The Nashville Predators missed the playoffs for the first time since the lockout last season and will be in tough to make it back this year. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Whenever we get around to talking about candidates for NHL coach of the year, I always consider Nashville’s Barry Trotz to be one of my finalists, season after season. No coach, in my opinion, gets more from his troops on a regular basis than Trotz.
Same goes for GM David Poile. No manager has been able to keep his team competitive for as long, with one hand tied behind his back, as Poile.
It all has to do with the budget-conscious nature of the Predators. Poile and Co. have done an excellent job identifying and developing young talent, but the competitive nature of free agent season and Nashville’s unwillingness to open the wallet and keep or sign high-priced talent always leaves the team playing catch-up.
And this is the season I think it eventually catches up with the Predators.
With Poile and his scouting staff doing a fine job retooling the lineup and Trotz’s low-risk, conservative game plan, Nashville had been something of a revelation. With the inception of the salary cap in 2005-06, the parsimonious Predators bucked the odds by making the playoffs three straight years with a budget near the bottom in the NHL. Seasons of 106, 110 and 91 points were followed up with 88 points and a 10th-place finish last season.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Predators this season a lot closer to 15th place in the Western Conference than to the eighth and final playoff spot.
I see a roster devoid of a true offensive kingpin and whose two best forwards (Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan) are both 35. I see a pair of promising goalies (Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis) who are both unrestricted free agents in 2010 and know the team probably can’t afford to keep both. I see the team’s brightest hope for stardom (Alexander Radulov) playing in Russia because the money is better over there.
What Nashville does have going for itself is the deepest crop of young defensemen in all of hockey: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis and Teemu Laakso with the Predators and Cody Franson, Jonathon Blum, Alexander Sulzer and Ryan Ellis in the development system. Weber is signed through 2010-11, Suter through 2011-12. It’ll be interesting to see if the Preds can hang on to these two stars.
The Predators are off to a slow start with two wins (and just 10 goals scored) in seven games. Offense will continue to be Nashville’s bugaboo this season and even solid system play under Trotz won’t be enough to stump the critics again. And that’s sad to say about a team that’s so careful about what it spends.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.