Let us rejoice in the fact that our hockey team probably won’t be terrible this year.
When you look back at the history of this silly franchise, you don’t see a great deal of success up until recently, but you also don’t see bunches of years marked with apathy and wretched hockey. The Predators have made the playoffs consistently, taken steps forward in their maturation process, and grown organically into the region’s team. That’s the stuff you all know. And it is the stuff that every non-Nashville writer loves to pen whenever the team does something of note in the playoffs.
By now, every casual fan of the sport knows the team overcame some instability from the front office/ownership in the early years. And yet, they were a perennial playoff team once their franchise training wheels came off... until 2012. That’s what started the real franchise reboot, and a philosophy change.
Again... you know all of this.
This past week, the Predators traded for center Kyle Turris from Ottawa, and immediately signed him to a six-year extension. This gives the Preds a comfortable 1-2 punch of Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris for the next six years after this season (plus Johansen has a seventh year), and affordable forwards to accompany them. The defense has some contracts coming up, but all signs are looking good in retaining their core of defensemen that have become the trademark of the Nashville style. This trade, along with some crafty contract work by David Poile & Co., will allow Nashville to contend past Rinne’s stay in Nashville, whether it ends after next season or even later.
Most Preds fans and some hockey fans know about the struggles Nashville has had luring free agents and developing center depth to go along with their active defense. What Preds fans have to get used to is a team that will have good play down the middle for many years to come. Will they be the best tandem in the league? Eh, probably not... but with the defense and wingers Nashville has and can develop they don’t have to be.
That’s the exciting part, and the part we don’t know; we’ve never seen a Nashville Predators team with this type of depth at center.
It has to be the line Kyle Turris has been centering. Craig Smith has found his legs again, and Kevin Fiala looks right at home. Fiala is evolving as a passer, and a couple of players like Turris and Smith who love to shoot and more importantly... know how to get open. Turris is comfortable in the middle of the ice, and that’s going to keep creating space for Fiala to skate circles around folks, and for Smith to evolve into a nicer, PG version of our beloved James Neal.
Honorable mention to Nick Bonino, for this gem of a tweet.
There are several things going on here I’d like to discuss.
- Kevin Fiala is an absolute gym rat, and he’s added on muscle mass every year. Folks, he’s still on his ELC and probably got that suit a couple years ago for Hockey Fights Cancer.
- Bonino definitely said something to him in passing, probably about how he can see his pockets through his pants. Kevin tried to respond... too late... shutter got him.
- Not only can you totally see his pockets through his pants, but you could probably see a business card in his pocket if he had one in there. He looks good.
The Ryan Johansen Goal Clock™ was already getting tough to avoid. Johansen made a good effort to stalk the slot against Washington, and was unlucky that he didn’t find the back of the net. That being said he had two total shots, and no assists in a game with 6 goals. He finally bagged his first against Minnesota by simply throwing the puck at the goalie’s skates. You can’t overlook his 10 assists so far, nor can you overlook the fact he plays beside two players that love their own shot, and Johansen is going to be slotted against the top defensemen pairing on most nights... but at some point, Johansen will need to chip in a bit more. He doesn’t have to be a 30-30 guy (this year) playing beside Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Most Predators fans would be okay with another 60+ point season, provided the wins keep coming.
But for the love of Brent Peterson and Terry Crisp... at least shoot the puck on the power play.
Also, this team has a problem with leads. They’ve been blowing leads. It’s shameful to go back to this reputation since they spent the entire postseason putting their foot on the gas.
Pekka Rinne has allowed 12 goals in his last three starts. Are they all on Pekka? No. Can he be better? Yes. Does this look like last year where he had good months and bad months? Yes.
This week’s quote comes from Old Hockey Guy Brian Burke, when addressing the importance of coaching.
“Unless you’ve got it in the room, unless you draft and trade with an eye towards lifestyle and culture, it doesn’t matter (how good your coach is). Jesus Christ couldn’t get 20 idiots to win,” Burke proclaimed.
“The guys we put in the room, we want a certain level of professionalism, we want certain attributes,” he added moments later, after everybody had recovered from the God reference. “Coachability, listening skills, empathy for teammates — all the stuff we look for, it takes time. You can’t change the room, you can’t change the whole thing overnight.”
The whole piece is here, and worth reading. You’ll recoil to know that Gary Bettman is only 65 years old.
What made you want to come back to writing? Sleeper team that can contend a lot of people are thinking about? Mine is Winnipeg
And All time LEAST favorite Predator/almost Predator?
I’m back to writing mostly for something to do. I stopped mostly because I thought I reached my happiest point with it back after the All-Star Game in 2016 and everything after that felt a lot like work. There was a moment when I looked around The Bridge at the Renaissance Hotel (my favorite place to dine/drink downtown) and saw friends, colleagues, people from all over North America that came to that place after the skills competition. I did my best to mingle with everyone who showed up, and enjoyed plenty of wine. I realized that was probably going to be the best moment I could hope for while steering the site. That timing coincided with getting career shifting promotion, and recognizing that I wasn’t being the best boyfriend/human/co-worker in the world while writing a ton. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and so does capitalism. I have some more time on my hands now.
Least favorite? The obvious choice here is #63. I did my best to show some appreciation for him during his first season, and felt very betrayed towards the end of that saga. And I’m pretty certain I stood next to him at Publix last summer.
Should "How do you feel about sharks?" be the first question Scott Strickland asks any potential Florida football coach?
Any coach or human being that’s romantically attracted to sharks needs to be vetted for any state funded job. That’s a reasonable request.
- When I lived in Murfreesboro, there was one night where sirens and blue lights didn’t seem to end. I lived off of Leaf Avenue, close to the square and the campus in a little old house. I heard everything. It was a 300 person club “brawl”. In situations like that... you can’t arrest everybody.
Much like the shift commander that night, Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan can’t scratch everybody, but their defensemen should be on notice. Both the Stars and Oilers sit at 7th in their divisions, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Historically, this is a good barometer of a team’s playoff chances.
- The Predators are missing Ryan Ellis, who may be the team’s best pure defender. And while it’s easier to overlook a team’s flaws when they win games over good teams like the Penguins and Capitals, this team misses him dearly. The offense is clicking, but the defense does not play well when the team decides to surrender the puck in favor of defensive positioning.
It’s hard to be angry at a 3 game stretch against Pittsburgh, Washington, and Minnesota where the team went 2-1-0, but when the team blows leads in all three games... that’s a concerning pattern.
On to the next one.