It is that time again. Hockey is back and with no labor strife whatsoever. The season begins two weeks early and ends one week late due to NHL participation in the Sochi Winter Olympics. We have realignment as well, as Detroit and Columbus move to the East and Winnipeg moves to the West. We have gone from six divisions to four, with two more teams in the East (16) than the West (14). These things bode well for the Nashville Predators, looking to return to the playoffs after missing them last season.
The 2012-13 regular season was by any definition, a farce. Each team compressed 48 games into 100 days leaving no time to heal injuries or really make any adjustments. Teams that started well generally ended well, and the opposite was true also. That snagged the Predators. So it is more than reasonable to view last season as an aberration. If there are no playoffs next spring either, then we have a problem.
The Predators were last in the league in scoring last season, which simply has to change. The tried and true style of play needs to evolve a little bit, but is the talent there? The prospects for scoring more goals depend on hopes a lot more than you might like it to.
The Predators signed Viktor Stalberg from Chicago and Matt Cullen from Minnesota, hoping they can add skill. Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson, Nick Spaling, and Craig Smith are healthy. The hope is they can flourish in a full season. Filip Forsberg starts his first full season. The Predators hope his dynamic talent can come to fruition. Veterans Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad return, and the hope is their grit can equal some goals in front of the net where Nashville has been especially weak.
The defense is the strength of this team. Always has been and always will be. It is also the area with the most excitement as #4 overall pick in 2013’s draft, Seth Jones makes his debut alongside Captain Shea Weber. It is a pairing Predators brass hope will be there for many years to come. Jones’ offensive skills from the defense position cannot be overlooked and may provide a difference later in the season. Pekka Rinne returns in goal, and much is on his shoulders. Carter Hutton will back him up, and he has little experience. The Predators hope he can be eased in.
With the Red Wings and Blue Jackets off to the Eastern Conference, the Central Division has seen an overhaul. Nashville is joined by Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis and Winnipeg. They will play each team six times, three each home and away. The top three automatically make the playoffs, and most see Nashville finishing third or fourth with Minnesota, behind Chicago and St. Louis.
This team will go as far as their offense can get them, assuming Rinne returns to the form of two seasons ago and not the inconsistency he struggled through last season. The Predators have one of the youngest and fastest teams in the league, but much of the depth is now here—meaning if injuries attack again, the Predators could struggle mightily. Opening night in Smashville is October 8 vs. the Minnesota Wild, followed by Toronto October 10.