Friday, May 07, 2010

Pool Outlook for Nashville

Just being competitive seems to be the MO of the Nashville Predators, finding new and hard-working ways to stay in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference and Central Division.  The Predators really do a good job of putting together a team that can skate with just about anyone and give any team a little bit of the willies when it comes to a home and home or even a playoff series.  The 2010 season was no exception, as they worked hard enough to make the playoffs, but they did fall short to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but it was hardly a wasted season.

Goaltending was definitely one of Nashville's bright spots in the 2010 season, with Pekka Rinne really taking charge of the crease and he moved up the rankings with his good season.  Rinne finished the year with 32 wins and 7 shutouts for 78 points in the pool, ranking him 11th among all goalies in the league and 29th in pool scoring league-wide.  That should translate into turning Rinne into a solid 2nd round pick in the hockey pool draft next season.  A lot more people seemed to have taken notice of Rinne and his Predators, especially with their playoff berth, so he may become more popular and much less of a sleeper. 

Much like the Sabres, the team I did up yesterday, the Predators are a team that does scoring by committee, which allows for some fresh faces to take the reins and lead the team in scoring.  Patric Hornqvist jumped up and did well for the Predators in 2010, finishing the year as the team's best forward, scoring 30 goals and 51 points in 80 games, actually tied for the lead in points with Steve Sullivan, but gets the nod because of goals.   Sullivan also picked up 51 points and he managed to play in all 82 games, which is a far more impressive feat, considering the injury he came back from.  Unfortunately, the Predators did not have a top 100 scoring forward, as 51 points was only good enough for 115th at best.  Martin Erat had an average season with 49 points in 74 games, Jason Arnott had a down season with 46 points in 63 games, J-P Dumont went down with 45 points in 74 games, as did David Legwand with 38 points in all 82 games.  With the core veterans having trouble, the influx of Hornqvist and Sullivan was very important for the success of the Predators.

The top defenders for the Predators were not as good offensively as they were in 2009, but at least their defense was solid, which helped them string together a number of wins.  Shea Weber led the way offensively with 43 points in 78 games, which was good enough to be 11th in defenseman scoring, while Ryan Suter had 37 points in 82 games, ranking him 34th.  These two will be the pillars of strength for a long time to come and I would expect to see a bounce back year, but I don't know if I would make a concerted effort to jump on them in my fantasy draft.  Dan Hamhuis didn't drop off too much offensively, but he's more of a defensive specialist, especially with Weber and Suter manning the cannons.  Deadline acquisition, Denis Grebeshkov, suffered some injury problems in the year, cutting his points off early at 21 in only 51 games and will likely feature for the Predators in 2011.

Behind Rinne in 2010 was Dan Ellis, who tried his best to re-take the number one job, but in the end couldn't manage to finish the job.  Ellis did manage to pick up quite a few minutes in the season, which also translated into wins, 15 in fact.  He also added a shutout and an assist to his total, giving him 33 points on the year, ranking him 35th in goaltenders, which puts him in the top half of back-ups in the year.  We should all be expecting him to be picked up in your fantasy draft, but be careful of not picking him too early, unless he moves in the off-season to a spot where he could earn some number one minutes.

2011 Season Outlook
Like I had mentioned in the opening, I think the Predators are doing well to be competitive with any team in the Western Conference and the Central Division, so their path along those lines should help their progress. The youth that they are drafting these days has a lot of potential and as much as they are on the fringe of the regular line-up, they are not far away from being regular fixtures, which should make the Predators better in the long run.

Steve SullivanShea WeberPekka Rinne
Martin EratRyan Suter
Jason ArnottKevin Klein
J-P Dumont
David Legwand
Joel Ward
Marcel Goc
Jordin Tootoo
Colin Wilson
Jarred Smithson
Wade Belak

Talking about fringe players, the Predators do have a couple of defenders signed on and ready to go, but the feeling I got from them is that their spots are not as guaranteed as the three that are on the list, so I won't be counting them against the cap just yet.  Right now, Nashville has 15 players signed on for the 2011 season at a cap hit of $40.6 million and if we were to throw in the fringe players, they would still be in great shape.

The Predators are one of those teams that are working on their own budget, so that will limit their cap number in 2011, so if you're looking at some names and wondering why they won't be re-signed, that would be the number one reason.  If we were to take 2010's annual cap number, I would say the budget is sub-$50 million, so even if it was $50 million in 2011, they have less than $10 million for eight players.

So, with a self-imposed budget, it makes sense to look at the players that the Predators are on the verge of letting go first.  Dan Ellis, Dan Hamhuis and Francis Bouillon lead the way in that department, but Bouillon really is the only one of the two I can see staying, because his value will likely not go up over the Summer.  Ellis had a good year as a back-up and might go looking for a starting job, if one is available.  Hamhuis will definitely be one of the top prizes of this year's Free Agent Frenzy come July 1st, as his value has a two-way defenseman will make a lot of teams salivate and it may become a bidding war that the Predators want no part of, especially since they hold a number of blue-chip prospects in their stable.

The restricted free agent crop may be a tough one for the Predators, with Patric Hornqvist, Dustin Boyd, Denis Grebeshkov and Cody Franson on tap for new deals this July.  Grebeshkov may be the one looking for the biggest deal, which may handcuff the Predators a little bit more, so I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to deal him in order to fill in the gaps with more stable youth.  Hornqvist, Boyd and Franson will all be getting potential value deals, which the Predators are good at shaping some smaller, short-term deals to accomodate their visions going forward.  Saying that, pulling it off in this market could be harder than usual.

With all this free agent talk, looking at the youth is a nice compliment afterwards.  The Predators will give some long looks to Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum this Fall, as they try to make that jump into the pros and with the blueline in the shape it's in, they have a pretty good shot at it, I'd say.  Alexander Sulzer had a pretty good shot and could only manage 20 games, but he should still be considered as one to watch.  Nick Spaling has a good chance at a full time gig on the forward lines after getting 28 games with the club in 2010.  I would also look for Chet Pickard to make the leap to be Rinne's back-up in 2011, especially if Ellis goes for greener pastures. There are a few other names in the Future Watch to look for, but I can't say I'm too familiar with the names.

What I had said at this time last year: "Sometimes I really don't know what to think about the Predators. They have a certain anonymity to them that sort of helps me to forget about them as a whole, unless they are playing the Canucks. The team on paper has a lot of positives to it and it was hard not to notice Weber and Suter on the blueline this year, so they finally have some sort of identity. If Colin Wilson can make the jump to the big club in 2010, I might go after him as my last forward in the draft, saying that no one else is thinking the same thing I am before I am."

This year, I did manage to pay more attention to the Predators, but picking one or two on my pool team will allow for that. I thought the Predators were okay to watch during the year, but for my pools, the forwards slumped, but worked hard enough in front of Rinne to win and make the playoffs. Weber and Suter were favourites at the draft, so that was about right.  Wilson hit a major speed bump in his progress with the early-season injury, but he managed to get some better development time in the AHL after his injury and then saw time with the big club at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.  I'm calling this one a wash.

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,

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