It’s a weird, weird year, but we’re still getting our season predictions ready. We don’t know how many games the Predators will play, or whether the season will actually run its course, but we’re not trying to predict any of that.
Who are your predictions for team scoring leaders?
Eamon: I’ll have to go with Filip Forsberg leading the team in goals, Matt Duchene leading in assists, and Roman Josi leading in points. I’m still not convinced that Viktor Arvidsson will ever be able to replicate his past peak production now that teams have seemingly figured out how to defend him, so Forsberg seems like a safe bet to lead the team in tallies yet again. Duchene will probably be split up from #9 to start the year, but I’ll be bold and predict that he, Forsberg and Mikael Granlund will eventually reunite; that puts Duchene in the best position to rack up the apples. Josi will probably be the team’s most effective offensive player yet again, so it’s not a bad idea to pick him to lead the team in overall production.
Rachel: Roman Josi.
Nick: As much as I’d love to imagine the Predators with a trio of high-scoring forwards, this is an offense that runs through the blueline. I think Josi is the team leader in points and assists for the second year in a row, but that doesn’t mean the forward corps is doomed for another disappointing season. Forsberg (who’s my pick as the team leader in goals) and Ryan Johansen are primed for high-scoring years with JoFA reunited, and even though that second line isn’t as “sexy” on paper as it was last year, I think you’re going to see great production from Duchene.
Shaun: I’m gonna go with Matt Duchene. I think he has a big season this go-round and silences a lot of the haters and doubters.
Bobby: This is a much more challenging question than it’s been in a long time. With a full off-season for head coach John Hynes to figure out what exactly he wants from his players, it’s tough to predict how everyone will fare in his complete strategic portfolio. Therefore, it’s best to play it safe and simply stick with the best player on the Predators, Roman Josi.
Who is your prediction for first team in the New Central? Last?
Eamon: The Tampa Bay Lightning are winning the Central, and I say that with confidence. I’ll get wild here and say that the Chicago Blackhawks will be worse than the atrocious Detroit Red Wings thanks to their pair of AHL-caliber netminders with the big club. Detroit would be the easy pick, but they improved quite a bit in the offseason and a fully healthy Anthony Mantha will help boost that team a bit in addition to guys like Greiss, Djoos and Ryan.
Nick: Conventional wisdom from the past two decade says the reigning Cup-winner tends to sputter out of the gate the next season. But with the past nine months as wacky as they’ve been, I’m going to stay “chalk” and pick the Lightning to take the division. I also don’t think Eamon’s take is as “wild” as it seems. The Blackhawks were in turmoil even before Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach got injured, and unless Ryan Strome suddenly becomes an all-star scorer, Patrick Kane’s not going to have enough help to salvage this season.
Rachel: I want to say the Lightning, but my gut tells me that the Columbus Blue Jackets will be sneaky-good.
Shaun: I think the Carolina Hurricanes are going to be better than a lot of people think they’ll be, but look for Tampa Bay to edge them out of the top spot. Last? Chicago.
Bobby: Tampa Bay is a logical choice but, with Nikita Kucherov out for the season and knowing Steven Stamkos will inevitably miss some time, I’ll pick the Columbus Blue Jackets. Every team in this division has exploitable flaws (only because Tampa Bay has injury problems), so I’m inclined to pick the only team that made themselves demonstrably better in the offseason. Josh Anderson was gone for most of last season, and the Blue Jackets upgraded in swapping him with Max Domi. They’re anchored by a strong blueline, have two great young goalies, and a head coach in John Tortorella that does his best when his teams are counted out, just as they are this season. Sure, the power play seems to be a constant issue for the Blue Jackets, and who knows how the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade request saga will end, but Columbus is a balanced team with more than enough talent to win the Central.
Which team are you most looking forward to watching the Predators play (up to) eight times this regular season?
Eamon: I’d usually say the Blackhawks (who doesn’t enjoy obliterating the team you hate eight times in a season?), but I think I’ll probably be most excited for the matchups with the Hurricanes this year. Carolina is a team built very similarly to Nashville, but they’re younger, faster and have more top-end skill and scoring; if the Preds want to compete for second or third in the Central, they’ll get some good tests against the Canes. Andrei Svechnikov is also very fun, so that doesn’t hurt.
Nick: As a self-admitted “Pred Wing,” the nostalgic part of me loves having Detroit back in the division. We probably won’t see the same level of intensity we saw back in the Chris Chelios-versus-Scott Walker days, especially without that 50/50 red-blue crowd at Bridgestone, but it should still be a fun romp. From a pure hockey standpoint, these Preds-Lightning games should be an adventure. Most of the matchups over the past few seasons have come down to the last minute, and we’ve seen some low-key bad blood in prior years. Eight games between these two for (potentially) a division title have the potential to be pure entertainment.
Rachel: The normally-Eastern conference teams: Detroit, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Carolina, and the Florida Panthers.
Shaun: I enjoy the Hurricanes’ style of play and I’m curious to see if the new-look Predators can slow them down a bit. What I’d really like to watch is Tampa Bay savagely beating the Blackhawks on consecutive nights.
Bobby: Remember all the times that the Red Wings styled on the Predators in the 2000s? Remember how cathartic it was eliminating them from the playoffs in 2012? I, for one, am thrilled to see the Predators play a miserable Red Wings team eight times.
Do you think the Predators will make the playoffs? If so, how do you see the postseason going?
