West preview…Smashville

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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:

Colin Wilson-Ribeiro-Neal

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.

BLUELINE POWER

weber

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.

SYNOPSIS

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.

QUICK HITS…

  • 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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

    • The Soup Fascist

      Tough conference and Oilers are a longshot for a playoff spot. Agreed.

      However, in the Pacific:

      – Vancouver has started down a slippery slope. They are praying a pair of 34 year-olds who have been played to death are going to re-find their game and suddenly be offensive dynamos again. Suuuure. If they don’t, no one else is scoring there. Ryan Miller is a soap Opera waiting to happen.

      – Something is rotten in San Jose. I said it before “captain-gate”. This team is getting older before our eyes. Still better than the Oilers, but …..

      – Finally Anaheim had best get a lot out of the oft-injured and whiny Kesler. They have a putrid left side up front (perhaps the worst in the NHL) and once you get past Fowler, a very pedestrian defense. Mix in rookie goaltending and after Perry, Getzlaf and Fowler – Anaheim is a bad hockey team.

      – In the Central look for a drop off from Colorado. They got crazy goaltending and unsustainable offense from a very average blue line last year. They have some very nice forwards but I don’t see close to 100 points here again.

      I am not saying the Oilers are a great team or even a good one. But I think they could pass other teams than the ones you mentioned Walter. Whether that is enough to sneak into a playoff spot …. probably not.

      • Serious Gord

        Vancouver I think you’re right on.

        Sharks? Have you seen Burns? Hertl? Those guys are young and getting older is only helping them. Sure, Marleau and Thornton are getting older but those guys can be moved as time progresses. Facts are they have great pieces and are likely to be playoff contending for years to come.

        Anaheim has Kesler and Cogliano behind Getzlaf up the middle. They have good goaltending even though it’s unproven, enough that they let Hiller walk for nothing and with Boudreau behind the bench we could pass em? Did you not see us get owned by both those #1 lines? (Ana / San Jose)

        Finally, Colorado. The same Colorado who just added Iginla. Good Lord man, sure they lost a decent centre but I’m pretty sure Nathan McKinnon will fill those skates. I also can’t see him taking a step back having watched probably 25 + Colorado games last year, and Roy has proven to be a capable coach, much more than Eakins so far.

        Like you, I’m speculating, but it would take significant contributions and advances by several key players on the Oil to take over any of those spots. Don’t put money on it. Maybe that’s too negative. I think we aren’t in a playoff spot this year without a miracle of goaltending and a step up by Yakupov, Draistl, RNH, The ENTIRE D corp and Mr Eakins ego taking a step down.

        • The Soup Fascist

          We will see and you could well end up being right.

          Here are Anaheim’s top 4 left wingers. Bilesky, Heatley and Maroon and Max Friberg. The correct response to those names is who?, pfffffft !, who? and WTF is a Max Friberg? In that order.

          San Jose has some nice young players as you pointed out, you missed Couture who is the best of the bunch but they are poor on D and something just seems off with this group. We will see if Hertl is as effective this year as he was pre-injury. Burns is a big talent but is as flaky as Grandma’s pie crust.

          Stastny leaving is going to hurt Colorado far more than an aged Iginla will help. And as I said they had a LOT go right last year.

          You may well be right that all these teams finish higher the Oilers. Many if not all will. My point is there are some holes starting to show on other teams just as the Oilers (slowly) fill some. If the Oilers were somehow able to trade for a legitimate 2C, I would be much more confident.

          EDIT: How pissed off is Anaheim at Dustin Penner? For a guy who had success there at one time, you would think they would bring him in on a PTO. The group including a “has-been” and a bunch of “never-wasses” on left wing is staggering.

        • Sevenseven

          Colorado lost Stastny and gained an aging Iginla, see him as a less valuable player. I dont see Varlamov having as good a season. Colorado made a HUGE jump last year. I see them slipping, at least a little.

    • vetinari

      Unless you have a Ouiji board and a lucky rabbit’s foot in your back pocket, it ain’t happening…

      I think that the best that they could hope for is a top 10 finish… in the annual Photoshop Contest!

      • HardBoiledOil 1.0

        ^i dunno man, i mean eventually the Oilers will rise, they HAVE to, and San Jose could slip on a banana peel and suddenly play like the older team they are and fall down the standings, right? i just have a feeling that the Western Conference *could* look a little different, standings wise, at the end of the season for the first time in a long time.

        • vetinari

          At this point, I wouldn’t be greedy and would probably be happy with just a +.500 season. I prefer to think that there is a parallel universe out there where the Oil have been on an eight year tear of winning and is walking around with another three cups rather than #1 draft choices. Sigh…

        • "Frank the dog"

          San Jose has some players that are getting older sure, but they’ve also got Pavelski (30), Hertl (20), Wingels (26), and Couture (25) up front. On the backend, Vlasic (27), Burns (29), Demers (26), & Braun (27) are all still in their prime.

