Things never change in Nashville.
Year in, year out, they're a perennial pick to miss the playoffs. But then people consider that this team has missed the show just once in the past six seasons. Meaning that they try to give people reasons why the Preds could make it.
Yet the fact is, outside of one of the best defenses and a scouting staff that's done well at pegging goalies to fit their system, the Preds have always had question marks when it comes to scoring, making them a confusing pick.
So why not just own up to it and say you don't know if they're a playoff team? Don't tell people they aren't and then try and give them reasons NOT to believe you.
Do I think they can make the playoffs? You bet, so long as the young guys up front perform.
1) Shea Weber Finishes With 20 Goals
Even if he doesn't hit 20, he'll be in the mid-to-high teens in goals. A more vivacious offense from the young guys and a little more onus on puck-moving from the back end would help. Add in a full season of Alexander Sulzer, Cody Franson, and of course Ryan Suter, and Weber will have plenty of chances.
2) The Predators Power Play is Top 15 Good
With those puck-movers back there, the Preds will be dangerous with a man advantage. Whether Suter and Weber are together on a super-pairing, or their shots are being set up by Sulzer, Franson, Francis Bouillon or someone else (Ryan Ellis or Jonathan Blum), opposing goalies will be plenty busy.
3) We Get To Know Sergei Kostitsyn the Hockey Player, Not the Headline
You want a bold prediction? Sergei Kostitsyn stays quiet an entire season. No headlines, no controversy; just skating, shooting, and the occasional fight with Mikhail Grabovski. Wouldn't that be nice?
4) Mark Dekanich Earns the Backup Spot Behind Pekka Rinne
The Preds are confident in their ability to fill the role from within, and with what's left on the free agent market, you can't blame them for thinking that way. Dekanich is the more experienced between himself and Chet Pickard, as the latter has seen just half of a season in the AHL. The Colgate alumni gets his shot, playing in 15 games.
5) J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan's Split Will Hamper Their success
These two benefited from playing with Jason Arnott, a goal-scoring centre rather than a playmaker, over the past two seasons. Although both can score (Dumont has six 20-goal seasons, Sullivan has eight), they're each better suited as playmakers rather than finishers. Now they're matched up with either Matthew Lombardi, or one of the younger centres (Colin Wilson, Cal O'Reilly), and a goal-scoring winger (Martin Erat or Patric Hornqvist).
6) Martin Erat Scores 26, Hornqvist Slips to 22
Coming off of his first 30-goal season, Hornqvist runs into frustrations as the pucks find gloves, sticks, and pads instead of the back of the net. Erat meanwhile, gets his responsibilities bumped up, and reaps the reward of playing alongside two playmakers, setting a career high in goals.
7) Colin Wilson Emerges as the Best of the Preds Young Forwards
While Wilson is the least experienced of the Preds younger forwards trying to make a difference, he seemed to get the hang of things during his second call-up last season. Although his only point came in the Predators' last playoff game, Wilson will lead the youngsters this year.
8) Jordin Tootoo is This Season's Steve Downie
Tootoo may seem like an unlikely candidate for this..."honour", considering that his previous career high in goals is 11, but Downie's was only nine before last year. Granted Tootoo has a few years on him, so a career-defining 20-goal season may be a bit off the mark, but the 27-year old could be in for 16 or 17.
9) Pekka Rinne Wins 35 Games
In six extra games last year, Rinne boosted his win total from 29 to 32, and without the luxury of having Dan Ellis behind him, the Finnish keeper should be looking at anywhere from 60-65 games in the crease. While not elite, Rinne has the ability to steal some games, and has a knack for keeping his team competitive. Whether they're close ones or blowouts, Rinne establishes a new career-high.
10) Jonathan Blum Forces His Way in by February
After four years in junior, where personal improvements made him an attractive piece of Nashville's future, Blum had a successful AHL debut last year with 11 goals and 41 points in 80 games. If he plays that calibre of hockey from the beginning to the end of camp, there will be no stopping him. If he is sent down though, expect him to make his case early and often against the minor-pro competition for a call-up.
The Stretch (Remember, you're supposed to laugh): Nashville swings deals for Nik Lidstrom and Duncan Keith, giving them the best blueline in the league. They establish new league records for goals, assists, and points by a defensive group in a season and sweep the Norris candidacies. Unfortunately it costs them any forward with offensive talent, and they score 150 goals for the season—83 of them coming from the defense.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and a columnist for Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to contact Bryan you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.