Chicago, IL — If there is any team in the central division that is hard to project what they will look like and where they will be it is this one. This team has gone through a complete make over from the players on the ice to their bench boss and team philosophy.
Gone are the days of departed former head coach Barry Trotz stifling defense first and neutral zone traps. After 15 years under coach Trotz the organization decided to go in a completely different direction which is probably the right approach with the top end offensive talents and skills in the western conference.
Enter new head coach Peter Laviolette who Hawks fans should remember was head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers when we beat his team to take home that chalice in 2010. Laviolette is more of a offensive minded coach and the Predators are looking for him to impart his wisdoms in that area to the team. How Laviolette will relate to this new group of players and how a completely different philosophy will translate remains to be seen.
The changes don’t stop there either. In the offseason there were plenty of changes to roster as well. Gone are Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling and Patrick Eaves from the forward slots and Michael Del Zotto from the defense. While none of these forwards were flashy offensive talents they were solid two way players which could explain their departures.
Coming in the forward position is significantly more offensive talents Wingers James Neal from the Penguins and Derek Roy from the St. Louis Blues. The center position also got a overhaul with Ollie Jokinen coming from Winnipeg & Mike Ribeiro from the Coyotes.
With so many changes up front it is very hard to tell if line combinations will click or not or if this personnel gels at all. The Predators own Mike Fisher will be out for a significant amount of time due to injury which will not help with line combos and overall team chemistry.
The Predators do have a very talented prospect at wing in Filip Forsberg that was acquired from the Washington Capitals in the Martin Erat trade. This trade both then and now looks like a complete and utter hijack that the Preds were able to pull off. The upside for Forsberg who is only 20 years old and 6’1” RW is tremendous. If he develops as he is projected to what larceny for Nashville and Washington what were you thinking? Forsberg is currently in the AHL but could make the jump to the big club this year.
The Predators also have another Swedish prospect Kevin Fiala who is also a left winger that is in their system and is said to be very creative and a real offensive threat. So the Predators do have some significant offensive talents waiting to make the big club. The Predators do love their European forwards that’s for sure.
It is unfortunate for the Predators that their top center is injured which is why I don’t see this team making the playoffs even though they are improved at least not this year. There are too many changes and things that need to be worked through.
The defense is solid with Shea Weber, Seth Jones & the newly acquired Anton Volchenkov from the NJ Devils however last year they finished 23rd in the league and very pedestrian on the penalty kill for such a vaunted defense but some of that was due to their star goalie Pekke Rinne being out with injury.
If there is anywhere the Predators are consistent and steady as a rock it is net with Finnish netminder Pekke Rinne. Rinne can cover up a lot of gaps and can make an average team a contender with his stingy net minding. Behind Rinne, Rockford IceHogs fans will remember is their once netminder Carter Hutton who is solid as a #2.
The Blackhawks last year did not do very well against this team as they dropped 4 of their 5 games but the Hawks did not do good against their own division at all which explains why they did not win the division last year. This probably has more to do with the Hawks than the Predators and with this being a new team you can throw out the past records anyway.
The Predators are a comer and their future looks bright with some really talented prospects waiting in the wings. This year however, there are just too many changes to really see them positioning themselves as a serious threat. It doesn’t help that seemingly every other team in the western conference got better as well but one day they could be a force. That day is not yet though. Patience Nashville your time is coming.