The best player the Predators have—by a wide margin—is defenseman Shea Weber. Losing him would be a huge blow to this team in more ways than one.
It took arbitration this summer, but he’s signed—to the highest contract ever awarded in arbitration, no less—and the team can now focus on the task at hand.
That task is to improve on last year’s impressive effort. By beating the Ducks in six games in the first round last year they made the second round for the first time in franchise history. They gave the Canucks a pretty serious test in the second round as well.
While they are moving in the right direction as a franchise, the conference is deep and tough, so they can’t rest on their past accomplishments. They have been pretty good at just making the playoffs.
Now they need to focus on being a legitimate threat when those playoffs start.
The team starts the season with an unfortunate inspirational rallying point. Wade Belak was a popular guy in the dressing room before his retirement last season, and he was due to be a broadcaster with the team this year before his suicide.
Something like that can bring the team together from the start.
Nashville Predators Offseason Moves
It was not a particularly busy offseason for the Preds. They made changes, but none that really rocked the world. Niclas Bergfors was probably the most significant addition. While he is a nice player, if he’s the big name then it’s hard to get too excited about the changes.
Nashville Predators NHL Outlook
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the priority for this squad this year—they need to find a way to score.
When your leading scorer has only 50 points then you just aren’t good enough offensively. GM David Poile has faced a lot of criticism over this issue, and he could find himself on a very hot seat if it continues to be a problem.
Since they didn’t add significant offensive talent in the offseason—in part because there wasn’t a whole lot available this year—they will have to rely on young players to provide a boost. The Preds have one of the deepest and best stocked pools of talent in the league.
It just remains to be seen if they are ready for primetime.
Guys like Blake Geoffrion, Colin Wilson, Jonathon Blum and Cal O’Reilly have already made their debuts in the league, and Ryan Ellis headlines the impressive youngsters waiting for their chance. The Predators did see a lot of older players leave town in the offseason, so there is room for plenty of new, fresh talent.
The big question, though, is whether the team can still be as or more competitive while breaking in so many newbies.
Blum in particular is a guy to watch this year.
The defenseman played in only 23 games last year, but the team felt confident enough to trade away Cody Franson—a competent, minute eating defenseman—in the offseason. That puts the pressure on the guy drafted in the first round in 2007, but they wouldn’t put him in this spot if they didn’t think he could handle it. He’s a guy who could start to get some league-wide attention this year.
2011-12 Nashville Predators Schedule
There are a few interesting games, but the one with the most potential for fireworks is Feb.9 when the team travels to Ottawa.
It will be the first time Fisher returns to the town where he was a very popular player.He was traded last year, and the fact that his wife, Carrie Underwood, is based in Nashville is more than just a coincidence. Senators fans feel cheated, and since they don’t have a whole lot going for them this year they could take their frustrations out on Fisher in this one.
Nashville Predators NHL Futures Odds (via Bodog)
At 28/1 to win the Stanley Cup, the Predators are a middle-of-the-pack squad. That’s about where they should be, though given the youth and the lack of offense I don’t think that there is a lot of value to be had. None, actually. They are 14/1 to win the Western Conference.
2011-12 Nashville Predators Predictions
In order for this team to succeed they need to rely on two things: strong defensive play and great goaltending. They should be fine on both counts—Pekka Rinne is solid, and the defense is deep and strong.
There is definitely a ceiling for a team that can combine strong defensive play with consistent offense, though, so the upside for this team is limited. I’m also nervous about the amount of youth and the impact that could have.
A youth movement can work out very well, like it did for Colorado two years ago, but the road will certainly be bumpy and consistency will be an issue.
Last year the Predators finished fifth in the West. While they certainly have a look at the playoffs again I think that they are more likely one of the teams in the dogfight for the last playoff spots.
While I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the playoffs I also would be far from shocked to see them on the sidelines for a year. Either way they are at least a year away from being a significant factor in the league.
Doc’s Sports is very excited for this upcoming NHL season. Visit our home page to access all team previews, as well as more sports articles, betting odds and full coverage on the 2011-12 NHL season.