Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time for us to start with the offseason musings and what better way to do so then to grade the different aspects of the Nashville Predators for the 2011-2012 season? We’ll start with the offense today and work our way through the defense, special teams, coaching, and the playoffs.
Now, if you would’ve told me that Nashville would finish in a tie for 8th in the NHL for goals scored over the course of the season (2nd best finish all time, 5th place being the best in 2006-2007), I probably would have sarcastically laughed at you and said the Predators wouldn’t break the top 10. The only time Nashville even cracked the top 10 was when they had their best lineup ever (Paul Kariya, J.P. Dumont, Scott Hartnell, Steve Sullivan, Peter Forsberg, Jason Arnott, Alex Radulov, etc.)
The Predators had finished last season 22nd overall in goals scored, but would be getting a full season from Mike Fisher, and would get the continued services of Erat/Legwand/Hornqvist/Sergei Kostitsyn. Now, though, with Sullivan and Dumont effectively gone from the lineup, the odds of the “scoring by committee” approach having to work for this year’s squad seemed to have increased significantly.
Yet, with every year passing and the scenery staying the same for the Predators, the same approach continues to be successful. This year’s squad averaged a little under 3 goals per game (2.83) and scored more goals on 5-on-5 (158) than all but one previous Nashville squad (that same 2006-2007 team). That, right there, is a testament to Barry Trotz’ ability to squeeze every last drop out of the lineup that he ices every night.
Granted, the team isn’t going to score 3 goals every single night, however for the most part the Predators had plenty of on-ice success in the 2011-2012 season and enough to look forward to for next year as well.
1) Craig Smith
Smith was the first Nashville rookie since Radulov to be this successful on his opening campaign without spending a lick of time in the minor leagues. Bucking the trend of “The road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee”, Smith scored in his first two games of his NHL career and netted 14 points in his first 15 to start the whispers of Calder Trophy talk early in the season.
Although a little disappointing in the back stretch of the season, Smith’s pure goal-scoring ability and room for growth can only leave Predators fans envious of what he’ll be able to do in his sophomore season next year.
Craig Smith finished the season with 14 goals and 22 assists (36 points) in 72 games, placing him 8th overall out of 198 rookies in the 11-12 season.
2) Gabriel Bourque
The kid is fast. That’s probably the best way to describe him. Bourque’s speed and his ability to finish quickly molded him into a multi-purpose, any-line player for Trotz’ lineup. He wasn’t a full member of Nashville’s lineup until right after Christmas (December 28th). Yet, Bourque’s ability to light up the scoresheet impressed fans/media/coaches alike.
Playing in nearly half the games that Craig Smith dressed, the Quebec native played 43 games and registered 7 goals and 12 assists (19 points). Just think what he’ll be able to do in 82 games on a stable line combination?
3) Matt Halischuk
So, the player who was acquired in the trade for Jason Arnott scored only two goals less than he did this entire season? That’s right, Halischuk put the puck to the back of the net 15 times this year, only 2 less than Arnott did for the whole season in St. Louis.
What’s so surprising about that? Only the fact that Halischuk did it from the fourth line in Nashville, while Arnott was on one of the top-2 in St. Louis.
Halischuk’s prowess around the net and the ability to absolutely grind along the boards and against the opposition made him a natural Nashville Predator and one of the bigger fan favorites of the year.
Knowing that Halischuk is signed through next year and will be an RFA after the 2012-2013 season makes me a happy camper. He finished the season with 15 goals and 13 assists (28 points) in 73 games. Can’t ask for much more from one of your fourth liners.
You know, I thought long and hard about any one particular player that I was really disappointed in, but there really wasn’t one.
You can point out Legwand/Tootoo/Wilson for their production dropping off as the regular season wound down and you can point out Sergei Kostitsyn/Erat/and Fisher for WAAAAAY too many blind drop passes…but you know what? They all had respectable seasons.
Granted, you don’t want respectable seasons but you want the best season every year from your players. However, with 20 players finishing in double-digits in scoring this season for Nashville, it’s really had to say, “Yep, so-and-so had a really crappy year.”
And this isn’t me copping out or being lazy either, I almost called Legwand out for having a disappointing season, however 50 points a season for Legwand is the average for him, whether we want to choose to accept this from a former 2nd overall draft pick or not. Legwand DOES have another gear to him, that we do know and we see from time to time, but contributing 53 points puts him at 80th overall in the league.
With him, Erat, and Fisher all over 50 for the season and Weber/Suter right behind at 49/46 points, it’s pretty hard to really say too much negative about that
All this being said, I give the offense a solid B. They did a really good job, but left some room for improvement for next year. Hard to improve on 8th overall, but Nashville’s offensive potential for next year is not looking too bad.