(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
Prior to last season, the Nashville Predators had earned a reputation for making the pundits look silly. For three straight years, most looked at their roster, relatively lacking in offensive talent, and said the Preds weren't a playoff team. And then they made the postseason anyway.
That in mind, even with Ryan Suter departed for Minnesota, many were reluctant to count the 2013 Nashville Predators out. Got you again, media.
What went wrong? Even by their own standards, the Predators were an abysmal offensive team in 2013, averaging a league-worst 2.27 goals per game. This was due in large part to the fact that they had nobody up front doing much of anything. Thanks to a combination of injuries to key players and a general inability to put the puck in the net, Shea Weber wound up leading the team in scoring with just 28 points. By the end of the season, the wheels had fallen off the bus completely. The club crashed hard in April, going 1-8-1 in their last 10, finishing second-last in the Western Conference, and leaving fans gnashing their teeth. Gnashville, they called it. (No they didn't.)
That led to an overhaul, of sorts, with the Predators making some major changes in the offseason. Will they pay off?
This was about the only way the Predators got goals in 2013.
The Predators were busy in free agency, and considering how little their forwards contributed in 2013 -- and how poorly many of their forwards prospects -- played when called upon late in the season -- one can understand why most of their focus was on renovating up front.
The club added four veterans forwards in July -- Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen, two responsible, two-way forwards that can score -- and Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom, two responsible two-way forwards.
Of course, the largest acquisition the club made was on defence, where projected first overall pick Seth Jones somehow managed to fall all the way to four. He's got a good shot to make the team out of training camp and make an impact right away.
Gone, but not forgotten, are former RFAs Jonathan Blum and Matt Halischuk, whom the Predators opted not to qualify.
Forward: The Predators have always been a team that scored -- or didn't -- by committee, and that's unlikely to change this year. Hopefully, however, a few additions and some better health will allow them to do that with a little more efficiency. Mike Fisher centers line 1, likely between Patric Hornqvist and Colin Wilson, neither of whom got into more than 25 games next year.
Line 2 could see longtime Predator David Legwand skating between the recently-acquired Stalberg, given a shot to show a little more offence after a defensive role in Chicago, and flashy prospect Filip Forsberg, who was acquired during the deadline day trade for Martin Erat. He's the most offensively gifted player the Predators have had since Alex Radulov.
That pushes Matt Cullen and Craig Smith to line three, which should be exciting for Predators fans. Not that either of these guys are going to light the world on fire, but they can score, and it's rare that Nashville is even remotely offensively punchy for three lines.
Defense: Will Seth Jones begin his professional career in the Predators' top four? He could, perhaps alongside the reliable Kevin Klein.
Captain Shea Weber remains the key to this team's success, of course, and this year, he won't have to adjust to a new partner. Roman Josi will skate alongside of him again, and likely for many years to come after signing a seven-year extension.
Nashville would also benefit greatly from a big step forward from Ryan Ellis. Granted, "big" isn't really something he does.
Goalies: Pekka Rinne's health is a major concern for the Predators, although the starting netminder insists he'll be 100% healthy for opening day after undergoing hip surgery on May 9. Considering Nashville's style of play, not to mention they aren't exactly built to outscore problems in the crease, they'd better hope he's right.
In 2010-11, Rinne posted a 2.12 GAA and a .930 save percentage. He's been trending downward in the two years since. A bounceback year from Rinne would do wonders.
Same as it ever was. Barry Trotz and David Poile have been the coach and General Manager of this team since day one. Might Trotz find himself on the hot seat if the Predators struggle again early? Nah. He's coach-for-life.
Take it away, Tim McGraw. Further away, if possible.
Shea Weber. He's still one of the best defencemen in the NHL, and after a rough season, he'll likely be in a sour mood. Somebody's gonna get Zetterberg'd.
Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg. The Predators may not be built to wow just yet, but they have two bona fide contenders for rookie of the year.
Team defence! If you love structure, and who doesn't, the Predators are the team for you.
They probably still won't score many goals, which means every game will be a dogfight to the bitter end, and one small mistake could cost them the two points.
While the prospect pool has seen some much-needed injections over the past few months and the future looks bright, the present not so much. The Predators will likely struggle to contend once again. Granted, it won't be quite as pronounced if they can avoid last year's chronic injury trouble, and a move to the Central Division, where the Red Wings and surprisingly competitive Blue Jackets have been replaced with the less intimidating Jets, Wild, Stars, and Avalanche, could help them to score a playoff bid. But, like I said, scoring isn't their thing.