Getty Images

No big moves needed as Predators primed for another Cup run

7 Comments

Another summer is here, and the warm months wouldn’t be complete without hearing fresh P.K. Subban trade rumors.

This isn’t exactly all that surprising, of course. The Nashville Predators’ defenseman is one of the league’s premier rearguards and comes with the possibility of quite the haul in return in any deal swung for him. And he just seems to have this knack for working his way into the rumor mill

Case and point: he’s on TSN’s Trade Bait board this year, and he’s inside the Top 10, just for good measure.

But while it might not come as a shock to the hockey world to see Subban’s name being thrown around in the trade winds again, there’s absolutely no reason why the Predators would want to trade one of the league’s top defenseman away from a team that remains so well-positioned in the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL as a whole.

Let’s review: Subban is a great defenseman that’s sound in puck possession, shot suppression and putting up points.

Naturally, Predators general manager David Poile has subsequently shot down the rumors regarding Subban, who has four years remaining on a seven year, $72 million deal with an annual cap hit of $9 million.

“You see tweets from different places, but that’s not happening,” Poile told The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun. “P.K. played terrific this year. He played really well. He’s a really good player. He’s one of the three candidates for the Norris Trophy. I really don’t know where this comes from.”

We’ve seen this song and dance before.

But while Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t ultimately be believed in the end, there’s no reason to think Poile would drop that bomb in his defensive corps, one that is largely staying the same aside from Alexei Emelin becoming a unrestricted free agent.

That vaunted core on the back end — arguably the best in the NHL with Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis (a UFA after next season) — is all under contract

Let’s not forget that the Predators are one year removed from the Stanley Cup Final, and that they lost a tight series to the Winnipeg Jets in second round this season. And most importantly, let’s not lose track of the fact that Nashville is still in prime position to make another run this upcoming season.

Scott Hartnell is gone, but the Predators only have two other players searching for new deals — Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki, both restricted free agents and filler pieces rather than key cogs. Everyone else is under contract and the Predators can look forward to Eeli Tolvanen entering the lineup next season.

Juuse Saros is an RFA in goal (and you’d have to think the Predators will want to square that one away ASAP with 35-year-old Pekka Rinne set to become a UFA next offseason) but their lineup will look quite similar to that of this past season, one which led the Predators to the 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.

The Predators are sitting pretty, too, under the cap, with $7.5 million to give in its current state — a number that is expected to rise with next season’s cap being projected in the $78 million to $82 million range.

If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. And that cliche certainly applies to the Predators this summer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Second Round Preview: 10 things to know about Jets vs. Predators

NBC
3 Comments

Let’s not kid ourselves here, if you’re a fan of the game of hockey, the second round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators is the crème de la crème.

This isn’t throwing any disrespect or shade on the three other series going on around the league. It’s just the truth.

This matchup was on the tongues of fans in both markets and across the league before the playoffs even began. People wanted it, and they knew if both teams took care of business in the first round, they’d get it.

Now it’s here. And it’s massive in every measurable way.

Simply put, you have the two best teams in the regular season facing off against one another.

Nashville finished with 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy while the Jets slotted in three points back with 114. The hype begins there and runs rampant as each storyline branches out.

Both teams possess Vezina Trophy candidates this season.

Both teams have great offenses, stout defenses and excel in special teams.

And the hits just keep coming: Patrik Laine vs. Filip Forsberg. Mark Scheifele vs. P.K. Subban. Dustin Byfuglien vs. anyone brave enough.

Can Austin Watson and Colton Sissons keep it up? Will Nikolaj Ehlers find his scoring touch? What about Kyle Connor? Will injuries derail the Jets or will discipline issues spell doom for the Predators?

The list is endless and enthralling.

Schedule

Surging Players

Jets: On offense, Scheifele finished up the first round series with four goals and five points while Laine had two goals and two assists. Byfuglien had five assists as he chipped in from the point, but his biggest contribution outside of production was the hurt he put on the Minnesota Wild, physically.

But unquestionably, the Jet that is surging the most at the moment is Hellebuyck, who bounced back from a tough Game 3 outing to post back-to-back shutouts in Games 4 and 5 to close out Winnipeg’s first-round series against the Wild.

Predators: The first round was the Austin Watson coming out party. Watson had four goals and three assists to match linemate Colton Sissons’ three goals and four assists for the team lead at seven points. Add Nick Bonino‘s five points and the Predators third line made up three of the team’s top six scorers during their six-game series against Colorado.

Forsberg wasn’t far behind, scoring four and adding two helpers. Meanwhile, Mattias Ekholm had one goal and five assists.

Struggling players

Jets: Winnipeg works so well as a unit that even when there is a lull offensively from a player, they’re aren’t always immediately viewed as being stuck in rut.

That said, Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored 29 goals in the regular season and rookie Kyle Connor, who had 31 in his inaugural NHL campaign, have just two assists apiece thus far. This isn’t to say the sky is falling on those two, and you could probably chalk up their first-round offensive struggles to trying to sort playing in the playoffs in the big leagues.

Still, both will be looking for improvement in the goal-scoring department in the second round.

