Points per 60 minutes, their numbers were downright mediocre. Yes, one can excuse a part of Dumont's totals because of the 4th-line status he was put into, but we're looking at the hole that needs to be filled; and in this case, there are not only jobs to fill on the offensive end, but there's great room for improvement, as well.

Opportunities abound

So let's start with the offensive end. This gives me a bit of hope:

 NAME  GP   TOI/60   Corsi/60  Rel Corsi  NetZS  Adj Corsi/60 Adj Rel Corsi Team Shoot % Save %  G/60   A/60   Pts/60 
 Niclas Bergfors 72 12.8 +5.9 +12.1 -16 +7.1 +13.6 6.9 911 0.58 1.17 1.85

Bergfors strikes me as someone who might be able to step right into Sully's old role; a "shootist" first and foremost, and someone whose goal-scoring might be due for a rebound after a criminally cold scoring stretch in Florida (scoring just one goal on 53 shots over 20 games). He was as cold as Sergei Kostitsyn was hot last year, and both should come back to the middle. If he earns the coaching staff's confidence and gets the opportunity (and let's be honest, that is a legitimate concern), Bergfors can fill a big hole on the wing.

Given the production which Dumont provided in a limited role, it's not hard to see one of the kids (Geoffrion, Halischuk, whoever) being able to replace that.

My concern, however, is more on what Goc & Ward provided to the Preds. A healthy Mike Fisher is certainly nice, but remember, Goc was done for the year shortly after Fisher arrived in trade, so we we know how the depth down the middle looks. If Cal O'Reilly's return is looked at as a boost, he'll need to step up his game, and he may have that opportunity if guys like Fisher, Legwand and Smithson get called upon for the defensive zone work, freeing up Cal for the offensive chances.

It's worth remembering, however, that if someone takes on an extra defensive workload, we should temper our offensive expectations. In other words, 40 points may be tough for Fisher to reach if he gets burdened like this.

What I'm really having trouble seeing is how the team fill's the void left by Ward's departure. Can a guy like Nick Spaling take on Ward's former shutdown role and tilt the ice like that (best Adjusted Corsi/60 among the forwards)? I have serious doubts there. And who would round out that shutdown line? Jordin Tootoo, perhaps? I was encouraged by Tootoo's playoff performance as much as any fan, but he'll have to break into new territory as well if he's going to be relied upon in such a key role for 82 games.

In total, I can see the Preds maybe being able to keep up with their scoring pace from last season (not significantly improving on it, mind you), but the real issue could be working the puck out of their own end. If they don't have the horses to get that done consistently, the offense may not even be worth worrying about.

Corsi/60: The balance of total shots (including shots on goal, missed & blocked shots) for and against the team while that given player is on the ice, pro-rated to 60 minutes of play. Basically, this is a proxy for whether the team is spending more or less time in the offensive end of the ice when that guy plays.

Rel Corsi: Short for Relative Corsi, this is the Corsi/60 number compared to what that same figure is while a given player is on the bench. For example, if a guy's Corsi is 0, but the team operates at a +5.0 clip while he's not on the ice, then that player's Relative Corsi is -5.0 (they do worse when he plays).

NetZS: Sort for Net Zone Starts, this equals Offensive Zone Faceoffs - Defensive Zone Faceoffs. For every start in either end of the ice, one can expect 1.1 Corsi events just due to that starting position. David Legwand, for example, took 86 more draws in the defensive end.

Adj Corsi/60: This corrects a player's Corsi/60 based on the NetZS number, reflecting the level of difficulty that this player had to deal with. If someone has a negative Corsi, but took lots of defensive zone faceoffs, then their Corsi should be adjusted higher.

Adj Rel Corsi: The same adjustment applied to Relative Corsi.

Team Shoot %: The team's shooting percentage while that player is on the ice. The typical range is from 7.5-10.0%. It's worth noting that there is very little evidence to show that an individual can do much to affect his team's overall shooting percentage.

Save %: The team's save percentage while that player is on the ice. Again, there is little evidence indicating that an individual skater can move this number significantly.

G/60, A/60, Pts/60: Basic offensive results - goals, assists and total points per 60 minutes.