Poll: Should Nashville trade Shea Weber?

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The Nashville Predators’ defense is scary, and not just because of Shea Weber’s howling shot.

Actually, the scary combination of talent and depth at that position makes you wonder if Weber may just be expendable.

This post features two different polls that get at the heart of that question, really. Let’s take a quick moment to ponder the strength Nashville boasts in this category.

Shea Weber: There’s been talk that he might be overrated (especially as far as own-zone coverage goes) for years now, and his possession stats are indeed a little lacking. Speculation of him being shopped cropped up during Nashville’s two-season lull.

Even naysayers would be foolish to doubt the velocity of his shot and his general ferocity, and players like Weber are tough to find.

Roman Josi: More than a few people wonder if Josi is superior to Weber.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s far cheaper, as Josi’s $4 million cap hit is almost half the cost of Weber’s $7.857 million whopper.

Beyond that, he’s five years younger and generated 55 points to Weber’s 45. Even if they’re a wash in their own end, Josi stands as the most obvious reason why Weber could conceivably be expendable.

Seth Jones: Of course, Jones may just be the biggest star of three once everything is said and done.

His offensive production is coming along incrementally, yet promising early two-way numbers bode well for a blue chip who will turn 21 in October.

Ryan Ellis: Ellis won’t make anyone forget about Weber if he departs, yet he’s the best supporting cast member on defense beyond Nashville’s other two blueline stars in Josi and Jones.

Barret Jackman, Mattias Ekholh and Victor Bartley round out the group.

OK, so let’s start with the first of two polls: where do you rank this set of defensemen with Weber in tow:

Your opinion of their group in the first poll will likely hint at where you fall on the juicier question: should the Predators trade one of their all-time biggest stars in Weber?

Preds’ biggest question: Are they strong enough at center?

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When you think about the key components of recent championship teams, the Nashville Predators check a lot of the boxes.

  • Whether you prefer Shea Weber or Roman Josi, they boast at least one elite defenseman, and the rest of their group is impressive (heck, Seth Jones may have the highest ceiling of them all).
  • Pekka Rinne sure looked like a $7 million goalie last season. In fact, he wasn’t far off of Carey Price’s pace before getting injured.
  • Young forwards abound, especially at the wing, as Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith are all in the meat of their primes.

All things considered, the Predators’ mammoth jump in 2014-15 actually made a lot of sense.

That said, the West is rugged, and there’s a glaring question: are they strong enough down the middle?

Look, Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro bring plenty to the table; the Predators brought both pivots back for a reason.

Do they really stack up to the best of the best, though?

Ribero exceeded most, if not all, expectations by scoring 62 points, which is very nice but not quite “elite” production. Fisher is trumpeted as a strong two-way player, yet his possession stats argue that he may be a little more limited than some think.

Many would argue that, ideally, both would either be second-line centers or perhaps one should be on the second line (Ribeiro) with the other on the third (Fisher).

Look back at this list of championship-winners from the last decade or so and ponder their situations down the middle:

2015: Chicago Blackhawks
2014: Los Angeles Kings
2013: Blackhawks
2012: Kings
2011: Boston Bruins
2010: Blackhawks
2009: Pittsburgh Penguins
2008: Detroit Red Wings
2007: Anaheim Ducks
2006: Carolina Hurricanes
2004: Tampa Bay Lightning

Most, if not all, of those teams boasted at least one serious difference-maker at center. The Ducks might be the best team for Nashville to emulate, right down to their stacked defense corps and solid group of centers (Ryan Getzlaf wasn’t yet Ryan Getzlaf in 2007).

Does this guarantee that the Predators cannot top last season’s work? Not necessarily, but the center position’s questions stick out like a sore thumb.

Looking to make the leap: Kevin Fiala

There are a handful of Nashville Predators prospects hoping to make the leap in 2015-16.

Kevin Fiala distinguishes himself by saying that he will pull it off, as Preds GM David Poile noted at a fan gathering back in June.

“At the end-of-the-year meetings when [Head Coach] Peter Laviolette and I are talking to players, we’re usually the ones doing 90 percent of the talking,” Poile said. “So we did the talking to Kevin and then he says, ‘What do I need to do, I’m going to be playing for the Nashville Predators next season. I’m not going to [AHL affiliate] Milwaukee, I’m going to be playing [in Nashville].’”

Those are some bold words, yet the 19-year-old may just sense a pattern forming.

As the 11th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Fiala experienced quite the 2014-15 season. It began in Sweden with Jonkoping, but the Predators brought Fiala over to the AHL in January. He performed nicely at both levels (including scoring 20 points in 33 games with the Milwaukee Admirals) and even saw a game of regular season and playoff action with the Predators.

