Friday, September 8, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Nashville Predators

GM: David Poile (since 1997). 9.5/10
Coach: Peter Laviolette (since 2014). 8.4/10

2016-17 record: 41-29-12, 94 points, 18th overall, final Wild Card spot in the West, lost in Stanley Cup Final.

Departures: James Neal (RW), Colin Wilson (LW), Mike Ribeiro (C), Brad Hunt (D), Mike Fisher (C).

Arrivals: Nick Bonino (C), Alexei Emelin (D), Scott Hartnell (RW).

Top forwards: Filip Forsberg (30-some goals, 70-85 points), Ryan Johansen (60-70 points), Viktor Arvidsson (55-70 points), Bonino (40-50 points playing on a second line all season), Kevin Fiala (30-40 points), Craig Smith (30-40 points), Calle Jarnkrok (25-35 points), Pontus Aberg (20 goals and 30-35 points).

Must-improve forward: Bonino has never proven able to withstand the rigors of a #2C position; he has no choice now that he carries a $4.1M cap hit, but he's only breached the 40-point mark once, in 2013-14.

Top defensemen: Roman Josi (45-55 points), P.K. Subban (40-50 points despite missong 10 games or so), Ryan Ellis (usually good for 35-45 points, though he will start the season on LTIR), Mattias Ekholm (20-30 points), Emelin (10-15 points and lots of huge hits), Colton Sissons (20-25 points), Yannick Weber (10 points, maybe a few powerplay goals).

Goalies: Pekka Rinne (90/100), Juuse Saros (81/100).

Top rookies: Aberg (24 years old, LW, 2017 playoff breakout performer), Dante Fabbro (19, D, 2016 first-round draft pick), Frédérick Gaudreau (24, C, 2017 playoff breakout performer), Saros (22, G), Vladislav Kamenev (21, C).

Sure, the Preds lost key elements this off-season: skilled playmaker and off-the-ice nightmare Ribeiro, middle-six forward Wilson, former 40-goal man Neal, captain Fisher.

And sure, the short summer from reaching the Cup Final has already taken its toll injury-wise with Ellis and Bonino out for the first couple of months of play and the rest will start feeling fatigue in December rather than February.

However, the St. Louis Blues are even more banged-up, Dallas Stars will need time to gel, the Chicago Blackhawks got younger and will need to tighten their system up, the Minnesota Wild are facing cap salary cap issues and the Winnipeg Jets are not yet ready to contend for a division title, so Nashville has a decent chance of finishing in the top three spots in the Central by default, if anything.

And, I mean, the best defense corps in the league has to account for something, as does having an offense that is balanced enough to boast two 30-goal wingers and a center who thinks he's elite.

Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division.

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