After making the Stanley Cup Playoffs seven times in the previous eight years, the departure of Ryan Suter and injuries to other key players played a large role in it becoming seven times in nine seasons for the Nashville Predators.
General manager David Poile was busy once free agency began. He signed forwards Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks to multiyear contracts worth a combined $36.4 million. None of those four are likely to revive a stagnant offense on his own, but each could be a slight upgrade over the players who held down their roles in 2012-13.
Landing defenseman Seth Jones with the No. 4 pick was a well-publicized coup at the 2013 NHL Draft, and expect him to see important minutes right away in Nashville. A step forward from Ryan Ellis and a solid rookie campaign by Jones could help replace the offense from the blue line lost when Suter left for the Minnesota Wild.
For the Predators to be a playoff team in the new-look Central Division, they are going to need more offense from somewhere and a return to Vezina Trophy form by Pekka Rinne.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Predators:
NOTES: Fisher's most frequent linemates in 2012-13, according to the line combinations at Dobberhockey.com, were Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn. Neither is in Nashville anymore; Erat was traded before the deadline and Kostitsyn will play in the Kontinental Hockey League. The offense could receive a jolt if Forsberg or Austin Watson is able to claim a place on the top two lines, or if Colin Wilson finally puts together a healthy, breakout season.
The scrum for spots in the bottom two lines should be interesting to watch during training camp. Nashville has about 16 forwards for 12 spots, and the names not listed above are Smith and Taylor Beck, who can be sent to the American Hockey League without needing waivers.
Bourque was fourth on the team in goals last season but might not have a place in the opening-night lineup. Spaling was used heavily on the penalty kill last season, and newcomers Nystrom and Hendricks add a different level of toughness (and not just the ability/desire to fight). Hendricks should also boost this team's ability in the shootout, which is something a low-scoring, strong defensive team like Nashville tends to be involved in a lot.
Where Jones will fit on the blue line will be a big storyline in camp, but Ekholm and Ellis trying to secure full-time status should be as well. The Predators were happy with how Bartley played in 2012-13, and he would fit just fine as a top-six guy if one of the younger guys struggles.
Hutton had a strong year in the AHL for Rockford (Chicago's affiliate), and he could be pushed in camp for the backup spot behind Rinne by Magnus Hellberg.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: PREDATORS
Under-valued: Pekka Rinne -- Finished as NHL.com's 12th-ranked fantasy goalie at season's end, but Rinne can deliver top-five value this season. His win total might not be as high as it was in 2011-12 (43), but his goals-against average and save percentage should remain close to his career norms (2.36 GAA, .920 SVP), making him an elite goalie option.
Over-valued: Craig Smith -- After a strong rookie season in 2011-12 (14 goals, 36 points), Smith had four goals and 12 points in 44 games last season. He averages just 2.20 shots on goal per game over his career, doesn't see a ton of power-play time (around two minutes per game), and won't help in plus/minus or penalty minutes. Avoid on draft day.
Sleeper: Filip Forsberg -- Forsberg will be 19 when the season opens, but don't let that scare you. He has a legitimate shot to be a top-six forward for the Predators and has the potential to win the Calder Trophy. Colin Wilson also makes for an interesting sleeper, but we think Forsberg has a better shot to be among the team's top-six, giving him the slight fantasy edge.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
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