With all the whirlwind of our old coach getting hired this week, it may be easy to forget that we have our own new guy behind the bench now.
Barry Trotz landing a gig with the Washington Capitals has brought up plenty of discussions about the Predators' offensive struggles while he was here. Ryan Lambert from Puck Daddy/Deadspin touched on the very subject yesterday. (Read the entire thing if you haven't already, for anyone curious about Alex Ovechkin.)
However, it's important to note that the Predators just haven't had many offensive stars on the roster. David Legwand has been a fine pro for a very long time, but he's been with the Predators for 15 years and his 210 goals, 356 assists, and 566 points are all team team records. Jason Arnott, meanwhile, scored an team-high 33 goals in 65 games in 2008-09, when his career was decidedly winding down. This is the general quality of the Predators offense, in almost any given season.
It's a fair assessment. Legwand, Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist have the three biggest homegrown forward talents, great players but hardly world beaters. The majority of the rest of the team has been fringe third liners and free agents on the back end of their career. (Paul Kariya, J.P. Dumont, Steve Sullivan, Peter Forsberg, etc.)
Much has been made of Trotz's ability (or lack thereof) to develop offense. Whether that's truly a fault of the coach, or his players didn't have that high a ceiling, doesn't really matter anymore. (Though, I'd listen to an argument that Colin Wilson was his biggest failure.) Instead, it's time for Peter Laviolette to succeed in that department, and it becomes one of his biggest priorities.
A shift to a higher scoring team has been the focus of the decision for a new coach. All of that starts with finding the talents in each player and helping them hone in on it, the utilizing that for the team. Matt Cullen has already gushed about the way Laviolette gets the most out of his players. Hopefully, that means having balance on each line, and giving them ample time to gel. How many times did the combinations change this past year?
For once, the organization has players with extraordinary potential in Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg. They also haven't played in the Predators' system for very long, which may make easier on them than anyone to adjust. Still, they're prospects, and it falls on the new coach to turn them into the players the organization saw when they traded for them. If you add Craig Smith to the list, those are three young, top-six potential forwards ready to make their mark in the franchise. That's more than they've had in years.
On the flip side, Wilson and Viktor Stalberg are in dire need of direction and a definitive role on the team, and will be Laviolette's biggest projects. Both of them get a fresh slate this season, and for Wilson, it's going to be his last chance to prove himself. If anyone could benefit from cohesive line combinations, it's him. In a contract year with a new coach, expect him to play his tail off. We should know by the end of this season whether it was Trotz's system or Wilson himself that stunted his development.
Stalberg could be reborn under the new coach, so long as he puts him with the right players, and uses him in a way that maximizes his speed. If he isn't buried with fourth liners, 35 points isn't a farfetched notion for him.
As for the rest, you'll know what type of individual effort you'll get, but questions still linger. Can Hornqvist score 30 goals again? Will Mike Fisher have a repeat season, despite his age? Is Gabriel Bourque a true third liner or just another piece that will soon be discarded? And how many opportunities will the kids in Milwaukee have to play themselves into the lineup?
Laviolette has his work cut out for him, to be sure. He may not have the most eye-popping roster in the league, but few of his players have really had the opportunity to play a fast, uptempo, offensive game. And that's the exciting thing about this coming season. For the first time in 15 years, not a single person knows what to expect from this team or its players.