As the NHL season is now less than a month away, we continue our look at each team’s offseason and preview the upcoming year. Today, we focus on the Nashville Predators.
Last Season: 41-27-14 record (96 points), 4th in the Central Division. Defeated Anaheim 4-3 in Round 1, lost 4-3 to San Jose in Round 2.
Remaining Cap Space: $5.4MM as per Cap Friendly
Key Departures: LW Gabriel Bourque (PTO, Colorado), C Paul Gaustad (Retirement), C Cody Hodgson (free agency, unsigned), G Carter Hutton (free agency, St. Louis), D Barret Jackman (buyout, unsigned), rights to LW Jimmy Vesey (trade, Buffalo), D Shea Weber (trade, Montreal)
[Related: Predators Depth Chart from Roster Resource]
Player to Watch: G Pekka Rinne: The Predators were quietly an effective offensive team last season and they have a strong blueline now anchored by Subban and Roman Josi. If they get high level goaltending, this is a team that can really make a run, even through the highly difficult Central Division.
However, while Rinne’s reputation has been that of a high level goalie, he hasn’t been that as much in recent years with his save percentage being below the NHL average in three of the last four seasons. There’s a case to be made that the team downgraded at the backup position from Hutton to Marek Mazanec which puts even more pressure on Rinne. If he can get back to his pre-lockout form (or even his 2014-15 effort), the Predators should be a force to be reckoned with. If not, they could find themselves in a dog fight for the final divisional or wild card spot again this season.
Key Storyline: With the Subban-Shea Weber trade and the additions of Carle and Yannick Weber over Jackman, Nashville has really shifted towards a mobile defense corps, more than arguably any other team in the league. While analytics suggest teams should move more towards this type of player, most have been hesitant to make the type of jump that Nashville has. How will that play out over the course of the season?
Still with the defense, how will Subban replace the long-time Predator captain? Can he and Josi play on the same pairing or are the Preds better off splitting them up? Head coach Peter Laviolette has a few options at his disposal now and it will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out. If things go as planned, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more teams follow Nashville’s lead in building their back ends down the road.