2010-2011 NHL season preview: Nashville Predators

sheaweber2.jpgLast season: (47-29-6, 100 points, 3rd in Central Division, 7th in Western Conference) Each and every year, people try to count out the Predators and each and every year they seem to make the playoffs. For a team that’s gotten the runaround when it comes to rumors about being moved and talk of financial instability, the Predators take care of business pretty well. A hard first-round battle with the Blackhawks left the Predators without a series win, but putting the scare of a lifetime into the eventual Stanley Cup champions is something to hang your hat on.

Head coach: Barry Trotz enters his 12th season as head coach. He’s the only coach the franchise has ever known and that consistency at the top of the organization helps Nashville stay in the hunt year in and year out. The system never changes, what’s expected is always known, and players all ideally know where they stand within the organization. Taking a team from their days as an expansion franchise to where they’re consistently a difficult team to deal with is an impressive feat. That said, more is demanded from the fans in Nashville and winning a playoff round or two would go a long way towards solidifying hockey’s hold in Music City.

Key departures: F Jason Arnott, F Dustin Boyd, D Dan Hamhuis, D Denis Grebeshkov, G Dan Ellis. Losing Hamhuis and Grebeshkov are tough blows for the defense, meanwhile Arnott’s departure was to help free up room salary-wise. Ellis’ departure opened up competition for the backup job as Pekka Rinne’s hold on the starting job was permanent.

Key arrivals: F Matt Lombardi, F Sergei Kostitsyn, D Ryan Parent, D Aaron Johnson, G Anders Lindback. Adding Lombardi was a coup for the Preds. After his big year in Phoenix his salary demands were higher than expected and he came to Nashville as a relative steal. Kostitsyn arrives looking to shake off negative opinions on his game earned in Montreal. Parent returns to Nashville to help solidify the defensive unit. Lindback is making his North American debut as Rinne’s backup.

Under pressure:  This might come off as unfair, but the most pressure is on Trotz. After all, the team still hasn’t won in the playoffs. They’ve been the prototypical really tough team for Cup competitors to face in the first round and beating the Predators in the playoffs has been the spark that both Chicago and Detroit needed on their way to winning their most recent Stanley Cups. At some point, the Predators need to stop being the tough team to face in the first round and become the team that stuns someone big on their way to making a deep run in the playoffs.

pekkarinne2.jpgProtecting the house: The Predators have handed the reins over to Rinne. After dueling with Ellis last season to see who would come out on top, Rinne’s stellar play over the inconsistent Ellis ensured that the job would be his. How much work Rinne sees this season will be interesting to watch as some suspect he’ll be the next goalie to join the 60+ starts society. Should that not pan out, Lindback will be there supporting him. Lindback was the Preds’ seventh round pick in 2008 and he played well in Sweden the last two seasons and impressed enough in training camp to win the backup job. If Rinne struggles, it’ll be interesting to see what Lindback can do in a bigger role than expected.

On defense, captain Shea Weber leads a very able and capable crew. Ryan Suter, Francois Bouillon, Ryan Parent, Cody Franson, Aaron Johnson and Kevin Klein round out a gang of seven that will play things tight to the vest. Losing Hamhuis to free agency was a tough blow, but bringing back Parent and getting more minutes from Franson should help offset his play.

Top line we’d like to see: Steve Sullivan-Lombardi-Patric Hornqvist is what we’d like to see. Sullivan is the veteran scorer leading the way, while Lombardi is the new guy coming off a hot season and Hornqvist is the big body with the goal-scoring touch in front of the net. It’s a bit of the past, present, future motif we’ve seen with other teams, except this one isn’t quite as drastic. The Preds need goal scoring and a line like this will make it happen with Sullivan’s ability to slice in and out of traffic, Lombardi’s ability to make things happen and Hornqvist blocking the goalie’s view.

Oh captain, my captain: You couldn’t ask for a guy who sets a better example of what the Predators are all about than Weber. He’s big, he’s talented, he flies under the radar for mainstream popularity — he’s the human embodiment of the Predators. He’s also playing the game with the kind of tenacity that Trotz wants out of everyone.

jordintootoo2.jpgStreet fighting man: There’s ideally a pair of candidates here. One guy does actual fighting (Wade Belak) and the other makes everyone want to fight him (Jordin Tootoo). If Belak gets into a game, you can guarantee him dropping the gloves. With Tootoo running around all game you’ll have a lot of ticked off players on the opposing team. Fact is, the Predators aren’t really a fighting team. They were third from the bottom in fighting majors last season and Belak was their runaway leader with 10 and he didn’t even play that often. Any fans that believe that fighting hockey is what’s selling in Nashville are greatly mistaken.

