Every year before the season gets going, we throw out some Big Questions to the OTF crew to get their takes. The idea is to get a cross-section of opinions on a variety of topics.
This year we are splitting up the Big Questions into multiple posts, giving you two questions at a time. We’ve got a lot more respondents this year, so we figured it would be a bit more palatable with two at a time.
As always, give us your takes in the comments below.
Off we go!
1. Last year at this time, we were all aboard the Steve Moses hype train. We saw how that turned out. So who is this year's Steve Moses? Who are we really excited about in preseason that might go the way of the dodo?
Well, hopefully no one defects to the KHL, but I think the player with the most disparate "hype vs. actual contribution" ratio will be Juuse Saros. He will likely get edged out by Marek Mazanec for the backup position and then find himself in Milwaukee all season. The good thing is that he has a huge amount of upside and we will see Saros in Nashville soon, even if it's not til next year.
This is a hard one, since there aren't really any free agent signings with any sort of hype for this season. I'll say Aberg. He's on the bubble of making the team, but could easily be kept out by Arvidsson retaining his spot, or Fiala establishing himself as a legit NHL player. I don't think he has quite the offensive pop he would need to really get a foothold on the roster, and my money's on him heading back to the Swedish league next season.
This is a tough one. A lot of players could fit this bill, but I am going with Kevin Fiala. There have been high hopes for quite some time now. The hype train is definitely at full capacity. I don't think that he will necessarily be a dud like Steve Moses was, but I could so this year playing out like last. A brief stint in the big leagues and then back to the minors. Let's hope I am completely wrong though.
I'm going to go with Yannick Weber. As an NHLer he has averaged between 45 and 60 games with mild success and now he is expected, at the age of 28, to suddenly play a full time role. Yannick Weber is playing in a system that he should theoretically thrive in but you never know how someone's going to do until they start getting some actual NHL game action; not just preseason. Kevin Fiala is another obvious choice as an AHLer potentially making the jump to the NHL.
I had to Google Steve Moses just to remember who he was, talk about falling into obscurity. Tough break Moses! Honestly I don't think the Predators have anyone in the organization like that at the moment. With most of the hype surrounding P.K. Subban this off-season it's hard to pinpoint someone. The bottom defensive pairing will be an interesting rotation until they find something that works, but I don't see any of those guys just falling off and booking a red-eye for the KHL. It's always a toss up with the younger players in Milwaukee. They're young and they get their feelings hurt, it happens. The worst case scenario would be Mazanec. His future could go a few ways depending on Juuse Saros. If for some reason Saros gets the backup role over Mazanec, he'd be a likely suspect to want to go anywhere but back to Milwaukee.
Vladislav Kamenev. I would love to be wrong about this. Kamenev looks like a thrilling prospect who could eventually take that second line center spot behind Ryan Johansen. However, like Steve Moses last season, he has yet to actually prove anything. He's a young player, so there's no reason to believe he won't mature and become that second line center, but by the same token, he has to get there to show it.
Colin Wilson becoming Playoff Colin Wilson for the entire season. We all saw the potential of Wilson once again in the postseason last year, and that performance had many optimistic he could finally put it all together coming into this season, I just don't see it. At this point in the his career, we have to realize what kind of player Wilson is going to be. A very streaky forward with a lot of skill that will have significant ups and down. He certainly is capable of producing a career year in the upcoming campaign but don't hold your breath if that's what you're expecting.
2. When is the best time for Poile to address Ryan Johansen's looming contract? Early in the season? Late? Around the trade deadline? St. Patty's Day? Sometime between the end of the season and June 30th? Never?
Game #1. And if not that, then Game #2. Lock this dude up soon, because the price will only go up. If Poile waits until the team is in desperation mode or until Johansen scores 40 goals, the pocketbook gets stretched that much further. I would even sacrifice term length for money, as long as it gets done soon.
I'm hoping an extension gets wrapped up in January. By then, we should have a good view of what his production as the first line center of this team will be, but Poile won't be running up against any sort of arbitration deadlines. With Johansen's age and RFA/UFA status, arbitration is very bad. I don't think Poile needs to get him signed this week, but if it isn't done by the end of the regular season I will be very worried.
Contract talks always seems to be the elephant in the room. I don't think there is a good time to address the issue necessarily. I would like to hope the earlier the better though. If Poile can get Johansen locked up before New Years, I think that would be the best possible scenario. I think it's also important for Joey to get it done so that he can focus on his play on the ice. I also think it would be awesome if Poile announced the contract the same day he acquired Johansen last season.
If the Predators could negotiate a contract with Johansen in the first half of the season that would probably be ideal. Johansen's value will probably be at its lowest (if all goes well and he does return to top form) and the Predators will not be jockeying for position in the playoffs.
If they can't get it done before the All Star game I would say they should wait until the off-season so Joey can focus on his play. If logic dictates, Johansen's camp will want to wait until that time anyway because his value was lowered after this past season. They will want to see if he can have yet another breakout season and garner that big money.
Ryan Johansen is going to have to prove that his productivity is consistent before Poile starts waving his magical contract wand around. With the team moving in the direction of speed he'll have to make sure all questions of his conditioning are silenced. If RyJo really is the number one center the Predators have always needed and comes out guns a blazing early in the season, he'll be locked in before St. Patrick's Day. However, if he's slow to get something going and can't rack up the goals before Christmas, it wouldn't surprise me if Poile waited till the last second to make a decision. I think Johansen and Neal will continue to have great chemistry, so he really shouldn't have any issues putting the puck in the net.
The sooner, the better. We all saw how horribly Ryan Johansen was treated with contract issues in Columbus. We want him here in Nashville. Sign him early and prove it to him. Maybe send him some roses. Throw in a box of chocolates, too. Or maybe another hockey stick. I don't care how it gets done, but Poile needs to do whatever it takes to lock him up, and the earlier it's done the better.
Around Christmas time would be a good projection. That gives Johansen and the team a good sample size of games to gauge success in his first full-season with Nashville. If he is in fact in the best shape of his life, Johansen should have no trouble getting back to his All-Star level of play with the dynamic scorers that will surround him. Getting the contract out of the way before the new year would be a huge accomplishment for the simple fact there won't be a cloud hanging over the Predators as they try to make a playoff run.