The Predators' regular season was, by no means, bad or even mediocre, at that. A team stuck inside one of the toughest divisions in the league, their route to the playoffs was going to be difficult and there is no shame in being the last wild card team heading into the Spring Dance.
Once they had arrived, their route wasn't going to get any easier, but they were really able to buckle down and show their true colours, sweeping the number one team in the West from Chicago, followed by the number two team in the division, knocking the Blues out in six games and then in the Conference Finals, they beat the Pacific Division best, the Anaheim Ducks, in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Predators got the tough task of taking on the reigning Cup champs and boy, did they put up a great fight in what was a remarkable series. The Predators couldn't put a game together while they were in Pittsburgh, but they were certainly formidable at home, until Game Six. The Predators had no answer for the bad breaks they got, nor did they have an answer for the Penguins defense late on in the penultimate game, when their hearts were broken late and the season came to a crashing halt.
It has been a slow build for the Nashville Predators and for their organization, it has to be a relief that they found that they were going in the right direction and they now have a foundation that should be able to carry them deep into the playoffs. It will certainly be interesting to see how popular they become in the hockey pool next season, because you know their blueline will be picked clean, for sure.
The Predators didn't do badly at the draft last October, having 12 players taken, which was about the middle of the road for most of the league. They had one 1st round pick in Pekka Rinne and then there was a good spread throughout the draft, a few up top, a few in the middle and plenty of depth taken late. There was plenty of action from Nashville at the first swap, as there were a couple of drops done to three picks, a definite plus for the team. The second swap was a bit more even, two drops to two picks and then the Predators added PA Parenteau at the trade deadline, giving the team 14 players active in the pool, by the end of the year.
Rinne was the team's top player, but surprisingly, he didn't end up in the top 25 in scoring, rather he was 38th overall, 13th among all goalies with 31 wins and 68 points in only 61 appearances. The Predators were the last seed in the Western Conference and his numbers certainly show that. On the plus side in the pool, Rinne belonged to the duo that won the goalie survivor pool, much to the delight of Stacey M..
The goaltending duo, include Juuse Saros, was completely worthy in the hockey pool, as Saros finished 44th among all keepers in the year. Nashville also had eight forward that were good enough for pool consumption, including Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Mike Fisher, James Neal, Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok and Craig Smith. The blueline was the jewel of the team, as Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm were all worthy players, the top three all in the top half of the defense scoring standings.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
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.
More offense was definitely on the priority list for the Predators management last summer, as they revamped the entire system in that notable Weber-Subban trade, which is still all the rage to talk about. Yes, the loss of Vesey was a tough one, as he was a serviceable rookie for the Rangers this year, but they were able to piece together a better offense, thanks to a full season from Ryan Johansen and the improvement seen in both Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. That improvement saw them grow to where they finished... Stanley Cup finalists.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Filip Forsberg||6.000||P.K. Subban||9.000||Pekka Rinne||7.000|
|James Neal||5.000||Roman Josi||4.000||Juuse Saros||0.693|
|Craig Smith||4.250||Mattias Ekholm||3.750|
|Colin Wilson||3.938||Ryan Ellis||2.500|
|Kevin Fiala||0.863||Frederic Allard||0.718|
|Victor Ejdsell||0.834||Jack Dougherty||0.687|
|Vladislav Kamenev||0.833||Alexandre Carrier||0.668|
|Cody McLeod||0.800||Matt Irwin||0.650|
|Yakov Trenin||0.762||Trevor Murphy||0.640|
|Emil Pettersson||0.743||Anthony Bitetto||0.613|
|Justin Kirkland||0.718||Petter Granberg||0.613|
With Subban, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis already signed on and likely protected for the expansion draft, they will be very popular options at the hockey pool draft and they will all likely go in the early defenseman rush that we've seen in the last few drafts. If Nashville is going to be popular early on, how much of their depth will be taken in the middle or at the end? Probably enough.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
I don't think the Predators can honestly afford to lose one of their four pool worthy defensemen, as they are all sitting in their prime or just before and that's the lynch pin of this franchise, so I'm wagering that they are a team that goes 4F/4D/1G in their protection scheme, which could open the door for Vegas to add a decent forward from Nashville. Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson are locks to be protected, but who would be the last forward on the list? I think you save Neal, save the goal scoring and hope for the best from Vegas. Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and Calle Jarnkrok all have reasonable contracts and were helpful in the run of 2017, all left to the Golden Knights' discretion.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
There's a fair bit of work to be done in free agency this year, as the Predators have three worthy players up for new deals this summer and it starts with restricted free agency, where both Johansen and Arvidsson are in need of new deals and they won't likely come very cheap. The third player on the list is Mike Fisher, who will head to the open market without an extension signed before July and it will be a matter of where he'll fit on this roster going forward, more than money.
According to CapFriendly, the Predators aren't quite struggling for cap space, just as yet. With 18 contracts projected to be on their roster next season, the Predators are currently running with about $17 million in cap space, which will be eaten up significantly by the three main free agents, but some clever managing could help that.
In terms of rookies for the 2018 season, the Predators don't appear to have many options, if you're looking at some of the publications out there. One of the darlings from the Finals, Freddie Gaudreau, is still considered to be a rookie, and the 24-year old may have made enough of an impact in the last series of the playoffs to get a really long look at camp in September. Now, the question will be whether or not he's just a playoff performer or if he can translate that into a regular season full-time job.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
Finishing in the Cup Finals means they get one of the last two picks in the draft and since they didn't win it all, they get the 30th overall pick this year. At this point, I'm thinking they'll be taking whatever they can possibly get as the best available option. The Predators are not screaming for immediate talent to come through the draft, so an NCAA committed player may not be a bad option for them, opting for Finnish forward Eeli Tolvanen, a smallish skilled forward that may slip due to his size and his skating, but could end up being a diamond in the rough, if he goes all the way through the college route.
Having been built from the back out, the Predators have a strong shot at repeating much of their playoff success, but the Western Conference is a tricky maze to work their way through and it remains anyone's game to take, riding that hot goaltender and strong system. The Predators still don't have that consistent top six, in terms of scoring, so their regular season still may not be too amazing, but all they have to do is make the playoffs and let their crowd guide them deep into the playoffs. If they can get their hands on one more bonafide scoring forward, on top of a healthy Ryan Johansen, I would like them a lot more to repeat in the West, but that'll be a tough task with Vegas now coming on the scene.