Shove your swimming trunks back in your closet and dust off your parka.
Hockey is here.
The Nashville Predators start their 2014-2015 season at home against the Ottawa Senators. For fans across the south, tonight has been (metaphorically) circled on the calendars since Peter Laviolette took over coaching duties in April. The small portion of preseason games was hardly enough to sate our appetites, and now it's finally time to get the first game underway.
David Poile promised a culture change when he let Barry Trotz go back in April. The strange thing is he actually delivered on that promise, at least in theory. With a new coach, a new system, a new score, and a ton of new additions, the Predators are ready to see if all the craziness of the summer is going to end their two-year playoff drought.
It starts tonight.
The Ottawa Senators
The Sens have been all over the place the last few years. Two years of playoff appearances in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 have been bookended by early summers. After seeing their beloved captain bolt to Detroit last summer, they had their beloved captain traded to Dallas this summer. Ouch.
Luckily, not only did they find some stability by naming Erik Karlsson the successor to Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, they also quashed rumors of another player leaving by locking up Bobby Ryan. Like, for a while. The 27-year-old is going to get an average of $7 million per season for the next seven years. Given that he is still a big goal-scoring threat, Ottawa has to be happy he wanted to stick around.
They're going to need those goals, though. Last year Ottawa was 27th in the league in goals against, which is just awful. That needs to vastly improve if they have any hope of sniffing the playoffs this year. The top spots in the Atlantic seems to be penciled in by Boston, Montreal and Tampa Bay. Given how wide-open the Metro could be, and the coin flip seasons Toronto and Detroit seem prepped to have, could Ottawa sneak in? They hope so, but it didn't help that the only player they brought in to replace Spezza and Ales Hemsky was David Legwand.
Craig Anderson should see the start tonight. He posted a .911 SV% with an ugly 3.00 GAA the previous season.
The Nashville Predators
Offense. Offense. Offense. We're sick to death of hearing about it (ok, no we aren't) but are finally ready to see it in action.
Pushing the buttons behind the Preds' bench tonight is going to be someone other than Barry Trotz for the first time in recorded history. Also joining the coach are players walking out of the locker room in gold for the first ime: noted sniper and villain, James Neal; the world's most skilled question mark, Mike Ribeiro; Hair God, Olli Jokinen, known bone pulverizer, Anton Volchenkov; and Derek Roy.
The success of the team partly depends on how quick and how well each of those players adapts to their new surroundings. Not many people are taking the Predators seriously as playoff threats this year because of all the questionable one-year contracts. Let them underestimate.
In reality, the new guys aren't at it alone. Craig Smith is poised for a breakout year. Filip Forsberg, Calle Janrkrok and Taylor Beck are all rookies looking to blow the doors wide open and prove they have no need to spend any more time in the AHL. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones take up the meat of one of the best defense corps in the NHL. Something something Colin Wilson.
And, of course, the team is still led by Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne, two of the best players at their respective positions. The Predators are going to be much more competitive than anyone gives them credit for this year. They aren't a stone cold lock for the playoffs, but it's not an insane notion to think they could get there.
Nashville has a lot to prove. Heck, half the roster has a lot to prove. It may be an ugly first couple of weeks as the glue sets, but the team is motivated to win for themselves, for their coach, and for their fans. Bring it on.
Reason to Watch
Hmm, nope. Can't think of a single one. Sorry.
Wouldn't It Be Funny If...
After all the hype and pre-game hysterics, salivating hockey fans are treated to a 1-0 snoozer and oh crap that's what's going to happen, isn't it?
If you happen to be at home instead of in attendance, the game can be found on FS-TN locally. Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. CST.