THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: Nashville Predators

Nashville’s play in 2014-15 was eye-opening but getting back to the post-season won’t be easy in the tough Central Division. GM David Poile added depth in the off-season, but Nashville’s fate will hinge on the play of goaltender Pekka Rinne and burgeoning star Filip Forsberg.

2014-15 Record: 47-25-10 (104 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 5th, Central Division
What To Expect: Defying widespread expectations of a basement finish in 2014-15, Nashville exploded for 104 points. GM David Poile liked what he saw and used the off-season to add depth, putting faith in his core group to build on its excellent first season under coach Peter Laviolette. Poile sprinkled his roster with minor UFA additions: Forward
Cody Hodgson, recently bought out by the Sabres;
Steve Moses, a pint-sized KHL scoring winger; and
Barret Jackman, a longtime Blues stay-at-home D-man.

The Preds battled for the Presidents’ Trophy in their first 60 games but finished 6-12-3 and couldn’t hold leads in the playoffs. This year’s group won’t flirt with a division title but should make the post-season. Nashville’s offense was a respectable 14th, led by
Filip Forsberg and first-year Predator
Mike Ribeiro, who each broke 60 points, providing top-line production typically rare in Music City.
James Neal,
Craig Smith,
Colin Wilson and
Mike Fisher provided decent secondary scoring. Far more is expected of Neal, whose 23 goals and 37 points didn’t approach what he posted on the star-laden Penguins. The team’s offensive engine resides on the blueline with
Shea Weber and
Roman Josi, who combined for 30 goals and 100 points. Josi had 55 of those points and became a household name. The seemingly endless Nashville blueliner factory also boasts phenom
Seth Jones, entering his third season. He can take his time developing on the second pair. The Predators had the ninth-fewest goals against despite the No. 18 penalty kill. A 2.18 goals-against average and 41 wins had Pekka Rinne in the Vezina and Hart Trophy conversations for much of the season. He’s slated to play at least 60 games in a Central Division with no soft nights on the schedule. Another offensive weapon is on the way in
Kevin Fiala, picked 11th overall in 2014. He impressed with 20 points in 33 AHL games as an 18-year-old and has a shot to crack the opening-night roster. Fiala strengthens an impressive young core.
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Best-Case Scenario: Getting back to the post-season isn’t a sure-thing in the tough Central, but should Nashville find themselves in the post-season they have all the pieces to make a deep run. They surprised a lot of people in 2014-15 and could very well take another step forward in 2015-16.
Worst-Case Scenario: Rinne’s health is always a concern. If Rinne goes down for a significant length of time, the Predators are going to be hard-pressed to win games. Carter Hutton hasn’t been the most solid backup netminder for Nashville and the Predators won’t want their playoff hopes to hinge on Hutton’s play.
Who To Watch: Forsberg had a brilliant rookie campaign and the Predators are counting on him to carry that play over to the 2015-16 season. He led Nashville with 26 goals in 2014-15 and there’s a strong possibility for him to become the Predators’ first 30-goal scorer since Patric Hornqvist in 2009-10. The Predators have never really had a true superstar offensive threat and have found their success thanks to stingy defense. If Forsberg has another good season, he could stake his claim as the go-to offensive star that has eluded Nashville throughout their history. Forsberg’s 63-point campaign last season was the 10th-best offensive performance in franchise history. If he continues to build chemistry with linemates James Neal and Mike Ribeiro, Forsberg could potentially be the first 70-point player to play in Nashville since the 2007-08 season.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
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Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Central Division is going to be a nightmare this season and last year’s biggest surprise won’t help that cause. On paper, Nashville looks about as good as St. Louis does and just a hair better than Winnipeg. It should make for a very tough and interesting race, but the Predators should be up for the challenge. One of the things that likely jump out from the projections above is how little they seem to like Rinne, who was a sure fire Vezina candidate before going down with injury last season. Are the numbers completely off base or is Rinne becoming a bit overrated? Perhaps overrated is harsh, but it’s possible he’s a product of his system. Considering how great Nashville’s blueline is I don’t think it’s a huge stretch. In terms of where shots come from – which is taken into consideration with WAR – Rinne has had it easy over the past three seasons.
Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 2.05.54 AM Facing a lower amount of high danger chances doesn’t automatically make you worse – everyone in the world will take the top group over the bottom group – but it’s apparent that a goalie’s environment has some effect on their numbers. Of the top group who have faced the lowest amount of high danger opportunities, Rinne has the lowest save percentage while facing the fewest high danger shots. With that in mind, maybe some of the credit for his success should go to the d-corps that has done a great job of keeping shots to the outside. They’re the number one rated group according to WAR and it’s because they’re incredibly deep from 1-6. Not many teams can say the same. In a Western Conference where defence is the difference, the Predators will be very competitive.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.