Best-case scenario: Hornqvist builds off his 30-goal season and adds a few more than that this time around. Lombardi builds off his big season in Phoenix to give the Predators a legitimately lethal offensive first line. Martin Erat finds a way to pot more than his customary 20-25 goals, while J.P. Dumont models his game more after Hornqvist and becomes an effective net presence. Colin Wilson becomes a breakout star and puts home 25 goals. Rinne turns into the real deal and has a Vezina-worthy season in goal while Weber and Suter become the defensive pairing for the next generation leading the Predators deeper into the playoffs than they’ve ever been before — the second round.

Worst-case scenario: Lombardi isn’t able to replicate his production from last season while Hornqvist struggles under the weight of expectation. Sullivan and Erat see their goal totals level off and the offense sputters again. Rinne tires out trying to carry the Predators. Defensive inconsistency also sets in and the Predators just miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: I know, you want to count the Predators down and out, but let’s face it, they’re always going to be there and the team did take some strides forward last season. Rinne will be very good and Lombardi’s addition should pan out well. Getting a little something more from lifetime Predator David Legwand would be great as well. All in all, this team will be tough as always and go through fits where they look like they could be really tough in the playoffs and others where they look completely pedestrian. They’ll be a playoff team once again and the key for them is to finally get out of the first round. Whether they can do that or not is up in the air.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Predators are a perfect 3. They’re going to be a playoff team and from there anything can shake loose. I’m not one to hold a team’s past against them and assume that they’d be a ‘one round and done’ team but the team doesn’t immediately jump out at me as a Cup contender. That doesn’t mean they aren’t one, they’re just not at the top of the list. Last year proved that just about anything can happen in the playoffs, but times are tougher in the Western Conference and the road to the finals is always a bit tougher.

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    Brennan, Granberg among list of players put on waivers

    VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 14:  T.J. Brennan #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck in NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks on March 14, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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    Veteran defenseman T.J. Brennan lit up the American Hockey League last season, with 25 goals and 68 points in 69 games to earn a two-way deal from the Philadelphia Flyers in July.

    That deal came only three months after he received the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman.

    But on Friday, he was placed on waivers by the Flyers, as per Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, and is available to be claimed by another NHL team within a 24-hour span.If not, he can be reassigned to the minors.

    Still, for Brennan, he chose this summer to remain in North America for a chance at the NHL. It was reported in June that he had received a “lucrative” offer from a KHL team, leading to talk he could take his talents to that league for the 2016-17 season.

    That was before his deal with Philadelphia.

    Petter Granberg of the Nashville Predators was also waived Friday.

    Granberg, a 24-year-old depth defenseman, and the Predators were able to avoid arbitration this summer when the two sides agreed to a two-year, two-way, $1.225 million contract. It was suggested that he could take on more responsibility with the Predators this upcoming season.

    In total, 25 players were placed on waivers Friday (check out the list here, here, here and here). Also on that list is former first-round pick Jordan Caron, who was waived by the St. Louis Blues.

    Sharks prospect Meier out four weeks with mononucleosis

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Timo Meier poses for a portrait after being selected ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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    The San Jose Sharks have revealed the illness that prospect forward Timo Meier has been dealing with during training camp.

    A statement from Sharks general manager Doug Wilson:

    Timo Meier is expected to be unable to play in any NHL or AHL games for approximately four weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. He will remain in the Bay Area where he can skate and train as his recovery allows.

    It was reported yesterday that Meier, selected ninth overall in 2015, had been held off the ice for five straight days due to the illness. It was also noted that his time away could open the door for other prospects to perhaps crack the roster.

    The fact he’s expected to be out for up to four weeks means that, unless something changes, he won’t be ready for the start of the regular season.

    On Friday, prior to the Sharks providing an update on his illness, the San Jose Mercury News reported that Meier skated with his teammates earlier in the day.

    “I’m trying to stay positive,” said Meier. “I’ve only missed preseason games and obviously, still trying to make the team. But I still have some time and I’ll try to make the most of it once I’m back.”

