The Predators are primed for a breakthrough but will bad goaltending prevent them from becoming true contenders in the Western Conference?
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 2nd in Central
Stanley Cup odds: 17-1
Key additions: P.K. Subban, D; Yannick Weber, D
Key departures: Shea Weber, D; Carter Hutton, G
-Will P.K. Subban have a career year? The conditions appear just right for an explosive Subban campaign. He takes his freewheeling, creative scoring talents to coach Peter Laviolette, who favors an aggressive style and encourages his D-men to join the rush. Subban and Roman Josi already look like one of the league’s top tandems on paper.
Subban is smack in the middle of his prime at 27, and he will have plenty to prove after the Montreal Canadiens shipped him away for Shea Weber.
-Can any Predator score goals other than Filip Forsberg? Forsberg tied Jason Arnott’s franchise record with 33 goals last season. It was only Forsberg’s second full NHL campaign, so a leap to 40 goals and true star status is possible if not probable. But will the other Nashville forwards step up?
James Neal can be counted on for 25 or 30 snipes, but the rest of the group is suspect. If only Colin Wilson could score in the regular season like he does in the playoffs, Nashville’s forward corps would look far more dangerous.
-Is Pekka Rinne in decline? Rinne sparkled with a .923 save percentage two seasons ago, but his .908 mark last season placed him 34th in the NHL. Rinne has finished at .910 or lower three times in his past four seasons. That’s not good enough for a goalie making $7 million annually.
Rinne’s been average to below average more often than not of late and found himself benched in favor of Carter Hutton for consecutive games when healthy at one point last year. That had never happened before. Rinne, 33, needs to make a statement in 2016-17.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Nashville Predators made a huge splash in the off-season trading captain Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, and are a serious dark horse contender because of it. Weber is still very good, but Subban is younger, better, and more suited to the Predators up-tempo style.
Subban joins an already elite top-four that includes Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Nashville’s defense is the best in the league according to Game Score and it’s thanks in large part to the contributions from their top four, three of whom would be No. 1 D-men on any other team.
That defence needs to be strong as the guy they’re protecting has declined tremendously over the last few seasons. In Nashville’s 2015-16 season preview, I wrote that Rinne’s high standing was based mostly on reputation over actual performance as he’d been struggling over the last few seasons. He preceded to turn in an extremely lacklustre campaign with a .908 save percentage that was actually deceiving considering the quality of shots given up.
For all the talk about Nashville’s ascent into the West’s elite and their dark horse status, Rinne is the one thing holding the team back. They’re the 11th best team according to this model, but their skaters are actually sixth best in the league. This is an elite team that’s likely going to be undone in the first or second round by goaltending. With relative unknown Marek Mazanec as the backup, there isn’t much of a safety net behind Rinne either.
That means they’ll need to score some goals, and while they have a few guys who can get the job done, it’s a pretty average forward group overall. Filip Forsberg is a star in the making and should be good for another 30 goal season, while James Neal has the potential to do the same. Ryan Johansen is the No. 1 center that Nashville has searched for their entire existence and should take another step this season. That trio will shoulder most of the offensive burden, especially since there aren’t many other offensive catalysts further down the lineup.
The Predators have a very good team here that’s on the cusp of something great, but they need to figure out a better strategy in goal because pretending Rinne is still 27 likely won’t pan out.
Up next: Philadelphia Flyers
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs | Edmonton Oilers | Vancouver Canucks | Columbus Blue Jackets | Calgary Flames | Winnipeg Jets | Arizona Coyotes | Buffalo Sabres | Montreal Canadiens | Colorado Avalanche | New Jersey Devils | Ottawa Senators | Carolina Hurricanes | Boston Bruins | Detroit Red Wings