Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nashville Predators Season Preview 2014-15

Time to talk Nashville Predators hockey.  The first place to start is to talk about how offensively challenged this team is, none of their players top 60 points, year in and year out, and the guy who gets the closest ever year is their Top Defenseman, Shea Weber.  Shea Weber has been the team's franchise player and captain for the past few years as well as arguably the best Defenseman in the league year in and year out.  The Predators cut ties with the only Head Coach the organization has ever known in Barry Trotz at seasons end and in turn, hired Peter Laviolette, a coach who has much more of an offensive mindset.  In the off season, Nashville signed centers Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen, which would have been huuuuge, 5 or 6 years ago.  Bottom line is that Nashville needs to get more offensive, their defense is no longer good enough to win alone.

Nashville traded for James Neal, a bona fide 40 goal scorer when he played in Pittsburgh.  Neal played with Crosby, the best player in the world, this leads one to question whether his numbers will remain the same with a less talented center.  Ribeiro and Jokinen may have some life left in their sticks, they are skilled, but aging, injuries are a concern.

Step up in Progress
Eyes will be on Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis to see if they will take the next step in their progression as young defensemen.  Jones was a top 4 pick in the 2013 and many thought he should have gone as high as number 1, With Mackinnon's play last season I don't think anyone thinks so anymore.  Jones had an okay rookie season, which is okay because Defensemen take longer to develop than forwards. One concern is Jone's +/- he finished the year with it under -20 which is god awful, but again, expected from a rookie, 19 year old defenseman.  Ellis has been in the league a little bit longer and is 3 years older than Jones, he was one of the best and most decorated players in Juniors over the past 10 years.  Ellis is 23, he hasn't made much of a mark yet, but is still young and just signed a 5 year/12.5 million a year contract

Pekka Rinne is one of the top goaltenders in the league, if you combine his play and the play of this team's defense, not many goals are going to be scored against them.  Rinne had health issues last year and was out for an extended period of time which hurt because it put two young, inexperienced goalies in the line of fire.  Pekka is a lanky, tall dude who can cover the whole net, standing at 6'5, it is extremely difficult to get the puck past him especially because he can move.  Goaltending is a strong point, however, Goaltending depth is not.  Rinne needs to be healthy or it's a concern.

Reasons to be positive
The Predators have a huge, hard hitting, hard shooting Defenseman who is one of the best leaders in the league in Shea Weber.  When Shea is healthy, he can put up around 50 points a season from the back end and keep the Preds in the hunt for the post season.  In previous years Weber made up for a good chunk of the team's offense, with the addition of Ribeiro, Jokinen, and Neal, Weber will still score a lot, but a lot of pressure will be taken off of him.  Mike Fisher, a good two way player, will contribute around 50+ points if he can stay healthy, Preds fans need to hope that Carrie Underwood doesn't distract him too much at home, he also has an injury history so he will need to get/stay healthy.  Laviolette will implement an offensive system to this team who basically didn't have one in previous years, I peg them for a bubble team this year, could make the playoffs, but wouldn't put money on it.

As a footnote I want to point out that Nashville has not been the same team since Ryan Suter left via free agency a couple of summers ago, Suter and Weber used to be extraordinarily shut down, they went against teams top lines and were a pain to play against.  Weber is still an all star, but he misses his former D pair mate.

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