With the NHL season now less than two weeks away, it’s time to look at what each team has done this summer and what to watch for in the year to come. Next up is a look at the Nashville Predators.
Last Season: 53-18-11 record (117 points), first in the Central Division (lost in the second round of the playoffs to Winnipeg, beat Colorado in the first round)
Remaining Cap Space: $8.73MM per CapFriendly
Key Additions: D Dan Hamhuis (free agent, Dallas)
[Related: Predators Depth Chart From Roster Resource]
Player To Watch: F Ryan Johansen – There has justifiably been plenty of talk about all of the team-friendly deals that the Predators have on the books that Johansen’s struggles have largely gone under the radar. They acquired him midway through 2015-16 with the hope that he would become their number one center. He hasn’t played poorly but he hasn’t lived up to expectations either.
Johansen is coming off of his lowest output since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, posting 15 goals and 39 assists in 79 games. Those numbers aren’t terrible but not comparable to many other first line centers in the league and it’s certainly not great value for an $8MM contract.
His play last season also continued what has to be a somewhat concerning trend when it comes to his goal scoring. In his final two full years in Columbus, he had 59 goals. In the three seasons since then, he has just 43. It’s safe to say that they were hoping for closer to 30 per year when they moved core blueliner Seth Jones for him.
With Nashville returning the majority of the roster from last season, they’ll be banking on internal improvements to help them take that next step forward. Johansen is certainly going to be a key part of that. Their attack is already pretty strong and if he can return to his form from just a few years ago (at 26, it’s still a realistic possibility), the Preds would become a much tougher team to beat.
Key Storyline: A changing of the guard is coming between the pipes in Nashville. Pekka Rinne turns 36 in November and is entering the final year of his contract meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July. Given his age and higher cost, he’s not going to be part of their long-term plans, even if he does ultimately re-up for another year or two.
Jusse Saros is viewed as their potential goalie of the future and really made a name for himself in the playoffs when Rinne struggled. Nashville gave him a three-year deal over the summer (another one of those team-friendly contracts) and they may want to see if he’s ready to take on a larger workload.
With that in mind, will they bring their workloads closer to even and make a platoon situation? Or will they run with Rinne as the lead goalie for one more year? The Predators don’t have a whole lot of things to watch for this season but whether or not they start to up Saros’ workload in an effort to see if he can be their starter of the future (as early as 2019-20) is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Overall Outlook: Nashville was one of the top teams in the West last season and they’ve given no reason to think they won’t be in 2018-19 with every single core player returning. So far, they’ve been a popular choice to contend for the Stanley Cup although there’s a pretty good chance they’ll have to get through Winnipeg in the second round to make it that far. Either way, they’re a contender.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.