    Byfuglien leaves Jets preseason game with lower-body injury (Updated)

    WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets prepares for the faceoff in second period action in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre on February 11, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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    The Winnipeg Jets will be without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien for the remainder of Friday’s exhibition game versus the Edmonton Oilers.

    The Jets announced that Byfuglien will not return for the third period due to a lower-body injury.

    Byfuglien was involved in a scuffle with Matt Hendricks earlier in the game. Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reported on Twitter that Byfuglien went to the dressing room during the off-setting penalties.

    Update: The Jets later announced that Byfuglien was held out of the remainder of the game for “precautionary reasons.”

    NHL’s participation in 2018 Olympics still undecided, but World Cup expected to return in 2020

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada carries the World Cup of Hockey Trophy after Canada defeated Europe 2-1 during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    TORONTO (AP) The World Cup of Hockey will return, without a doubt, and avoid another 12-year break.

    NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr both confirmed for The Associated Press on Friday that they expect the next World Cup of Hockey to be in 2020.

    It is much less certain whether the best players will go to South Korea to participate in the 2018 Olympics.

    International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel told the AP on Tuesday the odds of NHL players going to the Pyeongchang Games were 50-50, a slight upgrade from his forecast in May.

    Later the same day, Daly said he felt more “negative,” about the chances the league’s players will be in a sixth straight Olympics due to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to not pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

    Fehr, who represents players who have made it clear they want to be in the Olympics, said he’s more optimistic than pessimistic a deal will get done.

    Related:

    Daly: NHL could skip 2018 Olympics and return in 2022

    Alex Ovechkin again says he plans to play in 2018 Olympics even if NHL doesn’t participate

    The union head insisted he isn’t concerned about the IOC’s stance.

    “Everybody understands that nobody’s going to risk their career and future earnings and all the rest of it in return for no compensation and no coverage,” Fehr told the AP. “No one will do that. They understand that. That’s been a given for a long, long time. If it plays out that way, which I do not expect it to play out that way, we’ll deal with it.”

    The IOC isn’t buying the banter.

    “I think both sides are playing poker,” president of the International Ski federation Gian Franco Kasper, who represents winter sports on the IOC executive board, said Friday in an interview with the AP.

    The IOC does not want to continue its past practice of paying for NHL players’ travel and insurance because it doesn’t want to have to do the same for athletes in other sports.

    Fasel said it is his job to raise the money needed, which he estimates to be about $10 million. Fasel said he plans to “beg,” for the funds from national Olympic committees and hockey federations. He acknowledged using some of the $40 million the IOC gives the IIHF to fund its programs, including development opportunities for boys and girls, could be used to bring the best hockey players to South Korea.

    Daly said the NHL would like a final decision to be made by the end of the year so that it can set the 2017-18 schedule with or without a break midway through the slate for the Olympics.

    The World Cup of Hockey, which the NHL and NHLPA teamed up to bring back for the first time since 2004, does not conflict with the league’s schedule because the games were played during training camp and early preseason games.

    Playing hockey in late September, however, is not an ideal time to draw TV viewers in the U.S. in part because of interest in the NFL, college football and baseball.

    Game 1 with Canada and Team Europe in the World Cup finals on Tuesday night – without direct competition from football – drew just 494,000 viewers on ESPN. A mere 297,000 people tuned in to watch Sweden face Europe in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon on the cable network. With a potentially interesting matchup with Canada and Russia, just 353,000 were watching hockey on ESPN.

    Daly acknowledged it was a “challenge,” to engage Americans enough to watch the event. It did not help that the U.S. and North American Under 23-teams didn’t make it to the semifinals of the eight-team tournament.

    It was also, surprisingly, difficult to fill seats at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs despite being in hockey hotbed even though the league said ticket sales went very well. It seemed many more people were interested in attending Toronto Blue Jays games when world-class hockey matchups and playoff-push baseball games were played at the same time.

    The level of hockey, at times, was impressive. And, the atmosphere was electric when Canada rallied from a one-goal deficit in the final few minutes Thursday night to beat Europe 2-1.

    During many stretches of play, however, the World Cup of Hockey didn’t do enough to fire up fans in attendance.

    Days before Canada beat Europe 2-0 in the best-of-three series to win the World Cup, Canadian coach Mike Babcock seemed to sum up the situation best.

    “The World Cup is great. It’s not the Olympics,” Babcock said in an unsolicited comparison of the two events. “Let’s not get confused.”