53-18-11, 117 points, Presidents’ Trophy winners
Lost in the Second Round to Winnipeg (4-3)
Subtractions: C Cody Bass, LW Brandon Bollig, D Stefan Elliott, D Alexei Emelin, C Mike Fisher, D Petter Granberg, LW Scott Hartnell, G Anders Lindback, C Mark McNeil, G Matt O’Connor, D Rick Pinkston, D John Ramage, C Trevor Smith, D Scott Valentine, LW Harry Zolnierczyk
Offseason Analysis: The Predators had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner last year. The offense was solid, the defense was stifling, and the goaltending was world-class. They boasted largely the same group that had made it all the way to the Final in 16-17, so now they had the experience and know-how that allows teams to get to the promised land. They dominated the regular season and walked into the playoffs with a Vince McMahon-like strut. Mike Fisher was so confident in their abilities to win a Cup that he quite literally decided he’d rather get back into hockey shape and unretire to join them for the playoffs rather than stay home and be Carrie Underwood’s husband (she never did return my letters about being her fill-in husband while he was away).
After dispatching of the Avs in the First Round, though, the Preds encountered a problem. They encountered (arguably) the one team that was capable of beating them: the Winnipeg Jets. The knock-down, drag-out playoff matchup hockey fans and media were begging for was to be the downfall of the Preds. Winnipeg’s unrelenting physicality, superior offensive firepower and the shattering of Pekka Rinne‘s confidence were too much for the Preds to overcome, and they’d fall unceremoniously in a 5-1 home loss after managing to force a Game 7.
Luckily for the Nashville brass, the offseason they faced wasn’t supremely daunting. Apart from a few young RFA’s and some aging role players (plus the re-retirement of Fisher), they had no real NHL-level contract concerns. The core of the team was secure heading into the 18-19 campaign. But still the sting of defeat in back-to-back potential Cup-winning years hurt, and efforts to counter a potential third year of the same had to be made.
With no draft picks until the fourth round, GM David Poile instead focused on free agency to bring immediate help to his team. When things opened up on July 1, he first tasked himself with helping them from within, re-signing wingers Miikka Salomaki (two years, $750 thousand per) and Ryan Hartman (one year, $875 thousand) and young stud No. 2 goaltender Juuse Saros (three years, $1.5 million per) to very reasonable deals. He then snagged one of his former draft picks in Dan Hamhuis, inking the 35-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract to replace the departed Alexei Emelin and solidify the defense. Poile then knocked a big task off of next year’s to-do list when he signed defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension ($6.25 million cap hit) that takes hold next summer. Ellis has grown into one of the Preds’ most versatile and reliable defenders, and Poile saw no reason to wait on locking him up for the foreseeable future.
Few other signings were notable names, mostly organizational depth, although newcomers Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Blackwell, and AHL-contracted Brian Cooper have made noise to this point in training camp and are all still on the preseason roster heading into the final days/cuts.
Up front, the lineup will look largely unchanged from last year’s group, with really only depth positions likely up for grabs. Winger Scott Hartnell was the only full-timer from last year to depart, and 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen looks poised to inherit his place in the lineup. While lacking Hartnell’s snarl, Tolvanen is a deadly shooter and spent last year lighting up the Finnish Elite League as a rookie fresh out of the USHL. With success in a men’s league and experience on North American ice, Tolvanen should be ready for an NHL roster spot. The only other notable absence, at least to start the season, will be the lack of power forward winger Austin Watson. The 26-year-old was suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading no contest to charges of domestic battery over the summer. It comes after Watson finally solidified his place in the Predators lineup last season, and they’ll have to make due without his size and physicality for at least the first few months of the year.
In Watson’s absense, I have the opening night forward group looking like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Tolvanen – Bonino – Sissons
Salomaki – Jarnkrok – Hartman
Extra forwards Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau
The defense also only lost one regular from last year, and Hamhuis should step right into that slot. Really only the No. 6 slot to his right remains a question, and while Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto are more than capable, they both have an uphill battle to unseat Yannick Weber based solely upon the fact that he’s the only right handed shot among them. The only problem facing the Preds here is that none of the three are on two-way contracts, so basically they get to decide who they’re most comfortable putting on waivers. In the end I think Irwin’s NHL experience could give him the edge in that decision.
Defensive lineup should look like:
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Subban
Hamhuis – Weber
Extra defender Irwin
In goal, it’s Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros. Sorry I couldn’t make that any more entertaining.
Er, well, it is a contract year for Rinne. So… umm… that’ll be interesting, I guess.
Offseason Grade: B
Less really was more, here.
Poile played it smart, as he often does. He kept his spending to a minimum (the Preds should enter the season with a smidge north of $8 million to play with) and used the depth he’s accumulated to still ice one of the better lineups in the league.
The defense is arguably the best (or at least top three) in the league, and none of the top seven are in contract years. (In fact, only four forwards likely to make the NHL club are to see free agency next year, and every one of them is still RFA eligible)
Rinne is likely looking at his last shot at a Cup as a No. 1 guy (he’ll turn 36 this year), so he’ll be leaving nothing on the table.
The forward group is solid, if not spectacular. But with all that aforementioned cap space available, scoring punch can certainly be brought in sometime before the deadline if it proves to be a concern heading towards the playoffs.
We haven’t seen the last of Smashville playoff runs.