Smashville Wants a Cup
The Predators have done everything but win a Cup. The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners will be looking to replicate their successful regular season and make waves in the playoffs. Anything but a deep playoff run will be considered a disappointment.
The best goaltending in the NHL last season lived in Nashville. Despite earning a ‘C’ grade for expected goals against, Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros were phenomenal in goal as the Predators finished 2nd in goals against. Nashville was able to outperform their expected goals number, in part, because of a powerplay capable of scoring from distance.
What went right:
Nashville’s blueline is still as deep and talented as any in the NHL. As a unit led by Norris finalist P.K. Subban, their defensemen led the NHL in offensive zone possession time, scoring chance generating plays, goals, and controlled entries, showing the best puck-moving ability of any defensive corps in the league. They helped Pekka Rinne claim his first Vezina Trophy, in his age 35-season, as he led the league in shutouts while finishing top-3 in save percentage and wins.
What Went Wrong:
Hopes were high in Nashville after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17 but their season came to a disappointing end when they were bounced by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2nd round. Kyle Turris had a disappointing post-season, scoring only three points in 13 games. Rinne also struggled, giving up over three goals-per-game with a .907 save percentage, a far cry from his dominant regular season numbers.
Key Additions: Dan Hamhuis
Key Departures: Mike Fisher (retired), Scott Hartnell, Alexei Emelin
Other Key moves: Extended Ryan Ellis, re-signed Ryan Hartman, Juuse Saros
Nashville’s most significant move of the off-season was the massive 8-year extension they gave Ryan Ellis. Ellis played only 44 games but still put up 32 points, which is nearly a 60 points pace over a full season. His 0.18 goals per-20 tied for 3rd best among defensemen. Nashville also secured the backup goalie spot by locking up Juuse Saros on a three-year deal. In his two seasons as Rinne’s primary backup, Saros recorded a .924 save percentage, 5th best in the NHL among goalies who played 40+ games over that span.
Dan Hamhuis returns to Nashville, where he spent the first six years of his career. At 35-years old, he isn’t the same player he used to be, but should still provide some decent depth that was lost when Alexei Emelin returned to the KHL. After coming out of retirement to help Nashville in the stretch run, Mike Fisher seems to have hung up his skates for good this time. Fisher was an effective defensive presence for the Preds, leading all forwards in blocked shots per-20 and finishing second in faceoff win percentage.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Nashville returns all the core pieces from their Presidents’ Trophy-winning roster. They still boast what many consider the best top-four on defense in the NHL. At forward, the Preds will have the benefit of a full season from Kyle Turris after acquiring him mid-season. Filip Forsberg tied a career-high in points despite missing time with injuries, but he’s proved to be healthy in the past with three straight 82 games seasons. If he can return to that form and keep the pace he was on last season, he is poised to have a career year. Pekka Rinne won his first Vezina trophy and, at age 35, doesn’t seem to be slowing down. If age catches up to him, Juuse Saros has proven he is a reliable second option who can take some weight off the Predators’ longstanding starter.
What could go wrong?
The Predators are still cup contenders, but as we saw last year, anything short of a deep run in the playoffs is a disappointment and next season will be no exception. Unless something major happens, the Preds seem like as close to a playoff lock as you can get. The real challenge for them starts in the post-season. Nashville will have to fight once again in the stacked Central Division with teams like the up-and-coming Winnipeg Jets and an improved St. Louis Blues team, which makes their path out of their own division one of the hardest in the NHL.