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Loss of Fisher does not brighten or dim immediate future for Nashville

Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua

Jul 7, 2014

Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua


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Nashville took a slight body punch today with the news that veteran center Mike Fisher would be out four-to-six months with an Achilles rupture sustained during a training session. Fisher was arguably the top center for the Predators in the upcoming season, and still is if he fully recovers from the injury before the year ends.

However, even without the services of Fisher for the foreseeable future, it does not improve or dampen the outlook for the 2014-2015 season of the Nashville Predators.

With the loss of Fisher, Nashville’s roster consists of 11 forwards (including Calle Jarnkrok), seven defenseman and two goaltenders:

[in alphabetical order]

Offense

Gabriel Bourque
Rich Clune
Matt Cullen
Paul Gaustad
Calle Jarnkrok
Olli Jokinen
James Neal
Eric Nystrom
Craig Smith
Viktor Stalberg
Colin Wilson

Defense

Victor Bartley
Mattias Ekholm
Ryan Ellis
Seth Jones
Roman Josi
Anton Volchenkov
Shea Weber

Goaltending

Carter Hutton
Pekka Rinne

The above list does not include fringe players like Filip Forsberg and Colton Sissons, who did spend time in Nashville last season.

There’s no question, Nashville’s offense is in trouble and it’s not halfway through July yet. Outside of recent acquisitions Neal and Jokinen, their roster is a reminder of Barry Trotz’s style of hockey. The grit-and-grind blue-collar attitude still remains on the wings while their over-abundance at center doesn’t provide a hint at depth. Yes, they have Jokinen, Jarnkrok, Cullen, Wilson, Gaustad, and even Smith to use down the middle, but there’s no clear top-line option to replace Fisher. Even utilizing players like Jarnkrok and Sissons, and to an extent Austin Watson, the Predators remain unable to immediately provide a strong top center to play the quality minutes that will be necessary this season.

It’s fairly simple to take the low-hanging fruit and venture to guess that the Predators will not make the playoffs this season. On paper, I’d fully agree. Nashville’s forwards are not a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.

In the Central Division alone, every team outside of Winnipeg and Nashville found top-tier talent to increase their already explosive rosters. Where Dallas traded for Jason Spezza and St. Louis signed Paul Stastny, Nashville found Jokinen. Even Jarome Iginla marginally improves a Colorado Avalanche team that lost Stastny, but still has Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog to highlight their offense. Nashville’s only true offensive improvement was dealing for Neal, but that came at the loss of Patric Hornqvist.

On paper, Nashville’s offense could possibly be the worst in their division. However, only a handful of times in their franchise history have the Predators ever been a truly dominant team when just gazing over the roster. They’re not known for being a flashy organization.

Yet, there are still positives to look at in the organization. Nashville is switching from a two-way defensive approach system employed by Trotz to a more offensive-minded one with the hire of Peter Laviolette in his stead. The Predators could see players like Wilson and Stalberg, who were seemingly held back under Trotz, find themselves on the other end of Nashville’s season statistics. There’s no telling how productive Smith and Jarnkrok can be this season, as well.

Nashville’s defense is most likely one of the most stout in the entire NHL. Weber and Josi will be Nashville’s vanguard. Jones and presumably Volchenkov could man the second pair. Ekholm and Ellis may round out the defensive corp. All of this while Bartley maintains his role as a serviceable seventh defenseman.

Finally, a healthy Rinne could prove to be an ultimate difference maker for the team. During the 2010-2011 season, no player for the Predators registered more than 50 points. Yet, on the heels of a 33-win season from Rinne, Nashville came remarkably close to taking a 3-2 series lead on the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before losing the series in six games.

The positives and negatives are both clearly there to see.

One could easily compare Nashville’s current roster to an unpeeled aging banana. The skin on the outside may have brown spots amongst the yellow, but the only legitimate way to judge the fruit is to peel the outer layer. While we can criticize and analyze every move the Predators make until September, it’s impossible to predict how the team will actually perform. Especially a team like Nashville.

On paper, they aren’t much of a team to look at. However, on the ice where it matters, things always find a way to play out differently.

Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua

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