Eamon: I’ll say that Nashville makes the postseason as the third-best team in the Central behind Carolina and Tampa. The new division makes the path to a postseason berth a whole lot easier, and I’d say Nashville has a clear talent or depth advantage on Detroit, Chicago, Columbus and Florida. If the Preds do make the playoffs, I wouldn’t be shocked if they won a series given the quality of opponent (I’d have them playing Carolina, so that’s a winnable matchup). The problem with predicting a deep run into the postseason lies in the likely second round opponent; if the Lightning are the team the Predators have to go through in order to make it to the next round, most would probably agree with me that their postseason ends there. Still, hockey is weird and random, so there’s a chance that Nashville somehow makes it to the Western Conference Final out of nowhere.
Nick: The Central’s a weird division. The majority of the teams are so close talent-wise that you could make a legitimate argument for the Predators somehow winning the division or finishing as low as sixth. So what’s the variable here? The Preds’ core has proven they can hang with any team in the league, and—I may be in the minority here—I really do like Poile’s offseason moves. The million-dollar questions will be: a) Is the Juuse Saros we saw from January to March 2020 going to be default Juuse Saros? b) Can Pekka Rinne rebound from arguably his worst non-injury season as a pro? And c) Are the Predators’ special teams units good enough to steal games, something that wasn’t the case last season? If those three questions yield positive answers, you’ll see the Predators in the top four.
Shaun: They make it, but it ain’t pretty.
Bobby: No. Columbus will win the division, and an injury-depleted Tampa Bay should still come in second. That leaves the Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Panthers, and Predators to battle it out for the final two spots. The Predators, in losing Craig Smith and not adding a replacement (barring a standout rookie performance), became an older and worse team over the offseason. It would be foolish to bet on the Predators to make the playoffs.
Which Predators player do you think will surprise most?
Eamon: I feel like our fanbase has gotten incredibly low on Eeli Tolvanen because his AHL production hasn’t been elite, but I for one am a big fan of the young Finn’s game. If Tolvanen sees consistent power play time in a revamped Hynes system and acts as the primary shooter, I wouldn’t be shocked to see production similar to Denis Gurianov’s scoring from this last season. Tolvanen probably doesn’t crack 45 points on the year, but I could see him having 20 goals and something in the neighborhood of 15 assists.
Nick: I think Nick Cousins is a sleeping giant in John Hynes’s system. We saw a bit of that come to fruition in the Preds’ first scrimmage when Cousins scored twice. He’s an “accordion player”: someone you can move up or down the line chart without him ever looking out-of-place. The Predators haven’t had a player with that type of dynamic versatility since Mike Fisher retired, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cousins put up career numbers in a prominent role.
Rachel: Erik Haula.
Shaun: Nick Cousins looks like he was created specifically for the role they have placed him in on this team. I have to second OTFNick on his Nick-related prediction.
Bobby: Ryan Johansen, and for the wrong reasons. Look, Matt Duchene is a better player and bigger threat on the ice than Johansen; the only reason Johansen gets those top-line minutes is because of his chemistry with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. We already saw Hynes willing to bench Johansen because of his work ethic last season. I won’t be surprised if Ryan Johansen encounters more hard times this season.
What’s your weird, off-the-wall prediction for this season?
Eamon: I have a few here, but the main one is that Dallas will miss the playoffs. I’m not convinced that the Stars are actually that good a team, and I think a combination of goalie regression, injuries and inconsistency will land them just outside of the postseason. I have Tampa, Carolina, Nashville and Florida making the playoffs out of the Central (Florida sees a resurgent season from Sergei Bobrovsky), so the Stars end up being the 5th or 6th place team alongside Columbus. My second prediction is a homer pick, but I will stand by it: Carter Hart will win the Vezina as the youngest goalie to take home the award since Jim Carey in the 1995-1996 season. My final prediction isn’t that lofty, but it’s still not a guarantee either: Filip Forsberg will score at a 40 goal pace across the season (putting him at around half a goal per game). I think the new-look powerplay will do the Prince a lot of good, so I’m optimistic he can take his incredible talents and use them to bounce back from a relatively lackluster output last year.
Nick: I’m just going to rattle off a few: 1) I think the Calgary Flames wind up being the playoff team that comes from Canada, and if Markström is as good as he was in Vancouver last season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak into the Finals. 2) The Calder Trophy winner comes from the New York Rangers, but it’s not Alexis Lafrenière... it’s goaltender Igor Shesterkin. 3) The unthinkable happens in the East; neither the Pittsburgh Penguins NOR the Washington Capitals make the postseason. And for the last prediction, let’s get frisky and say Taylor Hall will become a Nashville Predator by the end of the calendar year 2021.
Rachel: Pittsburgh trades Kris Letang mid-season and still doesn’t make it out of the first round. The Montreal Canadiens win the North Division. Joe Thornton finally retires after the Toronto Maple Leafs also fail to make it out of the first round. Dallas falls off the face of the earth to the bottom of the Central. Carolina, perennially underrated, dominates the Central. The St. Louis Blues are no longer relevant in the West Division, and the Colorado Avalanche dominate all season just to pull a 2019 Tampa Bay and get destroyed in the first round. Vegas loses its “golden” luster. Oh, and P.K. Subban has a big, big season for the New Jersey Devils.
Shaun: The Calgary Flames go on a deep Cup run.
Bobby: Pittsburgh misses the playoffs. They just don’t have any depth and both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are not those superstars in their prime that can drag a team kicking and screaming into the playoffs any more. Their time is done. It’s over.