Take a look at Nashville Predators blueline depth chart. If your eyes bug out of your head, you’re forgiven.
The defense corps’ present and future are blindingly bright. Shea Weber, the game’s most complete player at his position, leads the way, usually paired with rapidly improving, well-rounded Roman Josi. A phenom named Seth Jones joined the fray last year, making the team as a teenager months after Nashville took him fourth overall. Big, steady Swede Mattias Ekholm looks like he’s an NHLer for good after a few years marinating in the American League. And GM David Poile added bruising veteran Anton Volchenkov on a one-year deal this off-season.
Rounding out that top six is the somewhat forgotten man: Ryan Ellis. Amid the headlines in recent years stolen by Ryan Suter’s departure, Weber’s offer sheet and Jones’ arrival, Ellis has faded into the background. Perhaps that’s why, at first glance, a five-year deal paying him $2.5 million annually seems like a lot, more so in term than cap hit. Ellis? Five years? Did he deserve it?
You know the injury epidemic in the NHL is getting really bad when the mascots start going down. Not to be outdone by the likes of Derek Stepan and Jordan Staal, Gnash of the Nashville Predators is out six-to-eight weeks with a broken fibula in his left leg. Really. The team announced that.
Now normally, news of a mascot on the sidelines would be welcomed by your trusty correspondent. Spoiler alert: I’m a middle-aged white guy. And as such, I see mascots as an annoying waste of fabric. From the San Diego Chicken to Youppi! – abominations one and all. When two of them get into a fight at a college football game, I’m cheering for both of them to get beaten up. I admired Craig MacTavish when he pulled Harvey the Hound’s tongue out a few years back. I laughed out loud about 20 years ago when an ECHL player whom I believe was coached by Chris McSorley, went after the opposing team’s mascot in the stands because it kept hitting him with a pair of inflatable lips. “Our coach gave me the green light to go after their mascot,” was his explanation. Gold. Read more
While Ryan Johansen’s contentious contract negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets dominate NHL headlines, several other notable young players around the league also remain unsigned.
Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug and right winger Reilly Smith still await new deals. CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty reports it’s believed Krug and the Bruins have agreed to a one-year bridge term for this season but remain around $750,000 apart. Haggerty speculates Smith also received a one-year offer.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli undoubtedly would’ve preferred re-signing the duo before training camp opened last week, but, as has been well documented, the Bruins lack sufficient cap space to comfortably re-sign the duo.
It’s anticipated Chiarelli will make a trade before the start of the season to free up the necessary space. Until then, Krug and Smith remain in contractual limbo, unable to participate in training camp. Read more
If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:
When you’re the goalie for a team called the Predators, your options for a fearsome mask design are wide. Last year, Rinne used a “facehugger Alien” design and before that he used a “Hardcorelicious” monster.
For each one, he’s worked with goalie mask designer extraordinaire David Gunnarsson and he did the same this year. This is my favorite of the bunch: a beastly gladiator named Maximus. You can see the beast’s hungry teeth at the bottom of the helmet and the Gladiator mask he’s hidden behind at the top.
Gunnarsson described the design on his Facebook page: Read more
Five of the the 14 teams that missed the NHL playoffs in 2012-13 (Colorado, Dallas, Columbus, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay) qualified for a playoff berth last season. Here are five teams on the outside looking in during the 2014 playoffs that – in this writer’s opinion – have the best chance at making the post-season this year:
5. Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year last season – the first time that’s happened since 2007-09 – and that organization is famous for making the most out of a budget-conscious blueprint for success. They finished only two points behind the eighth-place Stars, and with new No. 1 center Sam Gagner in town, captain Shane Doan fully healthy and stellar young blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson continuing to blossom, they could have just enough in the tank to make it back into the post-season. Read more
More than ever, the professional sports world focuses on personality to help sell their products. In the hockey business, that’s been tougher to do thanks to a culture that discourages individualism in the name of team success. But the NHL still has a number of vibrant personas who’ll be worth keeping an eye (and an ear) on in 2014-15. Here are the top 10 hockey personalities this season:
10. Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils. The veteran winger has filled notepads and digital recorders all across North America because he’s an intelligent guy with a healthy sense of humor and good head on his shoulders, and he understands that having opinions and showing the public he’s more than a hockey automaton won’t affect his on-ice performance. Here he is on the Canadian TV comedy series “Mr. D.”:
Cammalleri deserves kudos for putting himself out there. That said, let’s have a moment of silence for that charm now that he’s signed on with the Devils, who are the Bermuda Triangle of personality.
9. Jaromir Jagr, Devils. Yes, I also can’t believe two Devils are on this list. But Jagr is still one of the game’s great characters. He’s capable of going off on a hilarious tangent at any point, but he can also speak with tremendous insight about the game and his experience playing it:
Soon enough, the 43-year-old will be retired and back in his native Czech Republic. Enjoy him while you can. Read more
2013-14 record: 38-32-12
Acquisitions: Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, Olli Jokinen, James, Neal
Departures: Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Eaves, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Joonas Rask
Top five fantasy players: James Neal, Shea Weber, Craig Smith, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher (injured)
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Nashville Predators know they’re in a dynamite division, so it was refreshing to see them be so proactive in the off-season. They let coach Barry Trotz go and brought in Peter Laviolette, signalling a philosophical shift from defense-first to high-octane offense. They acquired sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh and signed Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy to low-risk, medium-gain contracts. This team is set to score more, especially as young guns Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok improve. That’s great news since Nashville is already stellar on defense, led by Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones, and in net with Pekka Rinne returning to action. Read more