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Analysis: “Predators Hockey” Yields a 19 Goal Pace for 2nd Leading Scorer

Shortly after Nashville Predators forward Eric Nystrom crashed the net, and allowed linemate Patric Hornqvist to “[use] his chest as a backboard,” I sent out the following tweet:

Unfortunately, Nystrom took a bit of umbrage at my remark, and chirped back in the wee hours this morning:

Eric Nystrom’s play has been a pleasant surprise to me this season, his last two seasons in Dallas notwithstanding. When it comes to non-star players from other teams, I’m just not that familiar with the guy like I am some of the Preds’ past division foes. I’m glad for the goal Nystrom scored, and I’m happy to root for the guy—so I think a little clarification might be in order.

I’ve made a couple of jabs in 2013 in this space at the concept of “Predators hockey,” something the organization has turned into its primary marketing asset. The pieces David Poile brought in during the offseason were supposed to help Barry Trotz “get back to Predators hockey.” We heard overtures from team captain and franchise defenseman Shea Weber in training camp this year, whose reflection on last season’s dismal finish amounts to “we got away from playing ‘our game.'”

What’s their game? “Defense wins you championships,” according to head coach Barry Trotz:

“Defense wins you championships,” Trotz said. “There’s a lot of teams that have great offenses and haven’t got past the second round. Offense will win you games but defense can win you championships.”

That’s a crazy viewpoint, and the data in pro sports—in pro football, anyway—don’t bear the narrative:

So when looking at the NFL as a whole, offense and defense balances symmetrically. But when focusing on the right tails of performance, where playoff teams come from, we see that great offenses out-pace equally great defenses.

And that brings us back to Nystrom: when you bracket and set aside his offensive numbers when he was with the Dallas Stars, a different team in a different division, with him playing in different situations under a different coach with different linemates, you see that Nystrom is on pace for 19 goals this season, tied for second with captain Shea Weber for most goals in gold this year. I hope Nystrom pots 19 (or more!) this year, as it would not only be a career-best for him as a player, but more production from him would help elevate the Preds out of the league basement in team goals-for.

No, when I remarked that Nystrom being tied for second on the team in goals scored being a reflection of “Predators hockey,” I wasn’t criticizing his play. What I meant is that it’s simply maddening that the top scorers on the team cannot, will not, and/or do not ever put up premium offensive numbers, given that the Predators have spent 95% to the salary cap this year. Nystrom’s offensive numbers among his teammates are a reflection of a system at work that I personally don’t like. But I’m happy to see him succeed in Nashville, and hope he keeps it up!

Postscript: Fortunately, we’re glad to report that Nystrom took the whole thing in stride:

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