The management team in Nashville certainly made some waves as well in this off-season, identifying the need for some more talent up front, adding Ryan Johansen and taking out of their glutton of defensemen, sending Seth Jones to Columbus to complete the deal and that was certainly a highlight for this team, as they continue to build for a brighter future.
The Predators were certainly blessed with a healthy team in the season, as their top 10 skaters had all played 78 or more games in the season, which is very impressive, given the tough nature of the game these days.
Things are really looking up for the Predators, but given the progress of the teams ahead of them in their own division, they will have to work even harder, if they're going to want to progress in the playoffs next season.
For the hockey pool, the Predators are historically an unpopular team or at the very least, a filler team at the draft. 12 Predators were taken at this year's draft and yes, Pekka Rinne was worthy of a 1st round pick and we'll overlook the panic pick of Carter Hutton in the 2nd round, but the bulk of the players taken were the 3rd round or later. There was one drop and one pick during Week Nine's Waiver Draft, then there were three drops to two picks in Week Eighteen's swap. With the acquisition of Johansen during the year, the Predators finished with 11 active players on rosters at the end of the year.
Rinne was tops among their pool players, finishing 17th overall in pool scoring, thanks to 34 wins, 4 shutouts and 2 assists for 78 points in 66 games for the club. That would make him into a middle of the road pick in the 1st round, which is still a pretty darn good pick.
In total, the Predators finished with 12 pool worthy players, so it wasn't like the poolies were not justified skipping over a few of the fringe players. Remarkably, Hutton was one of those worthy players, as he finished 53rd among all goalies in points, with 19 in 17 games. Go figure.
Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok were the forwards that made waves up front, well spread through the rankings, from 22nd among forwards, all the way down to 191st.
The real money is made from the Nashville blueline, were Roman Josi was 4th and Shea Weber was 9th among blueliners, accompanied by Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, which made for a very potent back end. The Preds are built from the back end out, which should make them very popular again next season.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
2016 is a new year and I think a lot is bound to happen for the Predators again in the off-season, which will make or break their season. With all the work that they need to do, they will have to try and maintain their goal scoring levels, possibly even making up for the slump that Forsberg has a chance to go through as a sophomore. Signing a number of their UFA's will be key, but not impossible and then they will be relying heavily on their number one goalie again to fight for that Central Division title. It looks like the Central is destined to be very close again in 2016, so a finish anywhere between the title and the last wild card spot, shouldn't be considered out of the question. I like the Predators to finish in the 2-3 slot again next season.
Finishing in the 2-3 slot in the Central was much more difficult than expected in the 2016 and one would think I was still giving it a lot of credit at this point last year. Still, the Predators finishing 4th in the division can't be disappointing, since it was a solid wild card spot they earned and they definitely made some strides for their franchise, more in-season than in the off-season. Things went well, but overlooking how good Dallas and Chicago were going to be in the year may have been the downfall to that prediction.
2017 Pool Outlook
|James Neal||5.000||Shea Weber||7.857||Pekka Rinne||7.000|
|Craig Smith||4.250||Roman Josi||4.000|
|Ryan Johansen||4.000||Mattias Ekholm||3.750|
|Mike Ribeiro||3.500||Ryan Ellis||2.500|
|Mike Fisher||4.400||Barret Jackman||2.000||Juuse Saros||0.693|
|Colin Wilson||3.938||Jack Dougherty||0.718|
|Eric Nystrom||2.500||Alexandre Carrier||0.690|
|Kevin Fiala||0.894||Trevor Murphy||0.640|
|Vladislav Kamenev||0.864||Anthony Bitetto||0.613|
|Yakov Trenin||0.793||Mikko Vainonen||0.610|
|Pontus Aberg||0.781||Jaynen Rissling||0.607|
|Justin Kirkland||0.718||Jonathan-Ismael Diaby||0.588|
Once the Predators get a couple more of their restricted free agents taken care of, this roster should really round out well. I think we should expect a little bit more from a guy like Mike Fisher or Colin Wilson, but either of these guys could really end up being decent sleeper picks next season, if you're looking for some late round forward help.
After the Predators getting absolutely heartbroken with the Jimmy Vesey situation, their top prospect deciding that free agency is the way to go, rather than sign with the team that drafted him after his NCAA career. There really is no one else in their system that was carrying his upside. They gave Kevin Fiala a quick run this past season, but he wasn't able to stick with the club after camp and they were not going to burn contract years on him in the playoffs with a healthy roster. Other than going back to the well with Fiala, I don't think there is much else to look forward to, pool-wise, in their youth system.
Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft
Well, with the ability of management to flip a good young defenseman for a good young forward through trade, there is no reason why they wouldn't try to do much of the same through the draft. A good offensive defenseman prospect like Jake Bean from the Calgary Hitmen, could work his way up through the system, which is a factory for good defenders and that could eventually change one of their current crop into good trade bait. There really is no reason why they should stray from the process that has gotten them this far and an offensive blueliner is a great pick for them moving forward.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
For the core of this team, free agency is going to be kind to the Predators. A couple of their key restricted free agents, like Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok, shouldn't be too hard to deal with and Paul Gaustad is set for unrestricted free agency, which will likely separate this team from a $3 million lump against their cap.
Their current group of signed pool worthy players are coming in at $41.9 million, leaving plenty of room for Fisher, Wilson, Nystrom and Jackman, who will be there to play roles and hopefully a little bit more.
The budget in place for the Predators has been maintained very well over the years and there is nothing more impressive than the cast they have, compared to their cost.
Nashville will have to improve their offense, if they are going to improve their standing, both in the regular season and in the playoffs and it could very well be that they are coming to the point where they have to start concentrating on winning now and not quite staying the course, as they have set themselves up for some playoff success, if they can get those extra pieces. Those pieces will cost a lot and some sacrifices will have to be made. This could be the point where the loss of Jimmy Vesey really hurts them, but they can manage. I think it has been proven already.