          That team is still gonna be good this year, and probably for the foreseeable future.

  • Craig1981

    Gregor, according to Forbes the average team 413 million, so 4 teams would be worth 1.6 Billion (and change) if you valued your new teams at the average.

    Now I know you would point the 2 new teams are worth 175 million for CBJ (the NHL lowest) and the Wild at 330 million. Both under the $350 million bettman says it too low.

    But both Toronto and Vancouver would have their market share cut into and they are the NHL’s highest and 4th highest valued team. That compounded by the fact that by the time the teams could play NHL values would go up and new franchises should cost a premium I agree with Bettman

  • Sevenseven

    Injuries, ageing lineups, maturing lineups, the cap, breakout years, slump years. No wonder I dont bet on sports. Gotta hope the Oilers are trending up and some of the league powerhouses are trending down.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I just hope the oilers top 6 plus Gordon stay healthy ALL year, then the team should have a chance at a playoff spot.

    Hockey gods gotta look down on us in a good way sometime!

  • a lg dubl dubl

    After 8 years I’m having a hard time trying to get excited. Maybe I’ll watch the first 10 games and see what happens. I’m tired of hearing how good this “core” is. Lets see some bloody results. Either on the ice or a change in management. Patience has dried up

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    If the Oilers played in the east the playoffs would be a legitimate goal. In the west, 10th is realistically the best I feel they can do.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Lets not forget we are the dead last team in the West as last years results bear out . 7 points even behind the Flames . To climb even one position upwards is no given .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Things are looking really good for the Oilers to finish in that 24th-26th overall grouping. That’s where the McDavid sweepstakes winner will come from with these new lottery rules. Now more than ever you want to avoid that 29th and 30th spot. Those teams can fall as much as 4 spots next summer I believe.

    Is it the 16 draft that the top 3 selections are decided by lottery?

  • ubermiguel

    Regarding Penner: it’s just from watching him play and interviews, but I’ve always had the feeling he’s never played up to his potential and that sort of attitude is not good in the locker room. That or pancake related injuries are not covered by insurance and he’s too much of a liability.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Well, the Oilers were a .500 team against the East. Hopefully they can continue that trend and do even better against the West. Then if they can improve against the West, well, hopefully they can climb in the standings. Have a good development year for LD, and maybe Klefbom gets his half a year. And then BAM! Darnell Nurse joins the ranks.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Can imagine Weber would only get better if he played on a decent team. Weber, Neal and Rinne are all they have. The rest are all pretty much filler types you can buy at Walmart each and every summer.

    Laviolette will be looking for work within two years with that bargain basement crew. Can also see Shea Weber wanting out after another couple years with that house poor ownership group. Just another non traditional hockey market counting heavily on revenue sharing to stay afloat. I’m sure the Oilers will make the post season before the Preds do. Both are atleast 2 yrs away from this possibility.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    I have said it before (MANY times) on this site, on NHL, Oilers, SN and TSN, as well an anywhere else Oilers reporting is. I also told Tom Renney, MacT and all of my friends – Oilers’ fans or not. The NEXT time the Stanley Cup comes back to Canada, it WILL be through the Oilers’ front door. Mark my words, lay bets, whatever. I truly believe this. Watch this space.

    • Serious Gord

      Interesting question: which Canadian team will win the cup first?

      Looking at this season it seems that the chances of it happening any time soon are as bleak as they have ever been. Last year as best I could determine was the first time only one Canadian team made it into the playoffs since the ’67 expansion. And this year may be the first where none of them do, though the Habs would have to have an horrific season for that to happen.

      You may be right – the oil could be the first to bring the cup back north of the 49th – they have as bright a mid to long term potential as anyone. Unfortunately that’s not saying a whole lot as there are teams in the US that look to remain strong for a long time to come overlapping a significant portion of the timeline where the “core”‘of the oil are at their peak.

      • Joy S. Lee

        I agree. The best example are the LA Kings: lots of depth, and what’s more, Lombardi now has plenty of veteran winners to turn into more depth and futures… at his leisure (no rush). They have certainly shown good overall drafting pedigree. He has done a masterful job of not only building that team, but building it to continue evolving around an exceptional and youthful core.

        There are, however, no guarantees. As for the Oilers, we still don’t really know how good the kids here are going to get. I don’t think that’s bad news, but it will dictate a great deal of how close this group can get to teams like the Kings.

        Depth is finally beginning to accumulate in the organization, which should eventually support our star forward kids and the coming wave of defensive youth. The biggest difference in the two systems right now – if and when that all comes together – is that the Kings have an amazing goalie who isn’t anywhere close to being done, and a prominent upper hand in being able to utilize their current roster to build their future roster without missing a beat. The good news is, we still don’t really know just how exceptional the kids here are going to get.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    I’m happy the west is so tough it will make these guys earn it and when they do they will appreciate it. Eventually the tide turns and good teams slide and bad teams eventually climb out of the darkness. The circle of hockey life and our turn is approaching. I hope this team for this season will under promise and over deliver with little hype and fanfare.

