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Will the Nashville Predators be a better team in 2012-2013?

In Gabby We Trust.
In Gabby We Trust.

OTF reader Joe emailed me this morning with what surely be the main topic of conversation leading into the 2012-2013 NHL season. Will the Nashville Predators be better or worse than last season? It's easy to see how some could be concerned about how things are shaping up, given the events of the last few months. Here's some of what Joe had to say:

They ended up doing better last year than I initially thought that they would, BUT it seems like this year, we have the exact same team, MINUS Suter. It feels like ownership used Weber's deal to make them look active, and have taken the rest of the summer off. Right now, I think we are a worse team than last year. And even if we were the same, you can't keep putting the same product out if you're not reaching your goals... you have to make changes, additions, etc.... other teams will continuously get better as well.

When you look at the names which have left Nashville this summer (Ryan Suter, Alexander Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Jordin Tootoo and more) this is an understandable mindset. I think we have to keep in mind how a hockey team changes over the course of a season, however, and with that in mind, things may not be quite as pessimistic as Joe makes them out to be.

Let's take a look, then, at a couple different ways one can examine this "better than last year" question...

The table below shows how the depth chart shaped up (barring injury) at the beginning of last season, at the end, and how things look today. I've made comments alongside a few players in particular:

Start of 2011-2012 End of 2011-2012 Today's Roster Comment
Forwards Forwards Forwards
David Legwand David Legwand David Legwand
Mike Fisher Mike Fisher Mike Fisher Full year out from shoulder surgery
Martin Erat Martin Erat Martin Erat
Sergei Kostitsyn Sergei Kostitsyn Sergei Kostitsyn
Patric Hornqvist Patric Hornqvist Patric Hornqvist
Craig Smith Andrei Kostitsyn Craig Smith I liked AK46, but I'm OK here
Colin Wilson Colin Wilson Colin Wilson
Nick Spaling Nick Spaling Nick Spaling Full year out from shoulder surgery
Jordin Tootoo Gabriel Bourque Gabriel Bourque Entering 2nd NHL season
Jerred Smithson Paul Gaustad Paul Gaustad Nice upgrade in supporting role
Matt Halischuk Alexander Radulov Matt Halischuk We miss you, Radu
Blake Geoffrion Brandon Yip Brandon Yip
Defense Defense Defense
Shea Weber Shea Weber Shea Weber
Ryan Suter Ryan Suter Roman Josi Big challenge for sophomore Josi
Kevin Klein Kevin Klein Kevin Klein
Jonathon Blum Roman Josi Hal Gill Age is concern
Francis Bouillon Francis Bouillon Scott Hannan Upgrade in supporting role
Jack Hillen Hal Gill Ryan Ellis Entering 2nd NHL season

I'm leaving goaltending out of the discussion for now, although I'm moderately more comfortable with the veteran Chris Mason as backup instead of Anders Lindback. Either way, Peks will still carry the heavy workload.

Overall, I'd say the current lineup is probably ahead of the crew which opened up last season, but a bit behind the "loaded up for a playoff run" squad which finished the season. As we know, a team can change over the course of a season, and if the Preds look to be competitive, it's likely that David Poile would make those tweaks around the edges to give his team a chance for a deep playoff run.

Basically, I see a good deal of young players still on their way up, and in addition I'll be very interested to see if guys like Mike Fisher and Nick Spaling are more productive now that they're both a full year removed from shoulder surgery (recall that Fisher wasn't quite ready to go at the start of last season). The significant downside risks are having Roman Josi step up into Ryan Suter's role and the loss of Radulov's scoring punch.

Assuming this current group starts the season healthy (knock on wood), I like where they stand. Are they a prime contender for the Presidents Trophy or the Stanley Cup? No, but they should compete well and put themselves into position for a shot in the playoffs. As for how they'll do there? Who knows - just as last season, it could be a very different-looking team by then...