Perhaps the Nashville Predators should be called the Nashville Survivors instead. Year after year, Barry Trotz keeps this team chugging along despite considerable restraints – monetary and otherwise. This season, the biggest challenges revolve around all the injuries they’ve been dealing with.
It looks like the team could add some reinforcements sometime in the future, though. Joshua Cooper reports that Cal O’Reilly (sidelined since January 2nd with a broken fibula) began skating today while Steve Sullivan should get back to skating soon as he heals up from a groin injury.
Even with all those bumps along the road, Nashville is in a prime position to earn themselves a playoff spot. They’ve won six of their last seven games and play six of their last eight games at home.
The Predators will play two significant home games this week, as they play the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday and the Dallas Stars on Saturday. The Predators might be in sixth place with 88 points in 74 games played, but the Stars and Ducks pose serious threats to their playoff lives with 85 points in 72 GP. Those two teams square off tonight, so one of those teams will end up with 87 points with one game in hand over Nashville after that contest.
In other words, the Predators can take an enormous step toward protecting their postseason spot by beating both teams in regulation or risk losing their lead if they stumble. If they succeed, they could be even stronger if O’Reilly and Sullivan can come back healthy.
Rolling with the punches (and having a great goalie like Pekka Rinne) is a key – if intangible – part of a successful playoff run, so the Predators already have plenty of “training” in that area. Obviously, the first step is actually make the playoffs, but maybe this scrappy bunch finally has what it takes to advance to the second round … and beyond?
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.
Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.
Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.
Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)
Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.
But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.
They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.
Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.
Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.
Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?
So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.