Sunday, June 05, 2011

Pool Outlook for Nashville

The Nashville Predators really have a good thing going, it's hard not to appreciate what they have done over their lifespan in the NHL and they were rewarded again in 2011, taking another step in their very patient building process, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time.  Yes, the Predators made a very solid push this season, being a team that was exceptionally tough to play against, but maybe lacked a little bit of scoring to emphasize their real biting potential.  Nevertheless, there is a good team in Tennessee and I think they may only get better.

You can attribute a good portion of their success in 2011 to one player... Pekka Rinne.  Rinne was an absolute machine this season and was also acknowledged for his efforts with a finalist nod for the Vezina Trophy.  Rinne chalked up 33 wins and 6 shutouts for 78 points in 2011, ranking him 23rd in the league in pool scoring, 14th among goalies.  I don't think his overall numbers do him much justice, as he played magnificently in the season.

Only three forwards hit the top 100 in scoring among their peers for Nashville, Sergei Kostitsyn (50 points in 77 games), Martin Erat (50 points in 64 games) and Patric Hornqvist (48 points in 79 games) all gave about the same amount of offensive output in the season, which was good enough to put up some positive results in the win column.  A very European flavour to offense of this club, for sure.  The top three were also complimented by David Legwand (41 points in 64 games) and Mike Fisher (36 points in 82 games, between Ottawa and Nashville).  As you can see by the games played by four of the top five, health was a big concern for this team in stretches.

Of course, it is the defense that really holds the team together like glue.  Shea Weber finished 10th in league blueline scoring with 48 points in 82 games, followed closely by Ryan Suter (39 points in 70 games) and Cody Franson (29 points in 80 games).  The top three defensemen are still very young and are seemingly only getting better as their careers unfold.  The Predators have a real good thing going for them and it should show in 2012.

There was a pretty solid stretch of games where Anders Lindback did find himself in the crease for the Predators, as Rinne was somewhat struggling to warm up, to which Lindback performed quite well.  Unfortunately, Rinne then took the reins and drove the ship into the playoffs.  Lindback finished the year with 11 wins and 2 shutouts in 2012, giving him 26 points on the year, ranking him 43rd in goalie scoring.  That's a solid back-up year.

2012 Pool Outlook
The Predators are at a very good jumping off point into the off-season, as they have plenty of their key players signed on and ready for next season, plus they have a few names that they will have to take care of in the Summer, which should be a breeze, given the positive situation that they are in.

Martin EratRyan SuterPekka Rinne
Patric HornqvistCody FransonAnders Lindback
David LegwandKevin Klein
Mike FisherFrancis Bouillon
Colin Wilson
J-P Dumont
Jordin Tootoo
Jerred Smithson
Blake Geoffrion
Matthew Lombardi

Salary CapCurrently, I have the Predators in at an annual cap projection of $38.8 million, which gives them plenty of room to fit in some more pieces to their puzzle.  It's hard to say what the team's budget will look like, but with 15 players already signed on, it's likely safe to say that the Predators will not be a cap ceiling kind of team.

Since the top RFAs are some of the team's better players, already highlighted with a graphic, I will hit up the unrestricted free agent crop first.  Joel Ward, Marcel Goc, Steve Sullivan and Shane O'Brien are all scheduled to hit the open market on July 1st and I think a couple of them, if not all, will hit the open market, with a good chance that the other two will re-sign with the club.

The real work will be looking after a few of the team's key restricted free agents, as Sergei Kostitsyn, Shea Weber, Cal O'Reilly, Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk are all in need of new deals in 2012.  A lot of that extra cap space will likely be taken up by Weber, but I think Kostitsyn will also need a bit of a raise as well.  Budget or no budget, this team will have to open up the wallet this Summer, but I can't see that being an issue.

It seems like every year, which its only been a few so far, that I've wanted to see Ryan Ellis finally make that jump into the big leagues.  I don't think that the Predators will rush him in, despite his offensive talent, possibly a year in the minors is in the cards for him, but I do like mentioning how good of a prospect he is to the team.  I think one of the best bets in the 2012 season was someone we saw at the end of 2011 in Blake Geoffrion, a full-time job is definitely his to lose come training camp and I think he will make the most of it.  The kid got a very good look in the regular season and playoffs and now has a goal to work towards.

The Predators will need some more dynamic offensive abilities from the draft this year, but they won't be able to pick up any blue chip picks in the 1st round, as they dealt their pick to Ottawa in the Mike Fisher deal.  The Predators do have a couple 2nd round picks in the draft this year, so I think you'll see a push for some more creative forwards there.

What I said last year at this time... "For 2011, I'm expecting the same kind of effort from the Predators, but possibly some of lesser result, especially if there is a large portion of youth being inserted into the line-up. I have a feeling that management will do their best to get some of the harder-working, cheaper veteran talent for their side to go into the 2011 season with, but the focus will likely be on youth to take a bigger step on this team. They will likely be in the middle of the playoff fight, but it's hard to say how influential they'll be on the final results. They had a pretty perfect storm in 2010 and with free agents coming out of that mix, the losses may very well outweigh the gains. Look to Weber and Suter again in 2011's draft,"

The Predators kept their effort levels the same in 2011, which actually kept their point totals relatively close between then and 2010.  With the way the West shaped up, Nashville's 99 points put them a couple spots higher in the playoff race then their 100 points the year before.  There was a bit of youth inserted into the Predators' line-up, got a gritty forward in Fisher during the year and played some pretty good hockey.  It was a successful season for Nashville overall and I think the predictions held up quite well.

Until the Predators really find a player that is a game changer, I think they will be staying relatively the same again, possibly just a touch better.  With Weber, Suter and Rinne anchoring the back end, not to mention getting better, I think Nashville will be an even harder team to play against and may also challenge for the Central Division title, possibly even home ice in the first round of the playoffs.  If Geoffrion can emerge as a go-to player in the offensive zone and Matthew Lombardi can get healthy again, I think the Predators will be a good team to pick from at the hockey pool draft.

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