Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene...
Last Season (47-29-6, 100 points; 3rd in Central, 7th in the Conference)
The second half of Nashville's young life in the NHL has found them in the playoffs on a consistent basis (save for the 2008-09 season), but while the Stanley Cup is the big goal at the end of the road, the Predators haven't been able to get past the first step: winning a playoff series.
In their five playoff appearances in franchise history, Nashville has yet to get out of the first round or even force a seventh game. And in their past two appearances, they ended up getting knocked out by the eventual Cup winners in six games.
The series with the Chicago Blackhawks last season is tough to forget for Predators fans. Up 2-1 in the series and holding a 4-3 lead with under a minute left in Game 5, that's when the wheels came off. Patrick Kane(notes) would force overtime with a goal with 14 seconds left and then Marian Hossa(notes) would emerge from the penalty box after serving a five-minute major for boarding to tap in the winner. The Blackhawks would eliminate Nashville two nights later and the series-winless streak continued.
As they've done for years now, the Predators should be in the Western Conference playoff mix via the work of the tag team of David Poile and Barry Trotz. Losing a couple of veteran leaders in Jason Arnott(notes) (their captain) and Dan Hamhuis(notes) will hurt, but Nashville has been able to fill their holes adequately and remain a consistent playoff team.
But is this the year they get over that first-round hump?
Captain Jason Arnott was dealt back to the New Jersey Devils in a move that freed up salary space.
After losing his starting job to Pekka Rinne(notes), Dan Ellis(notes) saw his negotiating rights dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in late June before eventually coming to terms on a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Blueliner Dan Hamhuis had an eventful June and July. After being unable to meet on salary number for Hamhuis, the Predators traded his negotiating rights a few days before the NHL Draft to Philadelphia for defenseman Ryan Parent(notes). Less than a week later, the Flyers then dealt those rights to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Finally, on July 1, he signed a six-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
After putting up career numbers in Phoenix (19 G, 34 A, 53 PTS), center Matthew Lombardi(notes) cashed in with a three-year, $3.5 million deal in Nashville. The 28-year old Lombardi will look to replace Jason Arnott as Nashville's first line center.
Coming back to Nashville is Ryan Parent, who was originally drafted by the franchise 18th overall in 2005. A depth defenseman who will likely feature on the penalty kill, Parent will need to work on shaking off his injury-prone history.
Nashville's offense was 18th in the NHL lastseason (2.65 goals per game), and while trading Arnott and bringing in Lombardi helps the average age of the team, goal scoring is a department that will need some help. The Predators have good forward depth with eight scorers in double digits. Patric Hornqvist(notes) had a breakout year leading the team with 30 goals and later cashing in with a three-year, $9.25 million deal.
Two youngsters to look out for are Colin Wilson(notes) (15 points, 35 games) and rookie Blake Geoffrion(notes). The former collegiate stars could lend a helping hand to an offense that needs some firepower.
Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team
Like the Predators, there was nothing overwhelmingly exciting about the Honky Tonk Man (unless you count his suits). He did his thing and became a successful wrestler during his time in the WWF, which included a record 64-week reign as Intercontinental champion.
While we'd love to see some "shake, rattle and roll" as a goal-scoring celebration from a member of the Predators, we'll settle for a Wade Belak(notes) guitar shot as a finishing move for his next fight.
On the blueline Shea Weber(notes) and Ryan Suter(notes) will continue to be the top pairing and take around 24 minutes of ice time a night. Weber's offensive numbers took a 10-point dip, but he still finished tied for second among defensemen with 16 goals.
Veteran Francois Bouillion will find himself working alongside either Kevin Klein(notes) or Cody Franson(notes), hoping to help bring along Franson or help turn around Klein's game. The 25-year old Klein finished a team-worst minus-13 and was the only Predators defenseman to not be a plus player.
