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 fact that the local professional football team is once again... well... um... we welcome you with open arms, friends. And you picked a good time. We've been told that hockey might be fun again this year.
The Predators made the playoffs last year, and are expected to make them again this year.
Yes. And yes. Some would even dare to say that this team should be better, yet again. Not everyone agrees, but that's life. The team does have plenty of players entering their prime or getting closer to their apex, with only a few players that are on the decline. Plus, the team still have some prospects we could see later this year make an impact.
We said all of that last year, and this year we’re going to expect more of the same. The team is aiming to get faster and more skilled, and with a few exceptions... the team is still rich in youth.
The Predators still have Filip Forsberg, Pekka Rinne, James Neal, and arguably the best group of defensemen in the league.
All true. Forsberg and Neal pushed each other for the team lead in goals, and gave the Preds two legit scoring lines. Remember when they barely had one? Or when this team was icing Marcel Goc as a top-six center? Yeah, those days weren’t that long ago, but they feel like decades.
Forsberg and Neal had excellent years, but Pekka Rinne had a rough regular season. And if the Preds want to hang a banner in the rafters, he’ll need to be better... a lot better.
The Predators no longer have Shea Weber and Seth Jones, among others.
WHAT IN THE HELL ARE THE PREDS DOING? THOSE GUYS WERE GOOD AT HOCKEY. AND YOU SAID THAT THE--
The Predators now have P.K. Subban and Ryan Johansen instead.
If you frequented this site in the last 4-6 years, you’ll recall that many of us bemoaned the fact that Nashville never had that #1 top-line center. This is a player that is normally taken in the first few picks of the draft, and the one time Nashville had a top 5 pick in recent memory... Seth Jones was on the board.
The plan wasn’t always going to be trading Shea or Seth at some point, but Ryan Ellis has steadily developed into a very good defenseman on a GREAT contract. Shea Weber had one of the worst contracts in sports, and Seth Jones was going to ask for big money before too long.
In a pair of blockbuster “one for one” trades, Nashville shifted itself from a team with pair of very good right-handed defensemen to a team with a young #1 center and one of the most dynamic defensemen in the league.
Remember that trophy Weber never won for being the best defensemen in the league? Subban has already won that. He’s also one of the real good guys of the league, and loves kids.
From a hockey standpoint, the team might be even better. Roman Josi will no longer just be “handed” the puck in all situations by his partner. Subban can skate with the best of them. Feel free to be excited by this development. By the way, Roman Josi is arguably the best defenseman on the team, and has been for 2+ years.
If the name Ryan Johansen isn’t as familiar, don’t feel bad. Johansen was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and was well on his way to being the face of that star-crossed franchise. He was named MVP to the 2015 All-Star Game, and helped propel the Jackets to a fun playoff series with the Penguins. Then without warning... the Blue Jackets hired John Tortorella and his style of play no longer fit what Columbus was trying to do. Johansen is a large, puck distributing center. And with weapons like James Neal, Craig Smith, and Filip Forsberg among others, a full season in Nashville will do him a world of good.
The Predators' defense could be the best in franchise history.
We're not kidding. They should be very good.
The Predators also no longer Erat, Legwand, Sullivan, Dumont, Arnott, Hamhuis, or Nick Spaling.
That's for the one person who hasn't visited the site since 2009.
The Predators also jettisoned Eric Nystrom, Paul Gaustad, Carter Hutton, Gabriel Bourque, and Barrett Jackman.
Remember when we said the team is getting younger and faster? Hutton, Nystrom and Gaustad were not re-signed, and Jackman was bought out. Gabriel Bourque got hurt last year, and never returned to the lineup. Nystrom was released from his try-out earlier this month, and both Gaustad and Jackman have recently retired. Bourque is on the Colorado Avalanche roster.
The Predators still have Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Mike Fisher, Calle Jarnkrok, James Neal, Craig Smith, and Colin Wilson on their roster...
...And that is an excellent core of an NHL team. Forsberg, Jarnkrok, and Ekholm all signed six-year extensions that begin with this year. Mike Fisher is entering the last year on his contract, but chances are that he’ll play hockey for Nashville as long as he wants. Fisher had a rough start to the year, but he finished up nicely and once again became a postseason hero. Josi, Ellis, and Ekholm will be joined by P.K. Subban to become the NHL’s best defensemen corps.
Coach Laviolette rarely likes to play Filip Forsberg and James Neal together, so expect Craig Smith and Colin Wilson to still play some key minutes this year. Wilson came alive in the playoffs, and Smith had a solid regular season. Calle Jarnkrok spent time on the top line and the middle lines. He’s a useful player, and the coaches love him.
The Predators' best prospects are guys who were drafted to score goals (and a goaltender).
The years spent drafting for Barry Trotz hockey did very little to add to the top-end of the lineup. Case in point: of the Preds’ top 2 lines in the postseason, only Colin Wilson and Craig Smith were drafted by the Predators. David Poile augmented this roster with trades for Neal, Forsberg, Johansen, Jarnkrok and Fisher, and plucked Mike Ribeiro off the scrapheap two years ago. So while the Preds were able to draft and develop defensemen, the Preds relied on their veteran general manager to swap assets for offense.
Preds fans have been patiently waiting for Kevin Fiala and Vladislav Kamenev to crack the lineup. The good news: Fiala made the roster! Fiala is a fiery young player who skates with purpose and has a bit of a personality. Kamenev will take a bit longer to mature, but he’ll be expected to take a center spot on the roster next year full-time, if not sooner.
The Predators are still coached by Peter Laviolette.
