I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters, and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 campaign.
Let's get a move on with the Nashville Predators, which play in the Central Division of the Western Conference.
The Nashville Predators are entering their 12th season in the NHL and they have the second longest serving head coach in the NHL today. Barry Trotz was hired 16 days after current Buffalo Sabres' Head Coach, Lindy Ruff. Trotz is the only head coach in the history of the Predators and as long as his General Manager sticks around, his position as head coach appears to be safe for the foreseeable future. David Poile just happens to be the only General Manager in the history of the Predators as well.
With that kind of consistency in the hockey operations department, why does this franchise appear to have some many issues off of the ice?
The Predators have reported an average attendance of 15,010 or 87.7 percent of capacity. The average attendance was 27th in the NHL and includes freebies and promo tickets.
Twenty seven percent of the current ownership of the franchise is vacant thanks to the bankruptcy and imprisonment of former minority shareholder William J. "Boots" Del Biaggio III. This is a franchise that has been forced to cut payroll down to near the floor of the Salary Cap, but may have one of the best young trios on defense in the NHL.
Let’s take a look at the 2009-10 version of the Nashville Predators:
The unrestricted free agents that have left Nashville are: Radek Bonk (Russia) and Antti Pihlstrom (Sweden) have both gone to Europe for the upcoming season. Vernon Fiddler (Phoenix), Ville Koistinen (Florida), Drew MacIntyre (Atlanta), Scott Nichol (San Jose), Jed Ortmeyer (San Jose), and Greg Zanon (Minnesota).
There are three former Predators players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise: Greg de Vries, Denis Platonov, and Tim Ramholt.
2009-10 Nashville Predators' Roster
The Predators currently have 17 players under one-way contracts: nine forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders.
The following six players are most likely to fill out the roster, with two-way contracts:
Patric Hornqvist is entering the final year of his entry level contract and with the Predators looking to keep costs low, it may be time for the Predators to see what they have in the 22-year-old Swede, for entire season. Last year, he appeared in 28 games with the Predators, scoring two goals and adding five assists.
Cal O’Reilly just recently signed a new two-year contract that will see the 22-year-old's new deal will become a one-way deal next season. Last season he appeared in 11 games, scoring three goals and tallying two assists.
Marcel Goc signed a one-year, two-way deal after coming over from the San Jose Sharks as an UFA. He will be looking to kick start his career this season after falling out of favour in San Jose. Over the past four seasons with the Sharks, Goc has played in 265 games, scoring 20 goals and adding 34 assists.
Ben Guite also signed a one-year, two-way deal during the offseason. The UFA is moving to Tennessee from Colorado where he played for the last three seasons. The 31-year-old has played in 169 games, scoring 19 goals and tallying 26 assists.
Peter Olvecky also came to the Predators, via free agency. The 24-year-old from Slovakia had played in 31 games last season. He scored two goals and added five assists with the Minnesota Wild during his rookie season.
The sixth roster spot should be reserved for a defenseman. Cody Franson, Jonathan Blum, or Nolan Yonkman will be fighting for the final roster spot during Training Camp.
With these 22 players (excluding the final defensive roster spot), the Predators' Salary Cap would sit at $42.76 million.
Here is a look at some of the Predators' top prospects that will be looking to impress G.M. Poile and Head Coach Trotz.
The Predators’ first round pick (seventh Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft is the son of former NHLer Carey Wilson. The elder Wilson spent 10 seasons, starting in 1983-84, playing for the Calgary Flames, Hartford Whalers and the New York Rangers.
During his freshman year (2007-08) with the Boston University Terriers, Colin Wilson was awarded New England's college hockey Rookie of the Year, as well as Hockey East Rookie of the Year. During his sophomore season (2008-09), Wilson was a NCAA East First Team All-Star.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Gary Eggleston, "Colin is a combination of a skilled and power forward. He is very strong, has excellent hands and is a very good passer and playmaker. He makes and takes a difficult pass extremely well. He is tough and strong on the puck and is a very smart player who is aware of where teammates are at all times. He anticipates the play at both ends of the ice very well. When he gets the puck he responds instantly and knows where to put the puck. He is very reliable defensively, has incredibly quick feet and he can turn quickly while maintaining puck control."
Wilson is leaving school and turning pro for this season. He will challenge for roster spot with the Predators, but his cap hit is $1.725 million per season. The Predators have the cap space, but do they have the money to keep him in Nashville?
