Few teams have had the type of regular season success over the past two seasons than the Nashville Predators, so when the team went into the playoffs with the same opponent facing them and a much better team. Yet when the results were dreadfully the same for the Preds and suffering another loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, the team really needed to head in a new direction.
However, looking at the offseason that this team had, I do not believe that is what they had in mind. This new season brings forth a ton of changes and questions about the team’s future. Can the Preds bounce back and have the type of season that they are used to having and making some headway on defense, or are they merely a shadow of the team they once were?
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 51-23-8-110; 2nd in Central Division
2006 Postseason (if applicable): Lost in Western Conf. Quarters (4-1 to San Jose)
Coach Name (record w/team): Barry Trotz; 283-276-60 (37 ties; .506)
Key Additions: LW Martin Gelinas (Florida); C Radek Bonk (Montreal); D Greg De Vries (Atlanta)
Key Subtractions: RW Paul Kariya (St. Louis); Tomas Vokoun (Florida); D Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia); RW Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia); C Peter Forsberg (unsigned as of 9/5)
Offense: This team had a lot of offensive firepower last season. The Predators were one of the top transitional teams in the NHL last year. They turned defense into offense better than any team in the league. However, as the Sharks pointed out rather physically, stifling defense would shut them down and they would get frustrated.
Now the Preds lose a big part of that offensive bite. Paul Kariya, one of the team’s veteran leaders, is gone to St. Louis, while Peter Forsberg is contemplating retirement or returning to Europe. So where does the offense come from now?
The good thing about this team is that their offense was very well balanced. They had seven different players with over 50 points, so the loss of Kariya and Forsberg do not hurt as much as they would on another team. J.P. Dumont, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, and Jason Arnott are all still there and all have the ability to put points on the board. But there are questions about those guys, too. Like Sullivan and his back concerns. You can even look at someone like young stud Alexander Radulov as another key weapon on offense.
The team speed does not decline much and the threat of the transition offense is still very much present with the players they still have here. Defensively, Kimmo Timonen was their top contributor from the point, but he is also gone from the team. Look for Shea Weber; he scored 17 goals in his first full season and registered 40 total points. Without Timonen, Weber will be their most consistent offensive threat from the defense. Marek Zidlicky and Ryan Suter could get big chances to produce with Timonen gone.
Defense: Kimmo Timonen was also a key member of the defense. He was a good defender for the Preds; his positioning was great and he was one of the better passers from the back end. That threat of Timonen sending the puck forward was a good weapon for the Preds to have on defense, because offense’s really had to think twice about how hard they pushed forward against them. Without the presence, the liability defensively goes to guys like Shea Weber, Marek Zidlicky, and Ryan Suter.
Look at a guy like Greg De Vries, who comes over from Atlanta. He’s not a particularly strong offensive presence, but he is solid defensively and gives the Preds another solid player back there. Their defense is affected by the loss of Timonen, but the Preds have more than enough depth and skill in their defensive corps that they do not have to worry too much about this problem.
Goaltending: The Predators decided that goaltender Tomas Vokoun was more of a risk due to injury than they were willing to take. So out goes Vokoun, dealt to Florida during the offseason, and Chris Mason is given the keys to the Preds’ bus. Mason has done well in spot duty for the Preds, in the postseason two years ago and in injury replacement starts for Vokoun.
Now Mason will be the team’s top netminder. Mason’s numbers are almost identical to Vokoun’s, but there are definitely different styles. Vokoun is a butterfly and ‘get on the ice’ type goaltender, while Mason is more about his reflexes. How does he get into the role and play after the good play of Vokoun over the past two seasons? Mason has the physical tools, but we have yet to see whether or not he can get into the mental mindset of the starting job for the Preds.
Coaching: Barry Trotz has taken a lot of flack lately for the lack of killer instinct that the Preds had in the postseason the past two years against San Jose. While Trotz has been able to get the team to embrace his quick-turn offensive style, they have not been able to translate that into success in the postseason.
Trotz has been the team’s only coach in their history, but at what point do you think that the team needs a new face or a new voice to hear coaching them. There is a lot less leeway for Trotz this season; if the team does not perform to expectations, then he could be the first casualty for a team in heavy transition.
Points/Conference Standing: 85 – 95 pts; middle of Western Conference (5th – 10th in conference)
Team MVP: Shea Weber
Prediction Notes: The team will feel the pressure from multiple angles; whether it’s the impending ownership issues or the big turnstile-type changes that the team has made this season. Barry Trotz, although underachieving over the past few seasons, really has a tough task in keeping this team together and playing well. A lot of the pieces are in place, but where will the leadership come from? Kariya and Timonen were some of the more vocal leaders in the locker room for this team. There could be a bit of a drop off with the team this year.