Predators: Ryan Hartman cost the Preds a first-round pick at the trade deadline on Feb. 26 and he was a healthy scratch for Game 6. Hartman already missed Game 5 due to suspension after throwing his own pity party and then trying to take Carl Soderberg‘s head clean off.

Hartman needs to be better, and so does the line of Kyle Turris, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala.

Turris had no goals in the series, adding just two assists. Turris had 10 points in 19 games last year with the Ottawa Senators as they went on their run to the Eastern Conference Final. Fiala had a goal and an assist in the series and Smith had two markers. Turris’ line was solid during the regular season. That magic would be a welcomed addition to the second round.

Oh, and Mike Fisher could pitch in a goal or even a helper. He’s laid an egg through six games.

Goaltending

Jets: The backbone of the Jets, both in the regular season and through the first round.

Hellebuyck has been nothing short of sensational for the Jets this season. He posted a healthy 4-1 record with a .924 save percentage and two shutouts in the first round. Hellebuyck is able to string together solid start after solid start, and when he has an off night, like he did in Game 3, his ability to quickly forget it and move on is uncanny.

He’s a Vezina candidate for a reason and a problem the Predators must solve to move on.

Predators: Speaking of Vezina candidates, Rinne is likely the front-runner for the award this year, and his regular season was tremendous.

In the first round, however, Rinne looked fairly pedestrian, if not below average, with a .909 save percentage. Still, he backstopped the Predators to a 5-0 win in Game 5 with a 22-save shutout. And Nashville has all the ingredients in front of Rinne to make up for poor nights.

One area of concern for Rinne is his sub-.800 save percentage when facing high-danger scoring chances. It’s something to keep an eye on against a team that generates a lot of them.

This battle is paramount in the series. The Jets, even with their scoring prowess, have it all to do against Rinne if he’s on top of his game.

Special teams

Jets: Winnipeg’s penalty kill struggled in the first round, killing off infractions just 76.9 percent of the time. The Jets had the eighth best PK in the league during the regular season, so chalk this one up as an anomaly, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

The Jets were given just 13 power plays in the first round and converted on three of them for a healthy 23.1 percent success rate. Laine didn’t find the back of the net with the man-advantage as the Wild tried to take him out of the equation altogether. It didn’t help that they left Scheifele open twice, however. Winnipeg has a lot of weapons at their disposal on the PP. Nashville would do well to limit the number of times Winnipeg gets to deploy them.

Predators: The Preds were shorthanded 20 times during the first round but managed to kill off 90 percent of those. In theory, rinse and repeat should be on the menu, but the Jets are far more dangerous up a man than Colorado. Still, having Rinne in the crease and Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis to depend on in front of him is the envy of many.

Nashville’s power play was a bit of a bottom feeder during the first round, converting on just 15.8 percent of their 19 chances (three, for those who aren’t good at math, like me). That compares to their 21.2 percent during the regular season. If Winnipeg’s PK continues to struggle, Nashville could get back to that number.

Fancy stats

Jets: There’s not a better possession team in the playoffs thus far. The Jets are moving along with a 58.96 percent Corsi rating through five games, and showed their ability to dominate and hold teams in their defensive zone in some lopsided affairs against the Wild. Winnipeg’s expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) was highest at 61.9%.

Predators: The Jets might lead playoff teams in terms of possession, but right behind them is the Predators at 54.89%. The Predators had the edge between the two teams in medium-danger save percentage at .986 compared to Winnipeg’s .939. Nashvilles xGF% was third at 55.9%.

We’re splitting hairs here. Both teams are good in many analytical categories. According to TSN’s Travis Yost, “Winnipeg actually outchanced Nashville (53.5 per cent of scoring chances in their favor) over the five-game series, but Nashville did end up winning three of five games.”

Injuries

Jets: Laine missed Wednesday’s practice and Ehlers missed Game 5, both with “malaise” as Jets coach Paul Maurice preferred to put it. Maurice said he expects both to be ready for Game 1.

The Jets are without Mathieu Perreault, who has been out of action since picking up an injury in Game 1. Dmitry Kulikov (back) still remains sidelined. Backup netminder Steve Mason is nursing another lower-body injury but has been skating. Toby Enstrom, meanwhile, is finally back to practice after missing time with an ankle injury. His return could be a big boost for the Jets. Enstrom’s a solid puck-moving defender who is great at breakouts and works well beside Byfuglien.

Predators: The Preds emerged from the first round relatively unscathed. Watson missed team skates on Wednesday and Thursday but is expected to play. Otherwise, it appears all cylinders are firing for the Predators at the moment.

X-Factor for Jets

Some might say health, but the Jets have proved they can not only handle the injury bug, but spite it all together with impressive results. The Jets seem to click no matter who’s in the lineup. That said, they face a Predators team that can punish lesser players. But the x-factor here is goaltending. If Hellebuyck is on his game, the Jets are near-unstoppable.

