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Season Preview 2019-20: Nashville Predators

Depth over dominance? The Predators don't have one ace center, but three quality pivots. How will it work?

Is this the season we begin to see the crease transition?
Longtime Nashville No. 1 Pekka Rinne started two-thirds of the Predators’ games with promising backup Juuse Saros shouldering the rest of the load. However, the two posted similar numbers, and another disappointing playoff performance from Rinne might give the Predators reason to begin splitting the starts right down the middle. It has been clear for some time that Rinne’s late career was going to be used to shepherd Saros into the starting role, and that time may be now, while both goalies still have two years left on their contracts and Nashville has Rinne around to act as a safety net if his protege stumbles.

Are three second-line centers better than one ace pivot?
Though the Predators added Matt Duchene during the off-season and are already in possession of centers Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, what they lack is a true game-changer down the middle. But maybe the center-by-committee tactic can work. What it will give Nashville is an edge in the matchup game against opponents, particularly in the middle of the lineup, and it makes the Predators deeper offensively than the top end of their roster might suggest. It also gives coach Peter Laviolette the ability to mix and match his lines to find a few combinations that can get the job done, not to mention protection for the Predators should one of their pivots fall injured.

Can Dante Fabbro replace P.K. Subban?
Of course, there was the financial benefit to moving Subban and his $9-million cap hit, but it also didn’t hurt that Nashville has Dante Fabbro waiting in the wings. The 21-year-old stepped in during the post-season and didn’t look out of place in limited minutes, and the potential Fabbro possesses helped make the 2012-13 Norris Trophy-winning Subban expendable. But the options go beyond Fabbro. Steven Santini can play up the lineup in a pinch, and Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber can eat an extra minute on the third pair. A blueline that features Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is in good hands, but graduating someone into Subban’s spot will only make the back end sturdier.

Stanley Cup Odds: 18/1

Rookie Watch
Eeli Tolvanen
spent all but four games in the minors last season, but he’s on the short list to challenge for NHL work. If nothing else, he can provide a power-play blast that would prove useful for a special-teams unit that finished last in the NHL in 2018-19.

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