Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Nashville Predators…
If you’re looking for the most underrated Cup contender in the NHL, you just might find it in Nashville. The Predators have pulled off four pretty huge trades in the last three years, boast a three-time Vezina finalist in net and came within one win of a trip to the Western Conference Finals in May. This is a dangerous hockey club.
In fact, they look even more impressive when you consider the players they’ve acquired in those big deals. General Manager David Poile basically got Washington to give him Filip Forsberg back in 2013, then he landed sniper James Neal from the Penguins in 2014. Granted, Nashville had to give up Patric Hornqvist in that transaction — and he just played a huge role in Pittsburgh winning the Cup — so it’s not like the Penguins are upset about that one. But still, that’s two thirds of the Preds’ top line that was acquired via trade.
They weren’t done either. When Columbus was ready to part ways with potential franchise center Ryan Johansen, Nashville swooped in. Again, the Preds gave up a valuable piece in Seth Jones — but No. 1 centers don’t become available often in this league. And then they completed the quartet of blockbusters by swapping Shea Weber for P.K. Subban this summer.
Just like that, Nashville has a number of guys up front who can put the puck in the net, to go with arguably the league’s top blue line. That’s a pretty good combination.
Which version of Pekka Rinne shows up this season?
More often than not, the good version of Rinne steps in for 60-65 games a year. He was, after all, a Vezina finalist in 2011, 2012 and 2015. But he did waver a little last season.
Adam Vingan of the Tennessean joined the Natural Hat Trick podcast earlier this week, and noted that Rinne was far from his normal, consistent self over the course of the 2015-16 campaign. And his numbers reflect that. His goals against averaged ballooned from a borderline elite 2.18 the year before, to a more average 2.48. And his save percentage dropped from 0.923 to 0.908.
Was he just having an “off” year, or is he losing his edge after ten NHL seasons? Still only 33 years old, it really shouldn’t be the latter. And if he rediscovers that magic from a couple years ago, he makes this group a formidable bunch.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
P.K. Subban (from MTL)
Shea Weber was a staple of the Predators’ blue line for the better part of 11 years. So it’s not like it was easy to just part ways with him. And if they hadn’t gotten a defender of Subban’s caliber back in the deal, we’d be talking about the loss here, instead of the gain.
As it turns out, they did get Subban though. And, in doing so, they added a 27-year-old blueliner who already has a Norris Trophy on his resume and possesses the puck-moving ability that hockey clubs crave in 2016. He also brings a big personality to a city that seems excited to embrace it, and could form an incredible duo with the often-underrated Roman Josi.
Kevin Fiala (drafted: No. 11 overall in 2014)
Fiala has only played in six NHL games, but he did manage to score on his first shot during a call-up this past season. Offense isn’t expected to be an issue for the talented Swiss winger, but better defensive awareness would help mold him into a more well-rounded player.
Nashville already has some quality talent up front at the NHL level, but there’s always room for a quick skater who can put the puck in the net. And Fiala is knocking on the door.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
P.K. Subban ($9 million)
Yes, a $9 million cap hit is huge. But it costs a pretty penny to get a defenseman with Subban’s skillset in today’s NHL. And, while the Preds will be paying him until 2022, they would’ve been giving Weber $7.857 million until 2026.
To put that in more simple terms, Subban will be 33 years old during the final season of his current deal, while Weber will be turning 41 just as his wraps up. That’s a big difference.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
The 36-year-old center has never been the captain in Nashville, but he’s always been a strong leader in that room since he joined the organization in 2011. And his 26.4-goal pace of two seasons ago was the best of his career, suggesting he isn’t slowing down just yet.
Assuming the Preds are making the playoff push most analysts believe they will when the trade deadline rolls around, Fisher won’t be going anywhere. In fact, he should be playing a fairly significant role in any success they have.
Well, do you want the guy who shows up in the playoffs, or the guy who stuffs the statsheet in the regular season? Most coaches will say they prefer Option A, and that would be Wilson.
To be fair though, Wilson is a pretty extreme case. In 64 games last year, he managed a paltry six goals and 18 assists. Over his last 20 playoff contests, however, he has erupted for 10 goals and eight assists.
In other words, they don’t want him to change a thing in April and May. But carrying some of that over to the winter months wouldn’t hurt either.