Nashville Predators – 2012 Central Devision Preview

2011-2012 Season Recap:

Simply put the 2011-2012 Nashville Predators had an outstanding season. As a Blues fan, the Preds were perhaps the team I was most afraid of facing, and I was dreading a first round playoff match-up with them.  They finished 2nd in the Central Division with a 48-26-8 record totaling 104 points, only 5 behind the Blues’ 109. The Preds had an fantastic, division leading, record of 16-5-3 in the Central. The Predators faced a swift defeat in the Conference Semifinals of the playoffs, losing 1-4 against the Phoenix Coyotes, a fate similar to that of the Blues.  They Finished 8th in the league in scoring (2.8 gpg), 8th in goals against (2.5), 1st in power play percentage (21.6%), and 10th in penalty kill percentage (83.6%).

Key Players:

Pekka Rinne, Martin Erat, Shea Webber, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher

The Predadors’ goaltender, Pekka Rinne, is locked down in a 7-year, $49 million contract, which is great news. Rinne went 43-18, with 8 over time losses, had a 2.39 goals against average, and posted 5 shutouts. The Predators certainly look to be in good shape between the posts for at least the next few seasons, while other division clubs like Chicago and Columbus could really use some help. Left and Right wingers Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist should remain core players. Erat was the team leader in points with 58 (19 goals, 39 assists), while Hornqvist lead the team with 26 goals to go along with 16 assists. Center Mike Fisher was rock solid with 24 goals and 27 assists. And of course, Captain Defenseman Shea Webber will be expected to lead his team from the blue line. Weber had 19 goals and 30 assists, and lead the team in efficiency rating with a +21 rating. Unfortunately Weber, who is in “disbelief,” will be without his partner Ryan Suter this season.

Nashville Predators Goalie, Pekka Rinne

May 7, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) in game five of the 2012 Western Conference semifinals at Jobing.com Arena. The Coyotes beat the Predators 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Offseason Acquisitions/Departures:

As I just mentioned, clearly the biggest loss for the Predators is the departure of Defenseman Ryan Suter. As every hockey fan must know by now, Suter signed an absolutely massive contract alongside ex-New Jersey Devil with the Minnesota Wild, totaling 98 million over 13 years. Suter had 7 goals and 39 assists in his last season with the Predators. Due to the loss of second-tier players Jack Hillen, Francis Bouilon, Alexander Radulov, Jordin Tootoo, and Anders Lindback,  the Predators have lost quite a bit of production and depth, especially on the offensive end. It seems that the team will have to rely on its core players and leaders to have as much success as last year in an extremely tough and demanding Central Division. The good news here is that so many departures left the Predators with a whole lot of cap room to hopefully add some veteran leadership or young prospects with upside.

The Predators made no significant additions, other than resigning the massive Defenseman Hal Gill to a 2 year, $4 million deal. The Preds picked up Gill from the Montreal Canadiens before the trade deadline last season. Gill is a valuable, physical presence on the blue line, and his play will be especially important with the loss of Suter. Though he is 37 years old, he is an essential short term asset for the Preds.

2012-2013 Predictions:

Strengths:

Though it is not impossible for a goalie to regress after a good season, I believe that Pekka Rinne will be one of the strongest players on the Predators in the 2012-2013 season. He played like an absolute monster last season, and is one of the top-5 goalies in the league with the potential to do even better this season. The core front line of Erat, Fisher, and Hornqvist is no joke, and having Gill and Webber as the (probable) top D-Line is also solid.

According to Hockey’s Future, who rate the Predators with the 6th best current farm system:

Nashville boasts some of the best depth in the NHL, with quality players at every position. Taylor Beck, Austin Watson, and Michael Latta can chip in offense and play a gritty two-way game. Many top prospects such as Blake Geoffrion and Craig Smith have already proven themselves at the NHL level. Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum are amongst a talented group of blue liners on the cusp of being NHL ready. The combination of Anders Lindback and Jeremy Smith in net rivals almost any other system.

The Predators will need some of their young talent to step it up sooner than later. For more on Nashville’s prospects, here’s Hockey’s Future’s Nashville Predators page.

Weaknesses:

ESPN Insider’s Robert Vollman (Hockey Prospectus) has the Predators as the second biggest offseason losers. Vollman says the Predators have had the biggest drop in talent over the offseason. Vollman’s ratings don’t take into account rookies and other young talent that will be relied on heavily this season. The Predators’ depth this season will be inexperienced, and it is hard to predict how much the team will have to rely on its most important players.

Vollman notes that the Predators were the second-worst possession team in the league last season, and were carried by “hot luck.” He attributes this luck to the fact that many players on the team tallied career scoring highs. The Predators cannot afford to be in the bottom of the league in possession time this season. The Predators should be similar, if not slightly worse than last season, but will not be able to compete as strongly in a hotly contested Central Division race.

Projected Standing:

40-33-9, 4th in the Central Division. 7th in the Western Conference. 

Check out the Central Division Previews for the Columbus Blues Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks. Also, head over to Predlines, Fansided’s fantastic blog on the Nashville Predators!

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Topics: Central Division, Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators, Patric Hornqvist, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, Shea Webber, St. Louis Blues

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