X-Factor for Predators

Discipline. The Predators simply need to control their sticks and their extremities and take fewer minors. Nashville took 29 minor penalties (second most) in the first round and was shorthanded 20 times. They’re playing against the power play that clipped along at 23.1 percent in the first round and have Laine and Scheifele who can be devastating if given the opportunity with the man advantage. Nashville’s penalty kill was an even 90 percent against the Avalanche, but they can’t rest on that against Laine and Co.

Prediction

Predators in 7: I’m sticking to my pre-playoff pick, but it’s getting increasingly hard. The Jets were simply too good in the first round not to take notice and the Predators were largely pedestrian against the Avalanche to make this one a coin flip on paper.  The Predators gained a ton of experience last year, and they will have to lean on that in this series. The edge is razor thin, but the Predators are slightly ahead of the curve. I expect Nashville to tighten up defensively and not give Winnipeg’s stars the kind of space Nathan MacKinnon was afforded in the first round.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
10 things to know about Golden Knights vs. Sharks
• 10 things to know about Penguins vs. Capitals

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

P.K. Subban says media, community has influence on Canadiens’ success

Getty Images
4 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

There’s a certain level of scrutiny that comes with playing in a Canadian market.

The fans are perceived to be perhaps fiercer in their loyalty to their team, almost militant at times and when things aren’t going the correct way, tempers flare a little brighter and anger seeps in a little deeper.

There’s also a perception that the media in Canadian markets is tougher, that somehow scribes, radio personalities, and T.V. broadcasters can exert a level of influence that can turn the ship, even if ever so slightly.

Whether any of this is true or not is up for debate.

For P.K. Subban, however, there’s no argument to be made.

These aren’t merely perceptions for No. 76, but rather hard and harsh truths of playing in a hockey-mad market.

“The one thing that’s tough about Montreal, and I tell this to people all the time, is that regardless of what anybody says, the media and the community have an influence on the team,” Subban said in an interview with Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos that aired on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “That can make it tough at times because there is so much attention on the team, there’s so much attention on its superstars and players.”

Subban garnered much attention during his time in Montreal.

From fights with teammates to silly notions that his personality was too much and wasn’t the right fit for the Canadiens, to the enormous charitable contributions that endeared himself to the city.

Subban was loved and is still loved by the Montreal faithful, evidenced once again on Saturday with a chorus of cheers when he touched the puck in his second trip back to Bell Centre since being traded to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber in June of 2016.

During his interview with Kypreos, Subban said that for the Canadiens to be successful, the organization essentially needs to shelter its players from the vortex around them.

“I think it takes a very, very strong organization to manage that,” Subban said.  “It has to be managed properly because when that starts to creep in, it’s tough. That’s not on the players to manage. I think that needs to be managed by the organization. That has to be the strongest part of that organization for the team to be successful.”

The debate of who “won” the Subban-Weber trade will rage on for as long as it bloody well wants to. It was a big deal no matter how you slice it and the impact its had on both teams isn’t hidden.

Subban is still the great defenseman he was in Montreal. The Canadiens haven’t been the same without him and the Nashville Predators, arguably, have never been better.

Like the one who got away, Subban’s second return to Montreal on Saturday is just another sad reminder of what was once theirs.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Schenn fights, scores twice; Hoffman hits 100

Getty Images

Players of the Night:

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues: Another player who scored twice on Thursday night. Schenn set the tone early, fighting Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog three seconds after puck drop in the first period. He backed that up with his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season.

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames: Boring Sean Monahan has 27 goals on the season after scoring a brace in the Flames 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators: Subban also score two goals, including the game-tying goal late in the third period to force overtime against the Ottawa Senators. Subban’s second goal was his 15th of the season, matching a career-high.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: OK, last one. Cousins scored twice, and his second with 19 seconds left in the third period forced overtime, where Clayton Keller fired home the winner to give the desert dogs a 4-3 come-from-behind win.

Other two-goal scorers: Tyler Seguin, Travis Konecny and Joe Pavelski.

Highlights of the Night:

Mike Hoffman scored his 100th NHL goal in style:

Tic-tac-goal:

Kyle Turris got a nice welcome back to Ottawa:

Factoids of the Night:

A reminder of how good John Klingberg has been:

Boeser doing more things:

MISC:

Scores:

Flames 3, Devils 2

Flyers 5, Canadiens 3

Senators 4, Predators 3 (OT)

Lightning 5, Canucks 2

Blues 6, Avalanche 1

Coyotes 4, Wild 3 (OT)

Stars 4, Blackhawks 2

Golden Knights 5, Sharks 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

P.K. Subban dresses up as elderly man to surprise citizens of Nashville (Video)

P.K. Subban on Twitter
4 Comments

Predators defenseman P.K. Subban always does his part to bring a little cheer to his community, especially around the Christmas season. This year is no different.

Subban disguised himself as a 75-year-old man named “Eddie” in order to spread a little holiday spirit around Nashville.

He took to the streets to hand out candy canes, a complimentary suite at a local Nashville hotel, some tickets, and even a hug or two.

The Preds defenseman saved his biggest surprise for a local single-parent family that he recently met through one of his charitable causes.

Here’s Subban’s fourth annual “Holiday Surprise”:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.