The Predators keep knocking on the door, but they’ve yet to find entry into the land of playoff success. Nashville has qualified for the postseason in five of the last six seasons, but the Predators have not won a playoff series. It hasn’t helped that their last two opponents — Chicago this spring and Detroit in 2008 — went on to win the Cup that year, but Nashville can’t expect an easy ride when they’re barely squeaking in as the eighth seed. Coach Barry Trotz and general manager David Poile have been with the club since the franchise started play in 1998 and have done well to make the Predators a competitive team, but they have to find a way to take the next step.
2009-10 Record: 47-29-6, 100 points (third in Central Division; seventh in Western Conference; lost in first round of playoffs to Chicago, 4-2)
Bruins record vs. Predators: Boston leads the all-time series 8-4-1-2, and won the lone meeting last year when Steve Begin tallied the decisive goal at 8:33 of the third period for a 3-2 victory at the Garden on Oct. 21.
When to watch: The Bruins will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Nashville, taking on the Predators on Thursday, March 17. Nashville does not come to Boston this season.
Familiar faces: Forward Colin Wilson, the seventh overall pick in 2008, hails from Greenwich, Conn., and played at Boston University before turning pro. Center Joonas Rask, Nashville’s seventh-round pick this year, is the younger brother of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
Key additions: F Matthew Lombardi (free agent); D Ryan Parent (trade with Philadelphia); F Sergei Kostitsyn (trade with Montreal); F Matt Halishchuk (trade with New Jersey); F Jamie Lundmark (free agent); F Jonas Anderson (free agent); F Blake Geoffrion (signed out of Wisconsin, NCAA)
Key losses: D Dan Hamhuis (traded to Philadelphia, signed with Vancouver); G Dan Ellis (traded to Montreal, signed with Tampa Bay); F Dustin Boyd (traded to Montreal); F Jason Arnott (traded to New Jersey); D Denis Grebeshkov (signed with St. Petersburg, KHL); F Dave Scatchard (signed with St. Louis); F Triston Grant (signed with Florida); D Nolan Yonkman (signed with Phoenix); F Hugh Jessiman (signed with Chicago); F Mike Santorelli (traded to Florida)
Burning question: Can Patric Hornqvist repeat his breakout season, and will the Predators pay to find out?
Patric Hornqvist led the Predators with 30 goals and 51 points last year, but the restricted free agent remains unsigned. With only one other player on the team even reaching the 20-goal plateau (Martin Erat had 21), Hornqvist is obviously a key cog on Nashville’s offense. But the Predators may like to see Hornqvist repeat his breakout year before investing in a long-term deal. Hornqvist, 23, had just two goals and seven points in 28 games as a rookie in 2008-09 before his breakout season last year. The Predators need all the offensive help they can get, but they also have to be wary of Hornqvist being a one-hit wonder.
2010-11 outlook: Even with Hornqvist, Nashville lacks scoring depth. Signing Matthew Lombardi (19-34-53 with Phoenix) will help, and continued production from Erat and veteran Steve Sullivan (17-34-51) will also be vital. The defense, led by new captain Shea Weber (16-27-43), is strong despite the loss of Dan Hamhuis, and Pekka Rinne (32-16-5, 2.53 GAA, .910 save percentage) is solid in net. The Predators did well in acquiring Ryan Parent and Sergei Kostitsyn for free-agents-to-be Hamhuis and Dan Ellis, neither of whom signed with the teams that acquired their rights.
Did you know? Hockey is definitely a family affair in Nashville. In addition to having Tuukka’s little brother Joonas in the system, the Predators also feature Kostitsyn, brother of Montreal forward Andrei Kostitsyn, and defenseman Ryan Suter, nephew of Gary Suter, who spent 17 years in the NHL. Wilson is also the son of Carey Wilson, who played 12 years in the league, and grandson of Gerry Wilson, who played briefly for Montreal.
The greatest multi-generational ties belong to Blake Geoffrion, last year’s Hobey Baker winner at Wisconsin. He’s the grandson of hockey legend Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and the great-grandson of another Hall of Famer, Howie Morenz. Geoffrion’s father, Dan, was also a first-round pick of the Canadiens and played three seasons in the NHL. Despite the rich hockey heritage, Geoffrion actually grew up in Tennessee and is the first product of the state’s youth hockey program drafted by an NHL team.
Next: We’ll finish our tour of the Central Division with a look at the St. Louis Blues on Monday.