Laviolette is not Barry Trotz. They don't even look or sound alike. You'll really embarrass yourself if you talk about Trotz as if he's still coaching the team. Laviolette received a 2-year contract extension over the summer, which is warranted.
The Predators played a very fast, up-tempo style of hockey during the last two years.
Even the TV ratings were up. The Preds played a much more possession friendly style, and that's only going to improve this year with another season in this system. Plus...
The Predators' defense could be the best in franchise history.
Again. Yes. You’ll hear that a lot this year.
The Predators' division is brutal, but likely not as tough as last year.
The Central Division is the toughest in the west, but Nashville might be getting their shot this year. St. Louis lost their captain, former Selke nominee, and leader when David Backes left for Boston. Playoff hero Troy Brouwer is also gone, and the team wasn’t able to execute a trade for Kevin Shattenkirk despite telling the entire world they wanted to do so. They also got stupid and traded their better goaltender Brian Elliot to Calgary, and gave the reigns to Jake Allen, Carter Hutton, and... (sigh)... Pheonix Copley. That’s not a typo, his parents decided to give him the name of a failed bull rider. However, they did bring in Nail Yakupov and David Perron... because the Blues are preparing for life beyond Ken Hitchcock.
Chicago traded Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell to Carolina for a pair of draft picks. While that trade does shed salary... Blackhawks fans are still bitter about giving up Teuvo. Minnesota brought in Eric Staal to their lineup, but the bad news for them is the current year is 2016 and Eric Staal has been on the decline for a while. Then you have Dallas, who are depending on Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi again.
All of that to say... no team in this division is perfect. Aside from Nashville, the Avalanche made the biggest move to get better by subtracting Patrick Roy from their team.
The Predators are wearing “gold” helmets for all home games this year.
Because branding is stronger than shame, I guess. Not everyone loves this idea, but if the team wins enough and this is the biggest complaint... we’ll live with it. Nothing is subtle with this team’s branding these days, and they do like to seem to draw lines when they don’t have to. But for all of our sakes, don’t tell someone “you’re not a real fan” if they believe that athletic yellow/team gold is not their favorite color.
The Predators made more changes to the arena and your game night experience.
The upper bowl and club level have been updated, the food and shops on the lower level have been updated, and there are even more plans to keep the building updated through the years.
Q: This team got shelled in the playoffs by San Jose last year in game seven. What makes you think it won’t happen again?
A: This team won’t be as inept in overtime this year, we hope. And with a handful of overtime points, Nashville may not be in the 2nd wild card spot this upcoming spring. Plus, Shea Weber is no longer going to be laying down in front of his goalie again in the playoffs.
Q: Why did Shea Weber change his number?
A: That’s actually Yannick Weber. Shea Weber was traded (see above).
Q: How good is Filip Forsberg?
A: We’re a bit biased, since he helped execute the new style of fun and offensive-minded hockey in Nashville. So let’s listen to members of the Swedish National Team talk about our beloved Prince Filip. (Full article here)
"We know him very well. He’s been in our program since he was 15," Sweden’s general manager Tommy Boustedt told Sportsnet prior to the tournament. "Our head coach Rikard Gronborg has been working with him since he was a kid. They know each other very well. He will become team captain of the national team [one day] because he always used to be captain in our junior national teams. He’s a very nice person. He’s the best goal scorer on our team.
"I have to say he reminds me a lot of Alex [Ovechkin] actually with his release," Forsberg's linemate Nicklas Backstrom, who scored Sweden's second marker, said. "He loves shooting the puck, he loves going to the net, he loves creating stuff and in that way he reminds me a little bit of Ovie. He's a talented kid. He's been great in the NHL the last couple years and he's going to be even better. He brings that enthusiasm."
Q: My significant other/partner wants a new jersey. What should he/she get?
A: This is the best question you could ask. Here's what we said two years ago:
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 your dream girl? Craig Smith.
And here is what we said last year:
Assuming either one of you already has a Forsberg, Rinne, or Fisher jersey, we have a few more options for this year.
For a man:
-Is he a rugged athlete that's great with kids? Mattias Ekholm
-Is he a country song in human form? Austin Watson
For a woman:
-Is she a short stack of dynamite, and known for being a boss? Ryan Ellis
-Is she a former model who suddenly became a crossfit trainer? Kevin Fiala
And now... this year.
For a man:
-Is he a large guy who is proclaimed handsome, carries it well, and is very comfortable with his masculinity? Ryan Johansen
-Is he the epitome of hard-working guy who is hard to dislike? Colton Sissons
-Is he the type of guy who runs through walls and has the pain threshold of a hammer? Miikka Salomaki
For a woman:
-Is she an overachiever who lets her game do the talking? Viktor Arvidsson
-Is she a beautiful person with a beautiful soul? P.K. Subban
Q: Lastly, what should we expect this team to do?
A: Play hockey, score goals, and win more than they lose... same as last year. But unlike any other year, this team has a very tangible shot at winning a ring this year. Not just this year, but the year after and the year after. Only two items concern the experts about the 2016-17 Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne, and the center depth. Rinne had a rough year, but finished strong enough in the playoffs to get past the Ducks. Mike Fisher had a rough start, but did his job and then some in the playoffs. Ribeiro was playing competently, but fizzled out in spring to the point he was a health scratch in the playoffs. It’s not often a veteran coach scratches a veteran player in the playoffs. Both Mike’s are north of 1,000 games played.
Honestly, we should expect them to win a couple of rounds in the playoffs. Anything less would be a bummer.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy this team until the playoffs. People across the league are talking about how much fun this team will be. And if Pekka Rinne can get back to his career normal... we could be watching local hockey in May again.