We here at OtF know that the Nashville Predators Hockey Club has more than its share of casual fans. This number is growing with the reach of the NHL, TV contracts, and the fact that the other "pro" sports team in this area is abysmal. We welcome you with open arms, friends. And you picked a good time. We've been told that hockey might be fun again starting this year.
Let's start with some basics:
The Predators didn't make the playoffs last year, or the year before.
This is accurate, and has caused the team to "slip into small market obscurity" in the minds of some of the people who are paid to talk about hockey. But the Predators still have Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, and friends. That's worth something. Plus, the team is both younger in some areas, and older in other areas. I KNOW RIGHT? We'll cover this more later.
The Predators still have Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, and friends.
Again, Weber is the most complete defenseman in the league (arguably the best in the world) and Pekka Rinne is one of the best in the league when healthy. David Poile didn't trade Weber when he could have, and has kept building around him while general managers and pundits were all calling for him to do so. "The Preds are bad with Weber, so they should trade him so they can be bad like the Oilers or Flames." Whelp, they kept him, and did some work this summer.
The Predators no longer have Martin Erat, David Legwand, or Patric Hornqvist on their roster.
Remember that playoff series a few years back that got you all excited? Unless you bought a Weber or Rinne jersey, you might need new threads (if you're one of those "gotta have a current player" people). All three were traded for younger and/or more talented players. Sorry.
The Predators now have Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, and James Neal on their roster.
Filip Forsberg (AKA #PrinceFilip) was ranked the top European skater of the 2012 draft, but slid down to the Capitals at 11th because teams were crazy about defensemen that year (thanks to the Nashville system, perhaps). Washington was desperate to make the playoffs, and wanted Martin Erat. Erat wanted to leave. It worked. The next year, David Legwand was informed by David Poile that he wasn't likely to be re-signed. Legwand waived his no-trade clause, and was shipped off to Detroit for Jarnkrok (pronounced YARN-kroak); a prospect who wasn't likely to see the NHL in Detroit due to their existing depth. Immediately, the two Swedes forged a bond in Milwaukee. It's so cute.
This past summer, Poile swung and missed on getting Jason Spezza from Ottawa. Spezza refused to accept the trade, so Poile called up Pittsburgh and Jim Rutherford. Neal cost the team Hornqvist, and the utility knife named Nick Spaling. Neal is good at scoring goals, hitting folks, and caring for hair. He's not just "good" at those things, he's actually very good. We'll miss Hornqvist, but this is an upgrade especially considering that he and Spaling are commanding over $6 million combined next season. Neal costs $5 million, and is the most talented player in the trade.
The Predators still have all those guys they signed last summer on their roster, except one.
Last summer, David Poile spent silly money on Eric Nystrom, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Hendricks, and Matt Cullen. How much is silly money? Their contracts are guaranteed to the tune of $36.4 MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS total during their terms. They scored a combined 35 goals last year for the team. Hendricks, arguably the worst of the 4 contracts, was traded to Edmonton for poor Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk played 124 minutes for Nashville, but it was the lesser of two evils.
The Predators made some changes behind the bench, and in philosophy.
Barry Trotz is not the coach anymore.
The Predators have a new coach, and new style of play.
Peter Laviolette is much more pro-possession and pro-youth than Trotz is/was, which works much better for a team that relies drafting and developing. In many ways, he's the anti-Trotz. We're not sure if this is going to work either, but we know it's change. We do know that "Lavy" has won everywhere he's been, and has a cup ring. Nashville has ZERO banners in the ceiling that are worth anything. Change is good.
The Predators signed four good players this offseason on one-year contracts.
Once the dust settled in July, Poile charged up his burner had made some calls. Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, and Anton Volchenkov are here for a stay in Music City on very low-risk/high-reward deals. Ribeiro and Roy are hunting for a place to revive their careers as good second line centers (although Ribeiro will be playing with James Neal on the top line to start the year), Jokinen will... be Olli Jokinen (we have no idea how this is going to work, but his hair is gorgeous), and Anton Volchenkov checks people like a linebacker. All of these guys may have passed the apex of their careers, but can teach the kids on the roster about work ethic, CCM jerseys, and other stuff that fits the narrative.
The Predators' division is brutal. Again.
The Predators made changes to the arena and your game night experience.
The team comes out a special entrance now from the corner of the home side, Gary Glitter is gone, and the Demonbreun Street entrance is much more functional. Plus, parking isn't near as bad as before.
Q: How will I be able to tell the new guys apart from the players I know?
A: Easy. They're more likely to have the puck, have gorgeous hair, and not throwing the puck in the corner while the other guys skate in circles. In all seriousness, this year will be much different for you if you don't watch a ton of other teams play. Nashville swapped from the most conservative, defensive system that relied on forwards creating chaos and turnovers into a pressing, offensive system that gains the zone and creates shots.
Q: Is Shea Weber still the baddest man in the NHL?
A: See below.
Seth Jones (@seth_jones3) August 21, 2014
Q: How many goals are we expecting from this so-called "goal scorer" James Neal.
A: Much depends on Mike Ribeiro/Derek Roy/Calle Jarnkrok/Whomever he's playing with. Neal is one the true snipers in the league, and knows it. He'll need a center to give him the puck in space. The bonus Neal will have in Nashville is that every defensive pairing has at least one guy with a very good shot. This might give him the space he needs, especially if Mike Ribeiro returns to form. While he was in Dallas, Ribeiro was just about the best stickhandler I've seen.
Q: My significant other/partner wants a new jersey. What should he/she get?
A: This is a tough one. There's plenty of Rinne and Weber jerseys around, let's think outside the box on this.
For a man:
-Is he cocky, good looking, and likes the nightlife? James Neal.
-Is he charming, handsome, and a natural leader of men? Filip Forsberg.
-Is he beautiful, understated, and has more fun than his friends? Roman Josi.
For a woman:
-Is she pretty, and has a smile that could bring a plant out of the ground in December? Calle Jarnkrok.
-Is she soft spoken, tall, and very talented? Seth Jones.
-Is she big, sassy, and has an American flag boob tattoo? Colin Wi-... um... Carter Hutton.
-Is she your dream girl? Craig Smith.
Q: Lastly, what should we expect this team to do?
A: Play hockey, score goals, and win more than they lose. We do have a full preview that's much more involved than this refresher course, but I'd be willing to say that this will be the most entertaining brand of hockey you've seen the Predators play since 2007, maybe ever.