The Below the Ice crew brings you NHL: 31 for 31.
This year as the clock ticks down towards the NHL season, the writers here at BTI will be bringing you our preview of all 31 NHL teams, in 31 days.
From one cowboy state to another we take you through the Central Division today with the Nashville Predators.
1st in the Central, 1st in the West, 53-18-11 (117 points) Lost second round playoffs VS Jets (7 games)
After making the Stanley Cup Final (losing to Pitt) as an 8-seed, a lot of pressure was put on the Nashville Predators to elevate their game and that they did. It would be hard for Nashville to be much more impressive than they were in the regular season, finishing the season as the President trophy winners (awarded to the team with the most points in the league).
The predators started the season how they ended it, strong. Never in doubt, the Preds’ would open the 1st quarter of the season 13-6-2. It was Nashville’s ability to string together wins that saw them finish 1st in the NHL, the team would have two separate win streaks of 5 games and one of 10 games only losing 3 in a row twice.
In the first month of the season, GM David Polie, sprung on the opportunity to be the third man in on a trade between Colorado and Ottawa, through what seems like magic he was able to grab Kyle Turris from Ottawa, for only picks and a prospect defensemen going the other way. Nashville almost immediately signed Turris to a 6-year, 36 million deal.
Center was the one position Nashville was thin on during their previous playoff run and with Turris now in the fold, Nashville was a force to be reckoned with. With 17 points in his first 18 games as a Predator it looked like Turris had found a home.
Not to be forgotten is the heart and soul of the team Pekka Rinne, after an average year prior, Rinne came out hot posting some of the best numbers of his career. His .927SV% ranked second in his career totals, his 2.31GAA 3rd and 8 shutouts was a personal best for the netminder, who would go on to win the Vezina trophy at seasons end.
Unfortunately for the Predators, the stars did not align via a Stanley Cup rematch and they were bounced by the Winnipeg Jets in the second round.
- July 1, Signed Connor Brickley, 1-year contract, Rocco Grimaldi, 1-year contract,
- July 1, Signed Jarred Tinordi, 1-year contract, Zac Rinaldo, 1-year contract
- July 15, Singed RFA Juuse Saros, 3-years $4.5 million, 1.5AAV
- July 24, Signed FA, Dan Hamhuis, 2-years, $1.25 million AAV
- August 13, Extended Ryan Ellis, 8-years, $6.25 million AAV
Connor Brickley, Dan Hamhuis, Jarred Tinordi, Zac Rinaldo
OFFSEASON GRADE: B+
On paper it might not look like Nashville did much, but honestly they didn’t have too.
Hamhuis is an upgrade from Emelin on the back end making another solid addition to their lineup, with Nashvilles top 5 defensemen being Josi, Subban, Ellis, Ekholm and Hamhuis they can rotate Irwin, Bietto and Weber on the 3rd pairing. The only scarier D core could be San Jose’s after acquiring Erik Karlsson, but thats no diss to the ability of Josi and Subban.
Re-signing Saros, 3-years creates competition in the crease for Nashville, Pekka Rinne is a UFA at the end of the season and is 35 years old, a changing of the guard could be coming soon. For his career Saros has posted a 2.41AAV and .923SV% going 21-14-10 in 48 starts.
Rinaldo and Tinordi will create competition in camp and each bring a physical presence to the team as well, something they felt they were missing in the post-season last year.
As well Eeli Tolvanen, played three games last season for the Predators and is coming into camp to compete full time with
80GP: 23G, 25A
After breaking out with last year with 48 points, Fiala’s star is still rising.
Fiala had the 2nd best possession numbers on Nashville last season, behind Craig Smith. He is also a volume shooter taking the fifth most shot attempts with 372, 187 were on net for a shooting percentage of 12.3%.
On a juggernaut of a team like the Predators, Fiala could once again dominate playing in the top-6.
2017-18 Projection: 28G, 35A
44GP: 9G, 23A
Ryan Ellis only played in 44 games last year after rehabbing a knee injury that kept him out until the new year.
Despite missing the first half of the season, Ellis did not get off to a sluggish start scoring his first goal of the year in only his second game back with the team. He also finished strong with 19 points in his last 23 games. Given a full year played at his pace Ellis would of been considered in the Norris conversation along with his teammates Roman Josi and PK Subban.
Ellis was also a minute muncher for the Predators averaging 23 and a half minutes a game and would of been even more if not for the first 6 games where he was only logging 17-18 minutes a night.
Expect Ellis to blow-UP this year, with a new $50 million dollar contract, a lot of expectations will be put on his shoulder, Ellis has stated before that he wants to retire a Predator and I expect him to be a dark horse for the Norris trophy this season.
2017-18 Projection: 21G, 44A
DUE TO REGRESS:
Nashville has such a solid young core it is hard to find a player that is going to regress.
Rinne because of his age could be the best candidate to do so but he’s coming off a season in which he won the Vezina so I don’t see that as being a high likely option. The Predators are going to be s scary team in the West this season, expect everyone to take steps forward.
1st in the Central, 1st in the West, 118 points
If you believe in the old adage, “defense wins championships” than you better start putting money on the Predators now. Nashville boasts the best D core in all of the NHL and yes that includes San Jose’s two headed monster of Burns and Karlsson.
From start to finish this year Nashville will be the best team in the West and are my pick to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup final.
If Nashville is going to get it done this is the roster to do it with, goaltender Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any younger and you have to wonder how many good years he has left in him, especially with Saros waiting in the weeds.
Out of the gates Nashville has one of the toughest schedule in the NHL, in their first 21 games they will only play six games against teams that missed the post-season last year. (NYI x 2, NYR, ARZ, DAL)
Comeback tomorrow where we have all your coverage for the St.Louis Blues.