  • Joy S. Lee

    IMO Colorado’s biggest hole was a lack of veteran leadership, something Iginla brings in spades. Stasny (sp) is a talent. Iginla is a proven 30 goal scorer with an immense presence, an unreal leader and a tough, good possession player. Beside Duchene, Landeskog or McKinnon… He’ll be awesome. 🙂 don’t get me wrong, the lost some centre depth but I think they’ve made up for it with the Iginla signing.

    That’s my opinion and I am a Colorado fan as well as an oil fan so am definitely biased. Maybe they slip, but I don’t see them jumped by our Oil.

  • "Frank the dog"

    Believe the question that JG is asking in this post is will Edmonton finish ahead of Nashville. Jason’s question is valuable in trying to figure out if Edmonton can climb up in standings.

    What is relative improvement areas of each team:

    Nashville:

    Improved in replacing Neal over Hornqvist, and with the free agent center signings easily make up for loss of Spaling.

    Having Rinne for entire season (assume we can’t predict injuries) and Nashville is likely a better team.

    Couple young prospects in Forsberg, Jarnkrok and Wilson and Smith on rise.

    New coach could be a setback.

    Edmonton:

    Here I think contributors on this site have not in general fully factored in the losses that Oil experienced in comparison to the pickups.

    Compared with start of last season –

    Hemsky versus Purcell – probably give edge to Hemsky

    Gagner versus Acro – general consensus sounds like saw-off

    Smyth/Jones versus Pouliot – upgrade in Pouliot

    Lander/Acton versus Draisaitl/Lander – should be slight upgrade – this year

    Defense –

    Smid versus Nikitin – hmmm… saw-off
    Fayne versus Grebeshkov – nuff said
    Marincin versus N Schultz – nuff said

    So Oil improve on D and goal, but I’m only seeing an improvement up front if you believe in improved composition and possession. (year growth in development happens on every team)

    Team by team comparison:

    Nashville markedly better on defense, likely better at each slot from 1 thru 7. Historical better track record in goal. Comparable at center (Fisher will eventually get back), and Oilers top end or second tier of wingers, depending on how you rank, markedly better.

    Close, but looking at it objectively one would probably pencil Nashville still in front.

  • El Pindo

    I find it amazing that neither Penner or Koivu have a contract. They ranked 4/5 in Anaheim ES TOI/G last year and both had around 0.5 points per game. Anaheim had the best record in the regular season and their second liners aren’t good enough for anybody else? Of course Koivu might be retiring but he can still play and the Oilers should be contacting him to address the C position gaps.

    MacT talked about who would be this years Grabovski, both these guys are great candidates. Good team use their cap space to add legit NHL veterans on the cheap. With all contracts now set, demoting Gazdic and Joensuu there is about $6mm left to play with. Get both these guys signed for about $2mm a piece (or less) on a one year deal.

  • El Pindo

    I am assuming that it must be me that has a problem today because I can’t seem to figure out the articles today. At a quick glance, there seems to be many titles, some articles have extra information that doesn’t make sense to me. I didn’t get my coffee this morning but I didn’t realize it would have such a huge affect.

  • Joy S. Lee

    More defensive of the position that Nashville should be projected slightly ahead of Oilers.

    There is the obvious fact that Nashville was 6 games over .500 and Oilers were 15 games below .500 last year. That is, one should recognize that there is some distance to overcome.

    If one recognized that most dramatic improvement in a players development happens from 24 and under, then we could ask who has more players in this age bracket.

    By my count, Nashville has 7 in that age group in projected starters and Oilers likely 8. Probably each with one rookie going to make team.

    So Oilers aren’t likely to make dramatic gains on Nashville on the argument of kids being one year older.

    Nashville could have four starters (skaters) in the 32 and older category where performance is at risk of serious dropoff. With the exception of Cullen, the Oilers match those players with players that haven’t proven to be better yet.

    Lastly, Nashville is supposed to have problems scoring. Last year Nashville had 216 GF and the Oilers 203 GF.

    So what scenario is playing out for the Oilers to be projected to beat out Nashville? other than wishful thinking 🙂

  • Joy S. Lee

    Sorry, but the OILERS, are going nowhere until they fix there Goals Against….. 267 , 30th in the league.

    Its a team thing.. lets not blame it all on goal tending and the defense.

    Ive, pointed this out previously, LAK won the Stanley Cup on 198 goals ¨,, one less than the Oil @ 199 goals.

    I like Nashvills backend over the Oilers.Not to mention that the Preds scored 15 more goals than the Oilers.. much of that from the back end.
    Advantage” Nashv.