For a team that doesn’t have a stable fan base and responsible ownership, the Predators have done very, very well. An unstable ownership group, embroiled in controversy from Jim Balsillie to Boots Del Baggio, has managed to retain a stable management group, as David Poile and Barry Trotz have remained the franchise’s only GM and coach in history. While the Preds don’t make much noise during the season, they’re always a force in the playoffs. What the Preds lack in talent and skill they make up for in hard work and discipline, a strong characteristic of a Trotz team.
The Preds were fine with Alexander Radulov and JP Dumont as their top right wingers. Now, they’re not so comfortable. With Radulov’s defection to Ufa of the KHL, it leaves the Preds with a glaring hole on offense, especially with the uncertainty of Steve Sullivan‘s health. While Radulov has expressed an interest in returning to the NHL, his cries may fall on deaf ears, but with the lack of offensive depth the Preds may want to re-consider their stance. That being said, a lot more pressure is going to be put on Martin Erat. The Czech winger was one of four players on the team to pot 20+ goals, and reaching 30 isn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially if Jason Arnott manages to get 40+ helpers again. The key player this year stepping in is rookie Patric Hornqvist. The 21-year old Swedish winger played for Djurgardens of the SEL for the past 3 seasons, putting up respectable numbers, finishing 4th in team scoring last year despite being only 20. He will get first looks at the open slot vacated by Radulov, and he hasn’t disappointed in the preseason, registering a goal and an assist in two games. The Predators don’t do anything fancy, but they do get it done, and it all starts from the bottom. Jordin Tootoo, Jerred Smithson, and Scott Nichol may be some of the most unwelcome players in the league, but they all play with such determination and tenacity that they can really change the outcome of the game. Their hits are borderline and stick work frustrating, but as grinders you can’t expect more. Too often the opponents are focused on getting back at those three that they lose focus of the game, and that’s when the Preds really take advantage.
Defense is where the Preds excel in every aspect of the game. They’ve traditionally been one of the best teams at drafting defensemen and have no problems finding able rookies to promote from Milwaukee to round out their top six. The loss of captain Kimmo Timonen hurt, but the Preds managed to make the transition without any significant bumps. Highlighted by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Preds have one of the youngest, fastest, and meanest defensive corps in the West. It goes without saying that without their defensemen the Preds would have trouble making the playoffs every year. Dan Hamhuis has also developed into a very capable defenseman and led the team in ice time with 22:43. Greg de Vries is the veteran presence on the blueline, but with the wealth of talent the Preds have he often finds himself marginalized, especially when youngsters Greg Zanon, Ville Koistinen, Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, and Teemu Laakso are all ready to pitch in. The Preds can spare some defensemen, and Poile may go down that road if it becomes apparent that offense is going to be a major problem.
If Dan Ellis plays like he did last year, the Preds have nothing to worry about. Ellis posted the best SV% in the league last year with a .924 mark and an equally impressive 2.34 GAA. Management was confident in Ellis enough to let Chris Mason go, which means that Pekka Rinne, last year’s wins leader in the AHL, will be making the transition to the big leagues permanently. However, although Ellis’ weight is listed as 185 lbs., there were times last year where his official weight was listed as 170 lbs. It’s not uncommon for goalies to lose weight after a game from water loss, but Ellis’ case was so extreme that in some games, especially in the playoffs against a much better Wings squad, he needed to have an IV or otherwise suffer from severe dehydration. It’s a minor concern considering the medical advances and on-call doctors teams employ, but it’s still a cause for concern. If Ellis is incapable of handling number one duties, it’ll fall on Rinne’s shoulders, but it remains to be seen if Rinne can adjust, having only 3 games of NHL experience.
The Preds powerplay was a woeful 27th last year, and with Radulov gone and Sullivan’s health in doubt, it may get worse. The Preds were only average in even strength play last year, but the penalty kill was third in the league, thanks to the Preds’ deep defense. In the playoffs last year, the Preds arguably put up the best fight against the Wings, but fell short to a more talented squad. Every year the Preds seem to be poised to make some noise in the postseason, but this season may not be the case. A good defense and solid goaltending may not be enough to make up for the Preds’ offensive deficiencies. However, the team does have ample cap room ($14m) to acquire players as needed. With a new local ownership group, perhaps they will pay more attention to the already good on-ice product (given what Trotz and Poile have to work with). The Preds have to reach an average of 14 000 fans per night to qualify for full revenue sharing.
Martin Erat – Jason Arnott – JP Dumont
Steve Sullivan – David Legwand – Patric Hornqvist
Scott Nichol – Radek Bonk – Jordin Tootoo
Josh Gratton – Rich Peverley – Jerred Smithson
Ryan Suter – Shea Weber
Dan Hamhuis – Greg de Vries
Greg Zanon – Ville Koistinen
Dan Ellis – Pekka Rinne
scratches: Antti Pihlstrom, Kevin Klein, Michael Ryan
Predicted finish: 3rd Central, 11th West