It has been over 3 months since I last wrote about the Nashville Predators. In those three months, Nashville and the Predators have undergone a dramatic facelift. For Nashville, the 100-year flood that left most regions of the city underwater changed the way Nashvillians looked at themselves and the city. Neighbors helping neighbors. Companies helping companies. Strangers helping strangers. Regardless of how those outside of Nashville perceived the flood, the citizens of Nashville came together in a historic relief and rebuilding effort that continues to this day.
What stands out is not that Nashvillians came together to help in the rebuilding effort, but that ALL Nashvillians came together. Rich and Poor. Athletes, musicians, and corporate leaders. Turn on the TV and there were telethons and benefit concerts featuring some of the most recognizable names and faces. These celebrities weren’t just lending a hand with their checkbooks, although considerable financial donations were given. They were out in the communities helping strangers remove all their belonging from their houses. They were ripping down drywall and pulling up carpet. They were sweating in the southern heat just like everyone else. They were dealing with the smell of rotting wood, molding carpet, and piles of trash covering every street in the city. They weren’t out looting, price gouging, or talking about what someone else should have done to help them. Tennessee was living up to it’s “Volunteer” state tradition.
While the city of Nashville has been busy rebuilding, the Nashville Predators have undergone a few changes of their own. The 2010 Entry Draft witnessed Nashville selecting a number new prospects led by 1st round pick Austin Watson. A few weeks later Nashville traded Captain Jason Arnott to the New Jersey Devils and watched Dan Hamhuis and Dan Ellis escape to Free Agency. With these three players heading elsewhere, Nashville brought in Sergei Kostitsyn and Matthew Lombardi to bolster their offense.
Now that the dust has settled, here are some of the biggest questions for the Nashville Predators heading into the 2010/20111 season.
1) Will the Nashville Predators make any further changes as teams start to trim players as a result of salary arbitration hearings and salary cap limitations?
As teams go through salary arbitration hearings, there will inevitably be a number of players whose teams decide not to sign based on the arbitration hearing. Nashville acquired J. P. Dumont after Buffalo decided not to match the arbitration award in 2006. With so many teams either over or bumping up against the salary cap, there are bound to be a number of players come available through this process. Additionally, there may be some players traded or bought out to free up cap space. Will Nashville find that diamond in the rough as teams finalized their rosters?
2) Who will step up and provide scoring for the Predators?
With the loss of Jason Arnott, the Predators made a huge splash in the free agent market and brought in Matthew Lombardi. Considered one of the top free agent centers, Lombardi brings speed, agility, and a work ethic that should fit in perfectly with a Barry Trotz coached system. Lombardi should see a significant improvement on his 19 goals from last season by getting first line minutes. Outside of the Lombardi acquisition, Nashville will rely on Shea Weber and Patrick Hornqvist to provide the majority of their offense. Realistically, though, you can’t expect more than 45 combined goals from Weber and Hornqvist. Anything more would be a bonus. Will David Legwand carry his post-season success into the new year? Will the new faces, such as Sergei Kostitsyn, step up? Nashville finished 18th in goals last season? Will they finish higher or lower in 2010/2011?
3) Who will be the backup goalie to Pekka Rinne?
Chances are Nashville will go with a cheap veteran goalie at under $1 million. The other wildcard option is an existing prospect. While there isn’t a surefire prospect that stands out as being NHL ready, Nashville does have the strongest group of prospects in the league with at least 5 strong NHL prospects in Chet Piccard, Ante Engren, Anders Linkback, Jeremy Smith, and Mark Dekanich. Of these, Dekanich is the leading candidate, assuming he is willing to accept a one-year contract. With Nashville’s past success between the pipes, the backup goalie position will be satisfied. It is just a matter of whether David Poile thinks any of the prospects are ready to step up.
4) What needs to occur to improve Nashville’s abysmal power play?
When your power play scores as infrequently as Nashville’s, changes are inevitable. The initial change included sending Jason Arnott to NJ in a trade for prospects. Arnott, as Captain, failed to live up to the expectations and lacked the ability to convert opportunities into goals. Shea Weber is the only returning roster spot guaranteed to be on the power play next year. Steve Sullivan is most likely on the first line as well. Who else? Cody Franson (if resigned) showed signs of being able to step up. Can he continue his development and earn a spot on the power play along with Shea Weber? Other players to consider are Colin Wilson, Ryan Suter, Martin Erat, and Patrick Hornqvist. Will newly acquired Ryan Parent step up? How about rookie Jonathan Blum who is described as a power play specialist? Or newly acquired forward Sergei Kostitsyn? Of course, if you really want to address the power play, you can’t just look at the players. Peter Horachuk has been the assistant head coach over the power play for years and has proven that he can’t adjust when things aren’t working. Let’s be clear. Nashville’s power play hasn’t worked in the last three years under Horachuk. Barry Trotz indicated that he would take a more active role in improving the power play this upcoming season. Considering Nashville went 3 for 68 to end the season, few would argue that the head coach should take a more active role. Who should be on the Predators 1st team Power Play?
5) Speaking of Arnott, who will replace his shots on goal?
