Pekka Rinne

2011-2012 season preview: Nashville Predators

2010-2011 record: 44-27-11, 99 points; 2nd in Central, 5th in West

Playoffs: Defeated Anaheim 4-2 in Western quarterfinals, lost to Vancouver 4-2 in Western semifinals

The Predators will look to build on their first ever playoff series win last season. Now that winning a first-round series is out of the way, Nashville will look to take the next step by following their strong defense and goaltending to the Western Conference finals and beyond. If fans around the league ever wanted to see what strong coaching, goaltending, and defense could do — look no further than the Predators. If they could only mix in a little more scoring, they’d have a little more room for error throughout the season.

Offense

No team is perfect and it doesn’t take long to figure out where the Predators weakness is on their roster. Their two leading scorers last season notched exactly 50 points last season. For perspective, Martin Erat and David Legwand, were tied for 91st in NHL scoring last season. To say the Predators are offensively challenged would be a little like saying the Boston Red Sox had a slightly below-average September.

Both Erat and Legwand missed 18 games apiece last season due to injuries; both will look to put together healthy campaigns and help the Preds for a full 82 games. Still, the team lacks that dynamic offensive talent that they haven’t seen since Alexander Radulov left for the KHL. The offense in Nashville isn’t expected to carry the team — they’re just expected to score enough to keep the team a float.

Defense

The blue line for the Predators is definitely the strong point of the team — this corps would be the strong point of just about every team in the league. Star captain Shea Weber was a Norris Trophy finalist and many people around the league will tell you that Ryan Suter is just as good. Between the two of them, they had 20 goals and 37 assists — not too bad for a defensive pair that plays over 25 minutes per game. Behind the top pairing, the Predators are going to go with some serious youth on the blueline. Jonathon Blum skated in 23 regular season games last season and showed the poise of a player who will be around for a long time. This season, the organization has left the bottom pairing open for a talented rookie — whether it be Mattias Ekholm or offensive dynamo Ryan Ellis. Either way, it’ll just be more of the same from the team that seems to have a never ending well of talented defensemen.

Goalies

When a team is built on goaltending and defense, the goaltending better be pretty good. Last season, the rest of the league discovered something fans in Nashville already knew — Pekka Rinne is an elite goaltender. He had a fantastic 2.12 goals against average and a spectacular .930 save percentage in 64 games last season. The good news is that Rinne could be in line for an even better season this year as the pending unrestricted free agent plays for a new contract. The bad news is that he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. Between Rinne and the talented Anders Lindback playing in about twenty games, Nashville is stacked in the crease.

Coaching

If Barry Trotz was coaching in Canada or the Northeast, he’d probably be mentioned with the best coaches of the last 20 years. He consistently gets more out of his players than just about any other coach in the league. Then again, there’s a reason that he’s still the only coach in Predators history. While many casual fans around the league may not know his name, the organization and fans in Nashville understand that they have a good one.

Breakout candidate

Colin Wilson is going to be given every opportunity to excel in his third full season in the NHL. The 2008 pick has shown flashes of the type of player who can succeed in the long-term. He potted 16 goals last season — yet it was his consistency that was the biggest problem for the young Wilson. If he can eliminate the inconsistency from his game, 20-plus goals and 50-plus points aren’t out of the realm of possibility. Remember, on the Preds, that would make him one of the team leaders on offense.

Best-case scenario

The best-case scenario for the Predators would be to have another season like the last one. By the end of the regular season, they had a Vezina finalist, Norris finalist, and Jack Adams finalist. Since Suter, Rinne, and Weber are all entering contract years, the trio could once again show the league that goaltending and defense is where it’s at. If they get similar seasons from their blueline and get a little added production from the likes of Sergei Kostitsyn, Wilson and Erat, the Predators could be a playoff team battling for home-ice in the first round.

Reality

The reality is that this team desperately needs a dynamic offensive talent to strike a little fear into the opposition. Both Legwand and Mike Fisher are very good NHL centers, but they thrive on the two-way game. Their power play has been a disaster for the last few seasons (26th in the league last year), and none of the offseason moves make us think they’ll be much better next season. We have the utmost respect for the strong team that David Poile and Trotz have put together on a shoestring budget, which is why we expect the Predators to make the playoffs again (despite the obvious lack of offensive talent). If they can figure out a way to score and produce on the power play, they have the potential to win a series or two in the playoffs this season. Look for the Preds to finish third in the Central and sixth in the Western Conference.

Bruins will be ‘aggressive’ in pursuit of puck-mover

Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney answers a question as coach Claude Julien sits next to him at during Boston Bruins media day, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 in Boston. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via AP)  BOSTON HERALD OUT, QUINCY OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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The Boston Bruins are going to be aggressive in their pursuit of a “transitional” defenseman this offseason.

GM Don Sweeney understands it won’t be easy, given all the other teams that will be looking for the exact same thing, but he plans to pursue a puck-mover “either through free agency or through acquisitions.”

“It’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace,” Sweeney said today on a conference call. “But we’re going to be aggressive.”

The Bruins already have four defenseman under contract for next season: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, the latter of whom just signed a four-year, $10 million extension.

In addition to those four, Sweeney said he expects to get restricted free agent Torey Krug signed. Like Krug, Colin Miller and Joe Morrow are also RFAs.

That makes seven defensemen under club control. Given his desire to add at least one more, Sweeney was asked about trading either Seidenberg or McQuaid, to which he responded, “I’ll explore whatever I have to, in every way, shape and form to improve our club and find the balance we need.”

So expect another busy offseason in Boston. The Bruins have made no secret their intention to upgrade the blue line. As we wrote a month ago, expect the likes of Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, Sami Vatanen, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Tyson Barrie to be targeted, should any of those players become available via trade.

If it’s unrestricted free agency that Sweeney opts for, the list of potential targets includes Keith Yandle, Brian Campbell, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell.

Related: Seidenberg doesn’t want to think about waiving no-trade

Canucks assistant Gulutzan interviewed for Flames gig

Glen Gulutzan, Willie Desjardins, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Linden Vey
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Add another list to Flames GM Brad Treliving’s coaching search list:

Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan, the former Dallas bench boss that’s been an assistant in Vancouver for the last three seasons, was permitted to speak with Treliving about the club’s vacant head coaching gig, per The Province.

“They asked for permission and have talked to [Gulutzan],” Canucks GM Jim Benning confirmed. “If he doesn’t get the job, we like Glen and he’s going to be back with our group.”

Gulutzan and Treliving do have a connection. Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out that both played their junior hockey in WHL Brandon, and was “told not to be surprised” if Gulutzan received an interview.

Treliving is searching hard for a replacement for Bob Hartley. Yesterday, the Calgary Sun wrote he kept busy with the coaching search while leading Canada to gold at the recently completed World Hockey Championship.

Earlier reports claimed Treliving spoke to ex-Wild bench boss Mike Yeo about the gig.

From a Vancouver perspective, the Gulutzan interview could have a domino effect. The Province also points out that Calgary didn’t ask permission to speak with Travis Green, the Canucks’ well-respect bench boss in AHL Utica.

Green has said he thinks he’s ready to take an NHL job, and earlier reports claimed he was in the running for Anaheim’s vacant head coaching gig.

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?

No, of course it’s not.

It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.

“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.

“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”

Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”

As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay

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It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.

Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.

At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not that it slowed him down any.

Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.

“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.

“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”