Shea Weber

Nashville Predators ’15-16 Outlook

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If you truly subscribe to the belief that defense wins championships, then you’d have to rank the Nashville Predators high on any list of Stanley Cup contenders.

As detailed in this post, they’re maybe the only team that could afford to even ponder trading a defenseman of Shea Weber’s caliber while not being in rebuild mode. Roman Josi and Seth Jones both boast futures that seem even brighter than their quite-brilliant presents.

Pekka Rinne stands as a sturdy last line of defense, too. The 32-year-old bounced back after a couple of rough seasons by winning 41 games and generating a .923 save percentage.

It’s not just about defense in Nashville any longer – Filip Forsberg and James Neal rank among the weapons Peter Laviolette can unleash – but it’s still the reason to get most excited about this team.

That brings up an intriguing question: what should we expect of Nashville? More specifically, should they be the Central Division favorites?

The Chicago Blackhawks are suffering from a rough off-season in nearly every way imaginable. The St. Louis Blues maintain an impressive core group, yet there’s a funk in the air after another postseason letdown. The Winnipeg Jets haven’t won a playoff game during their time in Winnipeg or Atlanta. The Dallas Stars loaded up this summer, although they still have questions on defense, while the Colorado Avalanche almost seem like a hockey lab experiment at the moment.

Nashville resides in what is likely still the best division in the NHL, but pondering the paragraph above, is it out of line to wonder if the Preds might jump from a second-place Central finish in 2014-15 to the division title next season?

You can’t really fault fans for clamoring to see a first division title banner up in the rafters … and maybe something even more prestigious.

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.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Want to design Cory Schneider’s mask?

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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.

The New Jersey Devils are holding a contest to design a mask for Cory Schneider. (Devils.nhl.com)

The argument in favor of the Nashville Predators trading Shea Weber within the next year. (Puck Daddy)

Did you enjoy Jonathan Quick’s look at the league’s elite snipers? Because he’s doing a second part to it and is taking requests. (Quick on Twitter)

Leo Reise Jr. passed away at the age of 93. The former defenseman played in 494 NHL games and won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 1950 and 1952. (Associated Press)

The Chicago Blackhawks are getting a new practice facility. (NHL.com)

Ken Daneyko wrote about Lou Lamoriello, who he feels is a “once-in-a-generation hockey mind.” (The Players’ Tribune)