Say what you want about Arnott, but he loved to shoot the puck. How many rebounds did Patrick Hornqvist convert into goals from an Arnott shot? Shea Weber will have to step up (with the caveat that he doesn’t injure any more teammates with his slap shot). Ryan Suter will have to shot more instead of passing to Weber. That will keep defenses honest and prevent them from double covering Weber. Patrick Hornqvist will have to repeat last year’s effort. However, if the Predators are going to improve, veteran’s Steve Sullivan, David Legwand, and Martin Erat must step up and put the puck on the net. Colin Wilson and Matthew Lombardi have the talent to shoot the puck, but must avoid falling into the pass first mentality that has plagued Nashville for years. Who will the top 3 SOG leaders be for the Predators? Who will surprise us?
6) Speaking furthermore about Arnott, who will be the Predators Captain next year?
Well, the answer is in. Shea Weber will captain the Nashville Predators for the 2010/2011 season. No surprise for anyone who follows Nashville as Weber is one of the top defenseman in the league and, at 24, is just now coming into his prime. Weber brings size (6’4), respect (Olympic Gold Medal), character (strong work ethic/community involvement/locker room leader), and a nasty streak(see Andres Lilya and Yannic Seiderberg). Of course, Weber also has his 101 mph slap shot that instills fear in anyone in front of the net. (Olympics) How many players can say they shot a puck THROUGH the mesh of the net in a game? Most importantly, however, Weber has the respect of every player in the locker room and is idolized by Nashville’s talented group of prospects. Expect to see Nashville extend a long-term contract extension to Weber during the season that will keep him in Nashville for at least 6 years. But who will wear the ‘A’ and support Weber on the ice? Ryan Suter has earned the opportunity, but plays on the same line as Weber? Steve Sullivan is the heart and soul of the team and has worn the ‘A’ in the past. How about Pekka Rinne, who has developed into one of the best young goalies in the league? Does David Legwand finally get the opportunity to wear the ‘A’ recognizing his years of service to the organization?
7) Which young prospect will jump up to Nashville and make an impact?
The two prospects on the radar are Cody Franson and Jonathan Blum. Franson, a restricted free agent, played most of last year in Nashville and has the talent to play in the NHL. However, his lack of speed and physical play are questions. If he can learn how to use his 6’5 frame to bring more of a physical side to his game, combined with his scoring potential, he will find a way on to the team. It doesn’t hurt that he also led the team in +/-. Jonathan Blum has handled every challenge thrown at him throughout his development. Once thought to be small for a defenseman, Blum has added height and weight (30 lbs) since drafted two years ago and is set to start the season in Milwaukee in the AHL. If he has a great prospect camp, though, he has a chance on the 3rd line. While Nashville has a number of defensive prospects, offensively, there are many questions. At best, Nashville is a year or two away from having the majority of its offensive talent NHL ready. The one exception might be Blake Geoffrion, the 2010 Hobey Baker award winner. Geoffrion may not be NHL ready, but you have to wonder if Nashville will rush to bring the local prodigy up to promote the team. He is definitely not 1st or 2nd line material at this point in his development, but could find time on the 3rd line. Who will be this year’s Patrick Hornqvist?
8 ) Where is the toughness going to come from?
One of the knocks against the Predators in recent years has been their lack of size. 5’8 speedsters are great, but the NHL has become a league led by big centers and power forwards. Unfortunately, Nashville has neither. Furthermore, in a league where ‘issues’ are settled on the ice, Nashville has lost its ability to challenge other team with their own enforcers. Jordin Tootoo is a fan favorite, but is more of an agitator than an enforcer. Wake Belak is a comedian in the clubhouse and can still go toe to toe with most enforcers in the league. The problem is Belak only plays about half of the games each year. He is usually a healthy scratch the rest of the time. So the question remains, who protects the team when Belak doesn’t dress? The most suitable player is Shea Weber. However, Nashville can’t risk Weber injuring himself while sticking up for his teammates. A few fights here and there, yes, but Weber cannot take on the role of the primary on-ice enforcer. Maybe Colin Wilson adds toughness to the team? Maybe Cody Franson finally figures out how to use his size? Who drops the gloves for Nashville in the 2010/2011 season?
9) What will the defensive pairings look like?
Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have occupied the 1st line for the last several years. Both have earned the right to lead the defense. Is it time to split them up and allow them to mentor some of the young talent ready to emerge? Would Kevin Klien benefit from a pairing with Weber or Suter? What about Cody Franson? Will Nashville sign Ryan Parent and if so, whom will he be paried? Who will make up the minutes vacated by Dan Hamhuis’ departure? Will Jonathan Blum find his way onto the roster and if so, will he receive any ice time?
10) Who will be the 2010/2011 version of Ryan Jones? You know, the guy who has talent, but can’t find any ice time in a Barry Trotz led system and ultimately is traded away without ever knowing what potential he had?
Cal O’Reilly, Mike and Mark Santorelli, Nick Spalding, Andreas Thuresson, and Teemu Laakso will all receive a few call ups and minimal ice time throughout the year due to injuries. Will any of them show enough improvement to stick with the club? Or will they be used as pawns in one of David Poile’s trades at the trade deadline?
1) How will the Boot Del Biaggio situation affect the current ownership group and will the team make progress financially by bringing in a new owner?
2) Will the 2010/2011 game introduction video be better, the same, or worse than last year. Is it possible that it is worse than last year?
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper