Thursday, May 31, 2018

Pool Outlook for Nashville

The 2017 Western Conference champions were riding quite the wave of expectations and they didn't seem overly bothered by that.  The strength of their team, coming from the crease outwards, really believed that they were up to the task of reliving some of their playoff success last season and they were really flexing their collective muscles in the 2018 regular season.  The Predators finished as the league's best team, winning the President's Trophy with 117 points, which led them to an opening round match-up against the Colorado Avalanche.  The Avs gave them a challenge, but in six games, the Preds were through to the next round, facing an even bigger challenge, the league's 2nd-best team, the Winnipeg Jets.

The Predators and Jets put on quite the performance, but in the end, the seventh game, Winnipeg emerged victorious, bouncing last year's Western Conference representation in the finals two rounds early.  A disappointing finish to the season, indeed, but you can still look upon this Nashville team and be sure that they have what it takes to be a contender for the next few years.

The pride of the Predators has to be the way that they have been built over the years, there is a very solid foundation of players on this team's roster and they have also been very good at the draft, adding complimentary talent, and then choosing well in free agency.  It's hard not to like what this team has done and you have to believe that they'll be strong for a while yet.

Predators number one, Pekka Rinne, again led the team in hockey pool points, appearing in 59 games this season, winning 42 games and posting 101 points, 5th overall in the league in pool scoring and 3rd among all goalies.  He was a brick wall for this team in the regular season and a top pick at this past year's draft.

The Predators also did well using their number two guy, Juuse Saros more often to keep Rinne fresh, and he was good enough to be a pool worthy keeper in 2018 as well.  In total, there were 11 more skaters included in the hockey pool conversation from Nashville, including forwards Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Kyle Turris, Kevin Fiala and Calle Jarnkrok, while defensemen P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis rounded out a very potent offense from the blueline.  The Predators were not short on scoring in 2018, finishing 7th in the NHL in goals for, not to mention 2nd in goals against, which has you in firm belief that this team was worthy of top spot in the regular season standings.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

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.

The Predators were able to add from within, as Fiala was finally breaking out as a good offensive option, not to mention adding Turris in the 3-way deal with Colorado and Ottawa in November, so they were able to get more talent up front and they were a little more stable, in terms of their top six or even their top nine.  They were able to take their biggest rivals in the Central Division to seven games in the playoffs, but it just wasn't to be for this team and it wasn't for a lack of trying.  They were beat by a good team and they played well themselves.  Disappointing, but the potential for more success is definitely there.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I don't think I was the only one questioning whether or not Viktor Arvidsson was going to be able to repeat his breakout performance in 2017, but he did just that.  61 points the season before, 61 points in 2018 as well, so there you have it.  He was able to do it and I would feel a little more confident going into this next season, likely looking for the 55-to-60 point range again, keeping expectations level, as this is more of a scoring committee team, than a one-man army.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Ryan Johansen 8.000 P.K. Subban 9.000 Pekka Rinne 7.000
Filip Forsberg 6.000 Roman Josi 4.000 Niclas Westerholm 0.826
Kyle Turris 6.000 Mattias Ekholm 3.750
Viktor Arvidsson 4.250 Ryan Ellis 2.500
Craig Smith 4.250 Matt Irwin 0.675
Nick Bonino 4.100 Yannick Weber 0.675
Calle Jarnkrok 2.000 Anthony Bitetto 0.650
Austin Watson 1.100
Eeli Tolvanen 0.894
Kevin Fiala 0.863
Frederick Gaudreau 0.667
Tyler Gaudet 0.650
Colton Sissons 0.625

The Predators have the better part of their core already signed on, which seems to be a bit of pattern among these top teams.  They know what it has taken to get to the top and they are sticking with their clubs, the way they are, at the moment.  Nashville already looks strong for next season, looking to only a minimal amount of work to keep the momentum strong.  This could be good for us poolies.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Only one pool worthy player is heading to free agency for the Predators, in backup goalie Juuse Saros, and he's only a restricted free agent, but he'll likely get himself a raise, since he was more than an adequate number two guy in 2018.

The current cap situation is positive for the Predators, currently holding $5.4 million in space against the current $75 million cap ceiling, but with the ceiling going up by at least $3 million, they do hold a great deal of space to help tinker with their depth, if necessary.

It's hard not to circle back to Eeli Tolvanen at this point, as his entry-level deal was signed at the end of the regular season, but the Predators were not prepared to burn off any of those years, by giving him time in the playoffs, so his time on the ice with the big club was limited to only three games in the end, where he failed to register a point.  Tolvanen is scouted to be a natural goal scorer and there are going to be some high expectations on him in the 2019 season, something a good summer of training could see through to the end.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft

I think you can say that the Predators overpaid for forward Ryan Hartman at the deadline, when trading with the Chicago Blackhawks, as they didn't get much of a return for him on the ice and a top prospect and this year's 1st round pick went for him.  That has to be disappointing.  You probably are not hearing the Blackhawks complain too loudly though.

With the 27th pick in the draft, I have the Blackhawks selecting Halifax Mooseheads centre Benoit-Olivier Groulx, who has been tapped as a safe pick, good at being a two-way player and should be able to play anywhere between the 2nd line or a grinding 3rd line.  That sounds like the kind of kid that the Chicago coaching staff could be all over.

The Predators' foundation is very steady, built strong to last for a few seasons, barring an absolute collapse or some very poor trade choices.  The core of this group is still exceptionally young, as the average age of their pool worthy players last season is only 26.6 years old, which means they have plenty of time to work their way back to a shot at the Cup before too long.  When you consider that they could very well be adding a kid like Tolvanen to their mix, that average age goes down yet again.  This is going to be a good team again in the 2019 season and one that should be highly considered, when you're picking your hockey pool team.

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