Pekka Rinne

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.

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.

Sabres hire Allen to replace Irbe as goalie coach

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The Buffalo Sabres rounded out Dan Bylsma’s coaching staff on Friday, hiring former Chicago Blackhawks goalie development boss Andrew Allen as their new goalie coach.

Allen, 38, replaces the outgoing Arturs Irbe.

A former AHL and ECHL netminder, Allen was with Chicago for the last four seasons, spending the majority of his time tutoring netminders with the club’s AHL affiliate in Rockford. During Allen’s tenure, a number of solid backups rose through the ranks: Carter Hutton (now Pekka Rinne’s No. 2 in Nashville), Antti Raanta (now Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in New York) and Scott Darling (now Corey Crawford’s backup in Chicago).

In Buffalo, Allen will work with newly-acquired starter Robin Lenher and No. 2 Chad Johnson, acquired at last season’s trade deadline.

With this hire, Bylsma’s staff is now complete — Allen will join assistant coaches Terry Murray, Dave Barr and Dan Lambert on the Sabres’ bench.

Bishop Effect: 6-foot-9 goalie ‘trying to make a name for myself’ at Vancouver’s prospect camp

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John McLean, the towering NCAA Division III goalie currently participating at Canucks prospect camp, is trending.

For starters, he’s trending on social media. After this picture surfaced on Twitter last week, websites like TSN’s Bar Down and Yahoo’s Puck Daddy took notice of what could be the tallest individual to ever tend goal professionally — after wrapping a four-year collegiate career at tiny Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, the 6-foot-9 McLean played a few games for Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League this spring, which paved the way for his Canucks camp invite.

And with that invite, McLean became part of another trend.

The Canucks are no doubt intrigued by McLean’s size, especially given the recent movement towards bigger goalies in the NHL — like 6-foot-7 Lightning netminder Ben Bishop, who McLean sees as something of a role model.

“I’ve never really been able to play like an NHL goalie until Ben Bishop came along,” he explained, per TSN 1040. “I’ve just kinda played my own way and used my body to my advantage.

“Just in the last couple of years with Ben Bishop and Scott Darling coming into the picture, I was able to relate to some of the goalies.”

According to the NHL.com database, four current goalies stand 6-foot-6 or taller: Bishop, Darling, Anders Lindback and Devan Dubnyk, the latter being one of three finalists for this year’s Vezina trophy.

A handful of others, like Pekka Rinne and Darcy Kuemper, are listed at 6-foot-5 — and there could be plenty more skyscrapers on the horizon, according to Bishop, the tallest goalie in NHL history.

“I don’t know if it’ll be the end of the era [of small goalies], but I think you see taller guys that can be just as athletic as the smaller guys,” Bishop said during the Stanley Cup Final. “It seems to be the way it’s trending here.

“You look at Darling, he’s 6-6, and that guy can move pretty well. You see bigger guys that can move just as well as the smaller guys, and that’s probably why teams have started going in that direction.”

McLean has a long way to go to match the likes of Bishop and Darling, but the fact he’s at an NHL prospects camp at all is telling. Most goalies with resumes boasting Div. 3 hockey and low-tier professional experience aren’t going to get this kind of chance — but then again, most goalies’ waists aren’t at the crossbar while standing, like McLean’s is.

The 25-year-old knows his time in Vancouver is a huge break for his career, and wants to make the most of it.

“I just use my size to my advantage, and try to play big,” he explained. “I’m just trying to make a name for myself right now, and play where someone wants me.”

Related: Does Bishop, the tallest goalie in NHL history, mark ‘wave of the future’ in net?

PHT Morning Skate: Departing John Scott jokingly takes jab at Sharks

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Before John Scott officially becomes a free agent, he decided to jokingly call out his former San Jose Sharks’ teammates. (CSN Bay Area)

With Jeff Skinner reportedly on the market, is there a chance that he’ll go to Pittsburgh? (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jack Eichel has something in common with Indiana Jones. (Puck Daddy)

Dylan Strome talks about the nerves that come with draft day. (NHL.com)

The Boston Bruins recent draft history has been less than stellar. (Boston Herald)

Here are 10 players that might mess with people’s draft predictions. (The Hockey Writers)

Pekka Rinne has a new Mad Max inspired mask (Instagram)