With every passing day we are getting closer to training camp, and as more players arrive in town I will write about them, but I’d also like to look at the rest of the Western conference. We know what changes the Oilers made, and most agree the team has improved, but have they improved enough to compete for a playoff spot?
Let’s look at the rest of the west and see.
Every few days I will look at a different team. In no particular order I will look at the other 13 teams, and today I’ll start with the Nashville Predators.
Predators 13/14: 10th in the west, 21st overall at 38-32-12.
19th in GF and 23rd in GA.
12th (19.2%) on PP and 25th (80.2%) on PK.
Pekka Rinne needed hip surgery after their 10th game, and he didn’t play for the next 132 days. He missed over four months of the season and the Predators’ season was unofficially over before it began.
Rinne is healthy, but the biggest change heading into this season for the Predators is behind the bench.
Barry Trotz was fired after 15 seasons. Peter Laviolette is the second head coach in franchise history, and he will bring a much more uptempo offence to the Predators. But, I’m not sure he has enough skilled players to produce offensively.
After canning Trotz, general manager David Poile continued to make moves. He acquired one of the best goal-scoring wingers in the league in James Neal. Neal has scored the 4th most goals amongst wingers over the past three seasons. Alex Ovechkin has 121, Corey Perry had 95, Phil Kessel 94 and Neal potted 88.
He played regularly with Evgeni Malkin, so we will find out soon enough how much of Neal’s scoring was due to his own skill, or that of Malkin.
Mike Fisher tore his achilles tendon working out during the summer, and that forced Poile to add some veteran centres to try and fill the void. Instead of adding one, Poile signed Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen. Ribeiro is very skilled, and if he is able to overcome his off-ice issues, he could be a good fit with Neal.
Jokinen and Roy, however, have a lot of wear on their NHL tires. Poile is hoping that these guys will be energized playing with so many young players, while providing them with some needed experience.
Their depth chart looks like this:
Wilson played was moved to the wing last year, and he could get a chance to live up to his #7 overall draft selection by playing with Ribeiro and Neal.
Matt Cullen-Calle Jarnkrok-Craig Smith
Smith led Nashville in goals last year with 24. He has to be in their top-six. Jarnkrok came over from Detroit in the Legwand trade. I see him or Roy on this line, but I went with him because they will want to give some young guys a shot.
Viktor Stalberg-Olli Jokinen-Filip Forsberg
You could call this the wildcard line. Stalberg has had decent advanced stats numbers prior to Chicago, but he was a major bust last year, 8-10-18 in 70 games. Has much does Jokinen have left, and is Forsberg ready to be a regular NHLer?
Gabriel Bourque-Paul Gaustad-Eric Nystrom
Trotz gave Gaustad a lot of D-zone starts last year. He’s excellent in the dot, 58%, so I’d expect Laviolette uses him the same way.
Roy could easily slot in and Stalberg or Jarnkrok could move down or out or the lineup.
The only D-man I’d take ahead of Weber in the NHL is Drew Doughty, but it would be a very close call. Weber is a beast. It’s that simple.
Weber along with Roman Josi and Seth Jones provide the Preds with a solid top-three, but after that their depth chart has a few question marks.
They are hoping Mattias Ekholm can take a big step this year and fill out their top-four.
They signed an aging Anton Volchenkov to help out their PK, and have yet to sign RFA Ryan Ellis, but he’ll get a contract. Viktor Bartley is also in the mix.
Overall their D-corps is still very good due to the top-three. They gave up a lot of goals last year, but Rinne’s return will see those numbers drop.
With Weber shooting bombs from the point and Neal and Ribeiro up front, their PP should be close to top-ten again.
The Predators will be competitive, like they usually are, but I don’t see them having enough offence to compete with Chicago, St.Louis, Colorado or Minnesota. I see them finishing 6th in the central division.
- Gary Bettman never ceases to amaze me. Earlier this week he denied the report that the NHL would expand by four teams, but added a typical Bettman quote. “The part of the story that I found particularly difficult is: suggesting
that we would sell four franchises for $1.4 billion is way too low. It undervalues our franchises.”
Really Gary? The Edmonton Oilers wouldn’t sell for $350 million today and they are one of the top-ten revenue generating teams in the league. I understand Bettman’s job is to always portray how great the NHL is, and a team in Southern Ontario could be worth that, but in Seattle and Las Vegas? Come on.
The Jets bought Atlanta for $170 and that included $60 million relocation fee. I understand wanting to promote the NHL, but don’t look foolish and suggest teams in non-hockey markets are worth $350 million.
- Dustin Penner tallied 14-21-35 in 67 games last year, but no team signed him this summer. It sounds like he is going to Montreal on a PTO. It is interesting how NHL people perceive players differently. Penner has long been a decent possession player, despite looking disinterested on many nights, but no team was willing to sign him to a contract.
Meanwhile the Oilers gave Benoit Pouliot a five-year deal. Pouliot scored 15-21-36 in 80 games last year. Pouliot had solid advanced stats as well. He is four years younger, and plays much more tenacious, and I understand why teams would want him, but is he that much better or more impactful than Penner? NHL teams seem to think so.
- I chatted briefly with Nail Yakupov at the Triathlon last weekend. He looked leaner and stronger. He said he feels great and he looks bigger. He and Nugent-Hopkins are the two guys I’ll be watching closely. I think we know what to expect from Hall, Eberle and Perron and if RNH and Yak can play like their rookie seasons, then the Oilers offence should be much better.
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