If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to have a score to settle with Minnesota–that’s right–we’re talking about the Nashville Predators. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Nashville’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
As you know, I’ve been doing this whole “Meet the Division” series in alphabetical order. By that logic, this week would have been Minnesota Wild Week. However, I’m saving the best for last and decided to skip right on down to the Music City.
Last season was one to forget for the Predators and their fans. In 48 games, the Preds would notch a 16-23-9 record and miss the playoffs after four straight seasons of postseason action. Their goals per game average and goals-against per game average were 2.27 and 2.77, respectively. What’s more, their power play was little worse than Minnesota’s at a 17th ranked 17.1%, and their penalty kill was a terrible 29th best 75.5%. For a defense-first shot blocking team like the Nashville Predators, that was absolutely atrocious.
What’s more, the team just couldn’t seem to put the biscuit in the basket. No one scored more goals than David Legwand’s 12, and the team’s leading point scorer was a struggling Shea Weber with 28. Knowing this, Nashville GM David Poile set out to change the culture of the team at the draft and in free agency. He started with the selection of 1st overall favorite, and highest ranked defenseman in the draft, Seth Jones at 4th overall. I’m sorry, who’s this Ryan Suter again? We’ll get into this a little later in the week.
In free agency, Poile snatched up forwards Viktor Stalberg, Matt Hendricks and former Wild players Eric Nystrom and Matt Cullen, defenseman Bryan Rodney and goaltender Carter Hutton.
Stalberg and Cullen are likely the two biggest pieces here, as both could wind up on the Predators’ top line. Neither one belongs on any other team’s top line, but they are two very solid top-6 pieces that add speed, a will to win and a scoring touch to a team that seems to lack all of the above.
Hutton will also play a considerable role as franchise starter Pekka Rinne’s backup. Rinne, who fell to a career-worst .910 save percentage with a 15-16-8 record, 2.43 goals against average and five shutouts (gee, even when he’s bad, he’s amazing), is looking to get back to his usual place amongst the Vezina contenders. The odds of that should be better this year with an improved offense and defense in front of him.
To see where these new additions fit in the lineup, we’ll need to take a look at who’s missing from last year–which we will do tomorrow. Stay tuned!