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With only a few weeks before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Nashville Predators. The Predators were once a team that could consistently make the playoffs, despite the lack of talent (at least on paper) on the roster. However, after missing the playoffs the past two years, Nashville decided a change of culture was needed in the hope of bringing new success to the organization.
Last Season – The Nashville Predators were in an interesting situation last year. They were never a really bad team. Their worst monthly record came in December, and that was only slightly below .500. However, they were never really an impressive team either. Almost throughout the year, their wins and losses remained about even, unable to string together enough wins to make a playoff push. The only exception was in the last month of the season, where the Predators went 5-0-1, which was good enough to push them on the bubble of making the playoffs, but not quite enough to reach their goal.
A big reason why the Nashville Predators struggled to string together wins was because of their goaltending. The team’s normal starter, Pekka Rinne, suffered a hip infection in late October, which kept him off the ice until March. In his stead, former career AHLer Carter Hutton became the starter for the Predators. Hutton put up an admirable performance for what amounted to his first NHL action, but the numbers were not good enough for a team that relies on its goaltender in its defensive system.
The Offseason – The offseason saw a lot of changes for a normally quiet organization. First, the Nashville Predators allowed the only coach the franchise has ever had, Barry Trotz, to walk at the end of his contract. Shortly after, Nashville hired veteran coach Peter Laviolette as Trotz’s replacement. The hiring indicated a sharp change in culture for the Predator’s organization, as Trotz was known for a very conservative, defensive-minded system, while Laviolette has typically coached high-octane offensive-minded teams.
With their new coach set, the Predators worked to improve their roster with players that may fit in their new system. During the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Nashville traded Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to the Pittsburgh Penguins for shifty winger James Neal. Neal easily became the most dangerous forward the Predators have had in years, usually good for 30 to 40 goals on the season.
The Nashville Predators also signed veterans Olli Jokinen, Mike Riberio, and Derek Roy to one-year contracts in the offseason. All three forwards have their own risks associated with them, but they can put the puck in the back of the net. The risks are lessened by only having them sign one-year deals, but they are not eliminated completely.
What to Watch for Next Season – The biggest thing to watch for is how the change in culture will affect the placement of Predators. The organization has iced a defensive-minded team for almost its entire existence, and it worked for the majority of the time. With Laviolette at the helm, the Predator’s play will likely be a shock to the system, not only to Nashville fans, but to the rest of the Western Conference as well.
Shea Weber should be one player that will thrive under Laviolette’s system. The elite defenseman was already putting up monster numbers, putting up a career-high 56 points last year. He is also consistently in the talks for the league’s best defenseman. Theoretically, he should benefit the most from the change in culture. If everything goes as planned, Weber should see his first Norris trophy by the end of the year, after many years of having it just out of reach.
Young players like Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg should be key parts of the Predators’ roster next year. Though Jones did not have the most impressive rookie season, playing a full NHL season as a 19-year-old defenseman is an accomplishment in and of itself. Forsberg put up 34 points in 47 games with the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate, and his international play speaks for itself. He is another player that should benefit from the switch from Trotz to Laviolette.
After missing the playoffs for two years, the Predators knew that a change was needed. Rather than make the change gradually, Nashville decided to go with a big overhaul this offseason. After finishing just outside of the playoffs last year, the change in culture could bring the additional success needed to make the big show. However, in a tough Central division, there is no telling how this change will really affect the Nashville Predators.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will take a look at the transitional New Jersey Devils. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Montreal Canadiens.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
Photo Courtesy of Dinur – Creativecommons License