The Predators' first round pick (18th Overall), in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, spent his first two seasons of his junior career backing up Carey Price with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. During the 2008-09 season, his first as a starter, he was awarded as a CHL First Team All-Star and the CHL Goaltender of the Year. Over the last two seasons, Pickard was awarded as a WHL First Team All-Star and the WHL Goaltender of the Year.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Al Jensen, "He is very confident. He is very strong in his crease and he isn’t predictable. His net coverage is very good and he reads the play well. I think he presents himself very well in the net and he has very good goalie instincts. He is a very consistent goaltender which is a big positive for him. He is able to put any bad goals behind him; he doesn’t let anything bother him yet he is very competitive. The first time I saw Pickard, I saw Olaf Kolzig—I saw him big time in there."
With the Predators goal crease full at this moment, it's likely Pickard will start his professional career with Milwaukee in the AHL.
The Predators’ first round pick (23rd Overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has spent the last four seasons with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. He also appeared in five games with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, during the Calder Cup playoffs.
According to hockeysfuture.com, "Blum demonstrates outstanding mobility and often takes the initiative to carry the puck up ice. What makes Blum so good is his explosive skating ability. Because he is not very large, he uses technique and a good poke-check to wrestle the puck away from opponents. He has amazing ice presence and is very rarely caught out of position, a key aspect of being an NHL defenseman. Blum still needs to work on his strength and body size, because being less than 180 pounds as a defenseman hardly bodes well for anyone in professional hockey."
Blum will either challenge for a roster spot with the Predators or start the season in Milwaukee.
The Predators made Ellis a first round pick (11th Overall) in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. The 5'9" 173 pound defenseman has spent the last two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards, "He's a really smart, heady defenseman. His puck movement is excellent and the way he moves the puck around the zone is excellent. He's a real high-end offensive guy. He's got a great shot and he gets it through to the net. A lot of guys have their shots blocked, but he's got a real knack for getting it through, and that leads to a lot of tip-in and rebound goals. He's a smaller guy, but he's not afraid of taking the body. He shows no fear of getting involved in scrums, he's not intimidated."
With the current depth on the Predators’ blue-line, it's most likely that Ellis will return to the Spitfires to help them defend their Memorial Cup title.
The Predators’ third round pick (79th Overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, spent last season with the Milwaukee Admirals. The 22-year-old has been stuck behind a very solid defensive group in Nashville. With the departure of Greg de Vries, Tim Ramholt, and Greg Zanon, it's now time for Franson to shine. He is entering the final year of his entry level contract.
According to hockeysfuture.com, at 6'4", 205 pounds, Franson has the height and weight to compete. He is a good skater and has offensive ability. It's only a matter of time before you see this skilled defenseman in the NHL.
Recap of the 2008-09 Season
The Predators finished fifth in the Central Division and finished 10th in the Western Conference with a record of 40-34-8, good for 88 points. They finished only three points out of eighth place in the Conference, which would have been history in the making. Since the inception of the Conference alignment, no division has seen all their teams make the playoffs. The Predators just missed making history.
The Predators had three players break the 20-goal plateau and eight players finish with double digit goals. They were lead by Jason Arnott (33 goals) and J.P. Dumont (65 points). Two of the top five point producers from last season were defensemen (Weber and Suter).
The Predators' offense was 24th in the NHL with 207 goals, but defensively, the Predators were 13th in the NHL giving up 228 goals.
The Predators power play was 26th in the NHL last season, clicking at only 15.7 percent, but they were 10th in killing penalties (82.5 percent).
Outlook for the 2009-10 Season
The offensively challenged Predators are going to have a problem putting the puck in the net once again. With no significant free agent additions, if the Predators are going to make it back into the playoffs, they are going to need to be better defensively. The big three on defense (Weber, Suter, and Hamhuis) had 33 goals and chipped in with 91 assists.
A healthy Steve Sullivan for a full-season will definitely help the offensive troubles in Music City U.S.A. In 41 games after missing 142-straight regular season games and 11 more playoff contests due to a back injury sustained Feb. 22, 2007, Sullivan recorded 11 goals and added 21 assists. Pro-rate that over a full season that would give the Predators another 20-goal scorer and a 64-point forward.
The strength of the organization is definitely the back end. With four of the top five prospects being either defensemen or a goaltender, the Predators will need to hope that their younger players can step up and provide the offensive spark that they are going to need in order to challenge the tough teams of the Central Division.
I foresee a fifth place finish again in the Central Division, but I think they will lose ground in the playoff race, finishing 13th. If the young players can step up their games and provide some offensive, they could move higher in the Conference, but it will be hard for them to catch Columbus and St. Louis in the Division.
On Sept 3rd, I will be reviewing New Jersey Devils as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.
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