It’s been a summer of change for the Nashville Predators, who for the first time in team history will not have Barry Trotz as their head coach.
Trotz was fired at the end of last season and replaced by Peter Laviolette, who most recently coached the Philadelphia Flyers. Before arriving in Philly, Laviolette led the Carolina Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup title in 2005-06.
Laviolette is expected to bring the same run-and-gun, high-scoring style of hockey he coached in Philadelphia to Nashville, and it should make the Predators a much more exciting team to watch. Under Trotz, the Predators were a team built on strong defense and rock-solid goaltending, and they often struggled to score against deep teams in the playoffs.
Nashville already made a major trade to help give Laviolette a roster capable of executing his uptempo style by acquiring 40-goal scorer James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The veteran head coach also is expected to help Seth Jones take his game to the next level. Jones, the No. 4 pick in the 2013 NHL draft, is one of the best young defensemen in the league and capable of scoring 40-plus points as a sophomore.
The Predators were given the worst odds to win the Stanley Cup by Bovada at 75/1, but do they actually have a chance to earn a playoff spot? Check out our preview below.
Key arrivals: James Neal, Olli Jokinen, Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov
Key departures: Patric Hornqvist, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Spaling
Player to Watch
Pekka Rinne is one of the league’s best goaltenders and twice has been a Vezina Trophy finalist. He played in just 24 games last season because of injuries, and Nashville finished 23rd in goals against average (2.84) as a result. Rinne posted a .923 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA in his last healthy 82-game season (2011-12), and he should return to that level in 2014-15. Rinne also has been a workhorse throughout his career — he has made 58 or more starts in a season three times.
Laviolette has much better blue line depth in Nashville than he did toward the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. Captain Shea Weber arguably is the best blueliner in the league and has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy several times (it’s a joke that he hasn’t won the award yet). Weber is the ideal two-way defenseman in that he scores a ton of goals, quarterbacks the power play and plays shut-down defense against opponents’ top forwards for well over 20 minutes each game.
Jones could emerge as a dominant two-way player this season alongside Weber on Nashville’s top pairing, much like Ryan Suter was before he left in 2012 to sign with the Minnesota Wild. Roman Josi, a former second-round pick who’s signed through the 2019-20 season, is another top-four caliber defenseman also capable of making an impact on special teams.
The Predators have a well-rounded blue line with D-men who feature strong defensive skills, puck-possession ability and goal-scoring talent. Not many teams have this level of depth.
Most Glaring Weakness
The Predators have lots of depth down the middle, but they lack a legitimate No. 1 center who can set up wingers like Neal with great scoring opportunities. The team reportedly tried to acquire Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators before he was traded to the Dallas Stars, and after that, it opted to sign a bunch of veteran centers — including Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy — instead of making a move for a top-line player.
Luckily for the Predators, if any coach can help these new centers — most of whom are well past their prime — reach their potential, it’s Laviolette.
Expectations in 2014-15
Nashville has a deep blue line and an elite goaltender, two of the most important ingredients on the road to playoff qualification. The Predators finished just three points out of a playoff spot in an ultra-competitive Western Conference last season despite injuries to several key players, and the additions of a healthy Rinne and a top goal scorer in Neal should help the team erase that gap.
Expect the Predators to finish with one of the wild-card playoff spots this season and for Laviolette to be named a Jack Adams Award finalist.
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