Rounding out the battle for the Nashville depth on defense will be Aaron Johnson, Ryan Parent, Ryan Ellis(notes), Alexander Sulzer(notes), and Jonathan Blum. Ellis and Blum are just 19 and 21, respectively, so there's a good chance they'll begin the season in Milwaukee of the AHL.
Like San Jose, Nashville has been known to keep producing quality NHL goaltenders thanks to the work of coach Mitch Korn. Between Tomas Vokoun(notes), Chris Mason(notes), Dan Ellis, and now Pekka Rinne, the Predators boast quite the history of developing goaltenders. Rinne won the No. 1 job last season over Ellis and is the only netminder the NHL experience - something of a worry should he become injured, but then again, Nashville is always popping out a new, goaltender that does the job every few years.
The battle to be Rinne's backup will be something to watch as training camp begins. Between Mark Dekanich(notes), 2008 first rounder Chet Pickard(notes) and 6-foot-6 Anders Lindback, the Predators feel confident in their young depth at the position and with the help of Korn, hope at least one of them can continue the goaltending tradition in Nashville.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
Colin Wilson got a pretty good taste of the NHL last season playing 35 games during the regular season and all six games for the Predators in the playoffs. With a full-time chance this season and the opportunity to play top-six minutes, Wilson should turn into one of Nashville's dependable offensive players.
The shelf life for a starting goaltending in Nashville post-lockout has been about one and a half to two seasons. From Tomas Vokoun to Chris Mason to Dan Ellis to Pekka Rinne, it's almost something to expect this season for one of Nashville's young netminders to emerge from behind Rinne.
That's why he gets our potential flop here. After signing a two-year, $6.8 million deal last February, Rinne now has some financial security and no longer has to chase that big money, will that affect his play, though? He did post a 12-4-1 record down the stretch and has 61 wins in his last 110 games played. And with the lack of experience behind him, Rinne will feel some pressure to backup his strong 2009-10 campaign if Nashville is to remain a playoff team.
Shea Weber's "Fist of Doom" is so powerful, it goes right through you.
If only Nashville could play 5-on-5 at all times. Their power play ranked 24th with a 16.4 percent success-rate. Losing Jason Arnott will hurt. Matthew Lombardi can only fill those skates so much. If Patric Hornqvist is the real deal, he'll need some help with the extra man from his fellow power play mates.
Out of the bottom five teams on the penalty kill last season, Nashville (28th) was the only one to make the playoffs. A terrible 77.1 percent kill-rate was a surprise after ranking in the top five of all teams shorthanded three out of the first four years after the lockout. The other season they were 10th. The loss of Hamhuis and addition of Lombardi will force Barry Trotz and his staff to re-configure the kill in order tore-establish their dominance shorthanded.
The GM/head coach tandem of David Poile and Barry Trotz is all the franchise has ever known, and while in other markets their time might have run out after the lack of postseason success, their ability to do more with less is what puts them over in Nashville. Poile and Trotz have taken them time with the Predators since their inception in 1998 and developed the franchise into a perennial playoff team. It's no surprise that Nashville's five best seasons have come since 2005. The scouting and drafting has paid off and every year the Predators are finding new talent in their depths to fill holes in their lineup.
2010-11 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: C
Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)
The Predators will once again make the most with what they have and find their way into the playoffs. Given the struggles of the offense at times, they'll have to play consistently good defense and hope that Rinne can continue his growth into an elite NHL goaltender. Dominant scoring won't be there, so Nashville's depth will need to be able to produce. Seeing if Patric Hornqvist can match his career year last season will be a key to the offense, as well as how Matthew Lombardi will fit into the lineup.
There'll likely be detractors that keep Nashville out of the Western Conference's top eight, but as they've done time and time again, the Predators will prove them wrong.
Nashville Predators' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season
Not intimidating when you first look at him, Chris Jericho has proved doubters wrong over the years and broken down that wall into wrestling super stardom. Same goes with the Predators. Overcoming odds and succeeding in a market that has plenty of doubters has been a theme of the franchise in their short time in the NHL.