Nashville Predators: 10 Reasons They Could End Up Winning the West
The Nashville Predators enter the midseason in position to make their seventh playoff appearance in the last eight years. Last season, they won their first playoff series in franchise history before losing a hard-fought conference semifinals in six games to the league-leading Vancouver Canucks.
Is it finally time for the Preds to make the leap to the Stanley Cup Finals?
It's hard to predict what direction this organization is going it, and with GM David Poile's latest comments, this team could have a completely different face very soon. If Nashville can make it through the trade deadline with Weber and Suter, they will have their best chance. If not, they should still get enough return out of a deal to still be a good team with a chance to be great.
10. Ryan Suter
Suter has become one of the most consistent and offensive-minded defenders in the league alongside partner Shea Weber. His plus-12 rating is second on the team, and he is fourth in points (21).
If the Preds can keep him through the trade deadline, he will generate goals and, more importantly, stuff up the defensive zone for Pekka Rinne.
If the Preds can't keep him, he could still have an impact if Nashville can land a scoring forward in a trade involving Suter.
9. Legwand and Erat Earning Their Dough
The Predators' highest-paid forwards ($4.5 million/year each) have a combined 45 points and only 20 penalty minutes between the two.
Legwand and Erat are staying (relatively) healthy and proving that they deserve their heavy paychecks that, in years past, fans have doubted they were earning. The Preds need them to get hot if and when they make their playoff run.
Erat is fresh off a game-winning goal Thursday against Columbus in a 6-5 thriller, and his grit will have to come through more often than not if the Preds want to make a run.
8. Nowhere to Go but Up for Fisher, Kostitsyn
After starting the first four games with four points, Kostitsyn has been a sore for Preds fans. His beautiful wrister on Tuesday night versus the Capitals shows hope that Nashville's top scorer last year could get hot down the stretch.
Fisher has been nothing short of a disappointment this season after being a major contributor in the playoffs last season. If these two players can find their game, it will add some much-needed firepower to the Preds' offense.
7. GM David Poile
Poile has taken the Predators from the brink of relocation to one of the most consistent teams in the league.
Nashville now faces the daunting task of figuring out what to do with soon-to-be free agents Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but fans trust Poile to keep the Predators on the right track. This will be a team well worth consideration for a playoff run even if Weber or Suter are dealt before the deadline.
6. Young Stars Are Flourishing
Rookie center Craig Smith wasn't expected to stay on the Predators' roster all year, much less lead the team with 24 points.
In his second full season with the team, Colin Wilson (21 points) is also exceeding expectations. Both Smith and Wilson have four power-play goals apiece, and their production is giving the Preds some much-needed scoring depth.
Recently called-up Roman Josi is also gelling well for the Predators on defense as well as helping on the offensive end.
5. They Have the League's Most Feared Enforcer
In Bleacher Report's 22 best fights of the season so far, Brian McGrattan appears in four of them.
If you don't agree that he's the scariest enforcer in the NHL, ask Jay Rosehill's face (which I suspect is slightly dismembered).
Nashville's been in need of a pure enforcer since the days of Darcy Hordichuk, and they finally have one. This also takes pressure off Tootoo to be an enforcer, so he is spending more time focusing on scoring.
4. Pekka Rinne
It's hard not to put him higher on this list.
Rinne has been one of the NHL's most impressive players over the last two years, on his way to landing the biggest contract in Predators history. He has three shutouts thus far in 2011-12.
Contrary to popular belief, Rinne is the Predators' best defende and a top-three goalie in the NHL at the very least. He will have to be clogging the pipes up if the Preds want to make a playoff run.
3. Trust in Trotz
Barry Trotz is the only coach the Predators have ever known. He's also the only coach that Weber, Suter, Legwand, Erat and Smith (the top-five point scorers on the team) have ever had in the NHL.
The players and Trotz know what to expect out of each other, and given they keep their stars in town, they know what it takes to build off of last year's success and get to the next level.
2. Winning Record in League's Best Division
The Predators are having a very impressive season if you look at the standings of the whole NHL. But if you look at Central division, to which the Preds belong, they are fourth behind Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis.
But here's the thing: They are 6-1-2 in divisional play.
They're also 2-0 to the rival Blues, who the Predators currently trail 42-40 for sixth place. Continuing their dominance in the division will pay dividends if and when they face one of these foes in the playoffs.
1. Shea Weber
What else did you expect at No. 1?
Weber is the heart and soul of the team, the face of the franchise and one of the NHL's best players (not just defensemen). His pairing, alongside teammate Ryan Suter, not only plugs up their own crease but runs the offense. His plus-17 rating dominates the team, and he is second in points among defensemen in the NHL.
There is no argument that Weber is irreplaceable, and the Predators' playoff hopes would take a huge hit if he were dealt at the deadline. But a player like Weber will be respected by other teams, so Nashville could end up with some great offensive talent if they traded him.
With all of the rumors dispersing and uncertainty brewing, GM Poile needs to know that, if the Stanley Cup is hoisted in Nashville, it will have to be with Weber as his captain.