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OTF Mailbag: Bottom Line Blues

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2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are roughly one month away from opening night in Boston. More importantly, it’s time for this week’s Mailbag!

Once a week we will throw out a chance for you to ask some Preds and NHL related questions to the crew, who will then provide their best answers. Feel free to submit questions to us at any time via Twitter, Facebook, or comments on the site.

This week, we break down the fate of this year’s bottom lines, who could surprise us with a spot on the roster, and the possibility of a certain former Nashville sniper making his way back home.

From Morgan Morris, “The Preds seem weak on the 3rd and 4th lines. Who do you think steps up and becomes the scoring threat for these lines, especially the 3rd line? Or do you think Poile needs to acquire a player thru a trade to fill this?”

Carson: I think we can look to see, generally speaking, a load of improvement this year. Pontus Aberg should add some depth, Scott Hartnell could add some scoring, and a Predators team with less Cody McLeod is a better Predators team.

Laura: Actually I think the lines could be just fine. Assuming Smith stays on Line 2 with Fiala, that would leave Jarnkrok, Hartnell and Aberg on the third line. With Jarnkrok’s defense, Aberg stepping up, and Hartnell’s net front presence, this could be a tough match for teams. On the fourth line, if we can sit McCleod and not get beaten up, Watson, Gaudreau/Sissons and Salomaki might be okay too. I think between these guys and Milwaukee we have excellent bottom six depth. I worry more about one of the top six getting injured.

George: This may not be the most realistic plan, but I believe Scott Hartnell can bring a scoring touch to the third line, especially on the power play. He’s a bigger winger who can provide a net-front presence that Nashville’s power play has missed. The last time he wasn’t on a team’s fourth line, he put up 23 goals (same as 2016-17 James Neal, FWIW) and 26 assists in 79 games in ‘15-’16; last season, he still managed 13 goals, 37 points with just a tad over 12 minutes per game.

While his defensive game may not be quite up to snuff, his offensive ability could be quite valuable to the bottom six.

Shaun: Everything’s comin’ up Pontus! He did some nasty work in the post-season. And not the bad kind of nasty, the good kind of nasty.

Chris: I’m on the Hartnell train as well. One thing the Preds have lacked since trading Patric Hornqvist is that net-front presence, and Hartnell fills that role. It can help both 5-on-5 and on the power play. Unrelated: I hear he plays a mean game of Mario Kart, so there’s something to add to the fun quotient of this team (like it really needed it in the first place).

Carson: If not for Matt Irwins’ left handedness, we would probably see a Irwin-Emelin 3rd pairing. However, since he shoots with the same hand as Alexei Emelin, pairing them would be ill advised. Therefore, we will probably see the two of them splitting time early until one of them out-performs the other.

Laura: My struggle with the third pairing is a soft spot for Matt Irwin. Also would we bench the $3M Emelin? So my best case is Irwin and Emelin (with someone playing their off side). My worst case would be Anthony Bitetto and Yannick Weber.

George: In my opinion, the best-case is that Emelin plays well enough to replace Yannick Weber (even though Weber typically plays RD and Emelin is a left-shooting defenseman) and we receive 10-12 good minutes per night from an effective Emelin-Irwin pairing. The worst case is Emelin replacing Irwin as some national media members seem to think. Irwin was significantly more effective than Weber on our third pairing last year, so I hope Irwin isn’t removed from the lineup.

Shaun: Realistically, we’re looking at an Emelin/Weber pairing. As far as worst/best case scenarios go, Emelin is a solid 3rd pairing D-man. We already know what we’re getting with Weber. And, Emelin may have been forced to take on more than he needed to last year while partnered with Shea Weber. I guess worst case is that one of our top 4 guys gets a case of the yips and falls down to the 3rd pair and forces Emelin back into the blinding spotlight of a higher line.

Chris: Because he’s a left-handed shot, Emelin threatens Irwin’s spot on that third pairing. Let me be clear: I do not like his contract. But now that he’s here and not dealt again, Emelin needs to play (for now). It’s Emelin-Weber on that third pairing until further notice.

Carson: I don’t neccesarily think this will happen, but if I had to take someone it would be Freddy G. His position is most likely to lack depth this season, especially if Jarnkrok gets moved to winger.

Laura: Neither of these would be a total shock, but I am going to go with Freddy Gaudreau and Mikka Salomaki. Unless they move him to wing, Gaudreau would need to beat out Sissons for the fourth line center (or unless Jarnkrok moves to wing). Salomaki hasn’t played significant hockey in a long time and has been jumped over by others from Milwaukee.

George: Vladislav Kamenev. While I’m not sure this would be a total surprise, I hope Kamenev makes the team out of camp as a middle six center or winger. With 90 points in 133 AHL games (including playoffs), I’m not so sure the 21-year-old forward can learn a whole lot more in Milwaukee. I believe (perhaps more like hope?) that he earns a spot next to Bonino on the second line, or perhaps as the third line center next to two of Hartnell, Jarnkrok, and Aberg.

Chris: Since we’ve mentioned Gaudreau/Salomaki/Kamanev already, I’m going to go back to the previous question and see if another right-handed defenseman shocks us and drives his stock up. There aren’t many options there - veteran Petter Granberg is one, and three rookies - Frederic Allard, Alexandre Carrier and Jack Dougherty are names to watch there. Dougherty has the most size (6-1, 194), but they’re all rookies, which will make it extremely difficult to make the leap. Long story short, it’s probably Kamenev.

From Brent T Baker, “How likely is David Poile to try an[d] reacquire James Neal when his current contract expires?”

Carson: As much as some of us wish, Nealer coming back to Music City isn’t very likely. His price tag will probably be raised at least some when the offseason rolls around, and the Predators could very well already have enough offensive production. However, talks could certainly spark if Nashvilles’ offense is lackluster, and Neal puts in another solid year.

Laura: I don’t think this will happen strictly from a need/money standpoint. If Bonino doesn’t work out at 2C that would be a top need. Also Neal is going to get a raise as a UFA even at his age. With Pekka still on the books and others needing raises, I don’t see the timing working out. Much could depend though on if his output improves this year and if one of Smith/Fiala/Aberg/Hartnell doesn’t produce.

George: I don’t think the odds are great, but it could happen. Neal turned 30 on Saturday (Happy belated birthday, Heel) and may be looking for a contract similar to the one signed by Kyle Okposo in July 2016 (7 years, $6M AAV), but with perhaps a little less term. He may deserve a raise, but with the upcoming contracts to Ellis and Saros in 2019 I don’t think Poile is quite prepared to give out a $6x6 to a winger who is already 30 years old. If Poile could snag Neal for Craig Smith money, perhaps it’s more likely to happen.

Shaun: It all depends on the kind of year Neal has. If Neal has a crazy year that raises his price tag, I doubt we’ll see him back in Nashville (as a Predator). But if his numbers slump due to playing on a team that isn’t used to playing together and Poile can get a great deal, I think his familiarity with the (largely retained) team and organization would make for a great homecoming. While there is a possibility of a slump, cream rises. I still say he has bigger star potential for the Golden Knights than Fleury. On a totally unrelated note, I’m still in mourning over Neal’s departure. I was about to get his jersey.

Chris: I don’t think it will happen in free agency. His price tag may very well be too high. Think trade deadline deal if you want to see Neal back in Nashville. That seems more realistic, though it would mean Poile vs. McPhee again, and the latter may still have a bit of a singed tail from “The Forsberg Trade.” Perhaps if the salary cap heads farther north next year than expected, it may be a possibility, but current trends suggest that won’t happen.