2008-09: 40-34-8 (10th in the West - Out of Playoffs)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 20
General Manager: David Poile (12th Season)
Head Coach: Barry Trotz (12th Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
Any Predators fans who were hoping the team would make a significant move in the off-season was left severely disappointed by the team's lack of activity. While Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward both re-upped with the team, the biggest name brought in was Ben Guite, and that was a one-year deal worth just above the league minimum. Scott Nichol, Ville Koistinen, Vern Fiddler, Radek Bonk, Greg DeVries and Greg Zanon were all allowed to walk away with no compensation in free-agency.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
Letting people know you still exist would be a good start. The Preds are about as nondescript as you can get, and a summer of silence won't do much to change that notion. Still, Nashville missed the playoffs by a mere three points last season, not bad considering they were without Captain Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan for extended stretches. Instead of building on that, though, the team went the other direction by jettisoning several veterans with no real replacements looking ready to fill their roles.
In one sense the lack of drama in the off-season had to be welcome considering that issues surrounding ownership have dogged the team for the past few seasons. Instead of being the team on the verge of being moved, the Predators were able to hide in the shadows and allow the Coyotes to take over that particular role, one which the Preds must have been quite happy to shed.
Instead of focusing on what the team lacks, though, it is more productive to discuss where their strength lies - on defence. The Predators feature several highly skilled young blueliners who are now coming into their own as a defensive unit to be reckoned with. Shea Webber might be the most underrated defenceman in the NHL. His combination of size, skating ability, booming slap shot and ornery disposition make him the prototypical modern defenceman. If he plied his trade anywhere other than Nashville, he would likely be a household name by now. Weber, along with Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis form a "Big 3" that is the envy of most team's around the league. The Predators just have to add some more offensive punch to take advantage of what they have featured at the back end.
It will also be intriguing to see how the team's goaltending situation plays out. Last season rookie Pekka Rinne came out of nowhere to steal the number one position away from Dan Ellis. The Finn was spectacular down the stretch and nearly forced his way into Calder consideration and the Preds into the playoffs. Both 'keepers are set to become unrestricted free agents following the season and both would like to increase the likelihood of a big payday with a solid season as the team's number one netminder. The 26-year old Rinne has the inside track, but must avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Plenty of goaltenders are able to have one great season, and Rinne has to prove that last year was no fluke and that he deserves to be on the list of the top young goaltenders in the world rather than that of one-season wonders.
Player to Watch:
After missing nearly two full seasons with a back injury it was quite a feat for Steve Sullivan just to return to the ice at the NHL level. It quickly became apparent that Sullivan's comeback bid was a lot more than a feel-good story. Down the stretch "Sully" was the Preds' best offensive player and the team rewarded him for his perseverance and strong play by signing him to a two-year contract.
While Sullivan has never been an "elite-level" player, he is a solid and consistent scorer at the NHL level when healthy. On a team lacking scoring punch, the Preds will take goals where ever they can get them. Having a healthy Sullivan for a full season will take the pressure off of Arnott, Erat and J.P. Dumont and should give Nashville's power play a boost as well.
Sullivan's comeback has been a great story thus far, however, if the Predators hope to return to re-establish themselves as a factor in the Western Conference they will need him to be at the absolute peak of his powers. At 35-years of age and with multiple back surgeries behind him, it would be an enormous task to ask of Sullivan to carry the team into the playoffs.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
It's not easy to put together a competitive squad on the Predators' tight budget, but they continue to re-generate the roster with young talent and this season should be no different.
Even so, the veterans will hold the most fantasy appeal in Nashville.
While J.P. Dumont isn't the sexiest fantasy pick, and his 16 goals last season represented his lowest total since 2002-2003, he's also put up at least 65 points in three consecutive seasons and there's something to be said for that reliability.