This season will be Nashville’s first without Barry Trotz behind the bench, so we’ll see a shift in philosophy. With Peter Laviolette as coach and a few cheap offensive players added via free agency – plus the acquisition of James Neal – the Predators should score more this year. But in such a tough division, we still have them finishing sixth.
2013-14 record: 38-32-12
Acquisitions: Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, Olli Jokinen, James, Neal
Departures: Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Eaves, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Joonas Rask
Top five fantasy players: James Neal, Shea Weber, Craig Smith, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher (injured)
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Nashville Predators know they’re in a dynamite division, so it was refreshing to see them be so proactive in the off-season. They let coach Barry Trotz go and brought in Peter Laviolette, signalling a philosophical shift from defense-first to high-octane offense. They acquired sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh and signed Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy to low-risk, medium-gain contracts. This team is set to score more, especially as young guns Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok improve. That’s great news since Nashville is already stellar on defense, led by Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones, and in net with Pekka Rinne returning to action.
The Predators are deeper and more offensively dangerous on paper, and another low-stakes investment, Anton Volchenkov, gives the blueline the steady, stay-at-home presence it lost in the Kevin Klein trade. Nashville only missed the playoffs by three points last season, and GM David Poile did everything he could to inch them toward a low playoff seed.
Bust: Aside from Weber, there aren’t many sure things in the Music City. Rinne has to prove he’s over the bizarre hip infection that derailed his 2013-14. Ribeiro, Roy and Jokinen were cheap buys because no one trusted them enough for lucrative, long-term deals. They’re all on the wrong side of 30 and none plays the hard-nosed style synonymous with Predators hockey. Speaking of which, if Laviolette gets this team scoring more, will it take a step back defensively and be easier to play against with Trotz gone?
Nashville added many pieces but not many young, safe ones. The moves could easily blow up in Poile’s face and leave the team where it was last spring, if not worse. Even the Neal acquisition has potential to go sideways. His great stats in Pittsburgh came with elite linemates, and his edgy play makes for a suspension risk every time he steps on the ice.
Bottom Line: The Preds stayed busy to stay competitive, and they’ll achieve their goal. Under Laviolette, they’ll be more balanced than ever, and they’re a lock to score more. And even without Trotz, they still have the back-end talent to play reasonably stingy hockey. Unfortunately for them, the Central teams they’re chasing all got better, and acquired even better help. That will leave Nashville back where it started, in sixth and just outside the playoff picture.
Prospect To Watch: Calle Jarnkrok was acquired by Nashville in the David Legwand trade last deadline and had a productive 12-game call-up. The skilled center scored two goals and nine points for Nashville in that time. With Mike Fisher missing the start of the year due to injury and opportunity could open up for Jarnkrok. Another one to watch is Filip Forsberg, the 11th overall pick in 2012 who was acquired for Martin Erat.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Sixth in Central Division
Contributors: Matt Larkin, Rory Boylen