David Poile made it very clear during the recent Skate of the Union that the Nashville Predators, for the next few years, are in a current “window of opportunity” in regards to their yearly quest of bring hockey’s Holy Grail to the Music City.
Including key players that could potentially be locked in for the long haul, Poile couldn’t be more right.
With an average age of 26 (The oldest player, believe it or not is Francis Bouillon at 36. The youngest is Colin Wilson at 21), Nashville is primed to have quite a few years of young and budding talent that has nothing but upwards potential.
Currently the focus is to get the key cogs of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Pekka Rinne locked up to long-term contracts to solidify the Predators dynamic leadership squad, yet once that is off the board, what comes next? A well-run machine not only has to have the larger gears working properly, yet every gear must be running for the machine to be as effective as possible.
Maintaining and building the offensive abilities of Hornqvist, Kostitsyn, Geoffrion, Bergfors, Wilson, and O’Reilly will most likely become one of the top objectives of the coaching staff during the season, as these 6 players could possibly be the future of the Nashville Predators oft-sputtering scoring machine.
Although Hornqvist/Kostitsyn combined for over 20% of Nashville’s goals this season, the Predators have always been a “Scoring-By-Committee”-type team. Finding ways to develop Geoffrion, Wilson, and O’Reilly into true offensive machines and turning Bergfors into the next Kostitsyn could turn the Predators from a 22nd-ranked goal-scoring team to a top-15 ranked offensive threat.
The Predators boast some of the top ranked defensive talent in the entire world, not just the NHL. With Weber/Suter leading the way and providing leadership to not only the team, but the legions of young defensemen waiting in the wings for their chance at a spot on the big club, Nashville’s defensive retention is, suffice to say, quite a low number. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.
Most teams would like to continue to keep the same players year after year if they are producing and having an equally-productive chemistry together, however if you have just as good (or better) talent waiting for a chance to play, then pieces have to be dealt. That being said, Nashville will most likely see players like Bouillon and Klein head their respective ways when their contracts end (2012 and 2013 respectively, while Ellis/Laakso/Josi/Roussel/Ekholm/Aronson/and Bartley will rotate in to equal or improve on their predecessor’s.
The centerpiece of the young Nashville Predators revolves around their goaltending tandem of Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback. Rinne, 28 years old, and Lindback, 23 years old, were third best in the NHL with a 2.32 Goals Against per Game, only Boston and Vancouver were better. While Rinne’s and Lindback’s contracts both end this upcoming season (hopefully to be renewed), Nashville also has Chet Pickard, Jeremy Smith, and newly drafted Magnus Hellberg waiting for the equal shots.
Pickard, although he struggled this past season in Milwaukee (14-16-3, 2.85 GAA, .892Sv%) is still a first round pick from the Predators and definitely has the talent to be a number one goaltender. Smith has NEVER had a losing season to his career when he plays over 20 games. This past season he played 28 games in Milwaukee (backing up former Predator Mark Dekanich) and went 18-8-2 with a 2.26 GAA and .921Sv%. Hellberg could be another Pekka Rinne/Anders Lindback, finishing his season 2nd best in the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan league with a 2.04GAA and a .936Sv%
With such young and talented players currently on or waiting to play for the team, Nashville is just couple free-agent pieces away from not only being deep playoff material, but Stanley Cup contenders. The Predators have never been a team with any problems of team chemistry, so suffice to say that ANY players picked up through Free Agency will be ones that David Poile and Barry Trotz have specifically targeted as perfect additions to the team, which most likely means you can probably forget players like Semin and Zherdev ever coming to Nashville.
All in all, the Predators are poised to launch themselves into the upper echelon of teams in the NHL. With the right free-agent additions and key-player lockups, Lord Stanley’s cup could find it’s way coming down Broadway in the not too distant future.