Poile believed that Fiala would benefit from the jump, noting the development process for Swedish sensation Filip Forsberg.

” … By getting a head start on the acclimation process to the North American style of play and smaller rinks, we expect Kevin – like Filip Forsberg two seasons ago – will continue his growth as a dynamic offensive prospect,” Poile said in a release when Fiala came to the U.S. early in 2015.

The pedigree and swagger are there in droves, yet opportunity might not strike.

On the Forecheck spotlights the uphill battle that Fiala (not to mention other intriguing young players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons) face cracking the Predators’ forward lineup:

Even with shipping Taylor Beck to Toronto, there are too many regular NHLers on the bottom two lines to accommodate the rookies in waiting. The bridge that separates the prospects from the NHL is about ready to collapse under all the weight of those loitering on it.

It won’t be easy, especially if Poile & Co. prefer to see Fiala get big minutes in the AHL rather than a depth role in the NHL, but at least Fiala isn’t going about his business meekly.

Under Pressure: Mike Ribeiro

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Last summer Predators GM David Poile gave Mike Ribeiro a second chance after the Arizona Coyotes bought him out.

This year, Ribeiro is under pressure to prove that his 2014-15 campaign wasn’t a fluke. Ribeiro scored 15 goals and 62 points in 82 games as Nashville’s top center last season. His 47 assists was a single-season franchise record for assists by a Predators’ center.

The Montreal native led Predators’ forwards in average ice time (18:44) during the regular season, and paced all NHL forwards in average ice time during the Stanley Cup playoffs (23:21).

“From the beginning of last year, for David and Peter (Laviolette) to believe in me and to be supportive of me and help me through this, I think it was a great fit,” Ribeiro told the team’s website. “People believe in the team and that was one of the reasons I wanted to come back. The players, the coaches and David, they believed in me. They supported me throughout the year last year and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Despite his off ice distractions, Poile decided to re-sign the 35-year-old to a two-year $7 million contract on July 1.

“I met with Mike this morning and certainly reinforced to him the importance of being a good citizen in the community and Mike is certainly committed to our team and to his family,” said Poile following the signing. “He really appreciates us showing confidence in him as a hockey player and a person.”

Heading into his 16th NHL season, Ribeiro believes the Predators are on the right path to playoff success.

“You want to be somewhere you can win and I believe strongly that we can do that,” he said. “It’s still a long process… but I think we can go deeper than we did this year for sure. It’s hard to do on the first year when everyone gets together, but if we stick together for a few years, I think we can surprise a lot of people.”

It’s Nashville Predators day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Nashville Predators.

The Nashville Predators snapped a two-year playoff drought last season finishing second in the Central Division with a 47-25-10 record. However, the Preds met the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the first round falling in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Filip Forsberg had an excellent rookie campaign scoring a team-high 26 goals and 63 points in 82 games. He added four goals and two assists in the six postseason games. The 21-year-old finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting.

Captain Shea Weber led all Nashville blue liners with 15 goals and 45 points in 78 games. He finished fourth in voting for the Norris Trophy. Weber’s postseason was cut short following a knee injury in Game 2.

Pekka Rinne carried the load in goal for Nashivlle making 64 appearances and finishing with a 41-17-6 record while posting a 2.18 G.A.A. and a .923 save percentage and four shutouts. The 32-year-old was the runner up to Carey Price in Vezina Trophy voting.

“I really believe our players are going to be hungry to do even more,” said GM David Poile in July. “We came so close against Chicago. We wanted to make a couple of changes, get a little bit more depth, but we wanted to keep the core of the team together and that’s what we’ve done.”

Off-season recap

In addition to re-signing the club’s top two centers in Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher, Poile signed free agent Cody Hodgson to a one-year $1.05 million deal. The 25-year-old was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres following the second year of his six-year $25.5 million contract.

“He’s shown some great flashes of offensive success at center,” said Poile. “Last year was not his best year. I think he would fit in behind Ribeiro and Fisher.”

Hodgson had just six goals and seven assists in 78 games last season.

“He’s not going to be very proud of the season he had last year, but with all due respect, I think it’s a little circumstantial to who he was playing with and for and how they were playing and what their record was et cetera et cetera,” Poile said.

Poile also added experience on the blue line signing veteran Barret Jackman to a two-year $4 million deal.

“Barret gives us great balance back on the blue line with three lefties and three righties,” said Poile. “I think this is a perfect fit for our defense. He brings a veteran leadership, a physicality and his biggest asset to us is that he kills penalties.”

Nashville added depth for its American Hockey League club acquiring center Max Reinhart in a trade with the Calgary Flames.