What Went Wrong: Nashville Predators

Nashville made their deepest run in the playoffs in franchise history this year making it to the second round. They won their first overtime playoff game in team history and while it’s sad to get bounced out of the playoffs, the Predators ability to take the slow and steady pace towards overall franchise improvement continues to grind along. Much like how the team plays on the ice the Predators rise into making their presence known and felt in the NHL it’s been a rugged but rewarding affair.

Still, in spite of what they achieved this season they bowed out in six games to Vancouver and there were some obvious problems along the way.

1. Malfunctioned power play
The Predators made a living off of the man advantage against Anaheim in the first round. The Ducks would make mistakes and the Predators appropriately made them pay for it. This time around against Vancouver, facing up to a tough defense proved to be a real challenge. Vancouver’s penalty kill had a feast on the Predators holding them to going 1-21 through the six games.

Scoring on 4.7% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many games, nevermind a series. While Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were able to bomb away from the point, Vancouver’s ability to defend guys crashing the net and blocking shots (90 in the series) made life harder on them. The Canucks gave them their chances to break through and make a difference

2. Roles reversed
The Predators came into this series hoping to get big games out of Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn offensively while guys like David Legwand and Joel Ward defended against the Sedins to keep them off the board. Instead, Fisher and Kostitsyn were terrible. Each of them had just one assist in the series while Fisher was a -3 on his plus/minus and Kostitsyn was a -1 and hide-your-eyes bad when caught out in a must-defend situation.

Meanwhile, Ward and Legwand were the Predators top scorers while still shutting down the Sedins. Ward was a revelation scoring four goals and adding four assists. Legwand had four goals and an assist in the series. No other goal scorers for Nashville had more than one. If the Preds were getting that production out of Ward and Legwand in addition to their better offensive players showing up, who knows how this series turns out. Instead, they were essentially all they had. This leads us into our third point.

3. No game breaker to be found
The Predators just flat out didn’t have a dominating offensive presence. They didn’t have one all season long and relied on team play and grinding games out to survive on as few goals as possible. When you’re in the bottom third in goals scored that’s just how life has to be. In the playoffs, the lack of offensive force crushed them against Vancouver. Guys like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa helped raise hell against the Canucks in the first round but without a real name threat for Nashville, Vancouver could stick to their system and close up shop around Roberto Luongo.

Fisher and Kostitsyn weren’t threats, Jordin Tootoo lost his ability to generate action and no one else aside from Ward and Legwand found the net regularly. It wouldn’t kill the Predators to find a way to get a power forward force that could net 30-40 goals a year, but good luck finding one. The Predators will have to hope there’s someone in their talented system that can evolve into that game breaking force.

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On the upside for Nashville, this playoff run has given the team and city a reason to get really excited about the team. Barry Trotz has the team well versed in his system and they play the brand of game that gives them success in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne proved himself to be a great goalie while defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber run the show along the blue line. A team filled with grinding forwards, while a pain to play against, doesn’t offer them the ability to break a game open in a big way offensively though.
The Predators have smart coaching and smart management and they’ll make the right tweaks to improve the team. They’ve been doing it all along now and there’s no reason to think they won’t keep it going now.

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.

Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

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Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

MORE on the trade here

Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

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When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

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The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.