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31 in 31

Inside look at Nashville Predators

Returning core sets goal of getting back to Stanley Cup Final

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Nashville Predators.

The Nashville Predators experienced a lot of different things for the first time during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. The next challenge is finding a way to do it again and get back to that point.

After a six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Final, the Predators hope their young core of forwards and experienced, mobile defensemen will be enough to help them on another deep run and win the Cup for the first time in their history. 

"It's just a really long road," said center Nick Bonino, who signed a four-year, $16.4 million contract with Nashville on July 1 after helping the Penguins win the Cup the past two seasons. "I think when you've done it, you get an appreciation for how much harder it is. Losing when you get that close makes you want it that much more, so I don't see any reason why we couldn't do that again this year."

 

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The Predators lost two forwards who combined for 83 points (41 goals, 42 assists) last season: James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft and captain Mike Fisher to retirement. To help replace them, Nashville signed Bonino and forward Scott Hartnell (one year, $1 million).

Bonino is expected to be the Predators' second-line center. Hartnell had 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 78 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, the fewest he's had in a full NHL season since 2003-04 (33 in 59 games for the Predators). The Blue Jackets bought out the final two seasons of Hartnell's six-year contract June 29.

"I think maybe my best way of saying it is [Hartnell] might be kind of a utility fix type of guy," general manager David Poile said. "I certainly see him being used on the power play in the net-front presence. That could be a big difference for us this year with the guys that we've got on the point. I think that whatever amount of ice time that he got in Columbus last year (12:03 per game), I think it'll be a good chance he'll get more ice time with us."

Perhaps the most productive part of Nashville's offseason was signing two key restricted free agents who made up two-thirds of its top line. Forward Viktor Arvidsson signed a seven-year, $29.75 million contract July 22, and center Ryan Johansen signed an eight-year, $64 million contract July 28. The Predators believe the top line of Filip Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson can be one of the most productive in the League for years to come.

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"I think it's fantastic," Poile said. "This was kind of the goal in planning for the offseason. We've got our whole core signed up, a lot of guys for a lot of years. Hopefully we've chosen correctly. I believe we've chosen correctly."

Nashville's biggest strength arguably is its top four defensemen. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis , P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm each could be even more productive after becoming familiar and developing chemistry with his partner last season. Nashville also traded for Alexei Emelin on July 1 to add depth on defense. There will be a change to the dynamic of that defense, though, after assistant Phil Housley left to become coach of the Buffalo Sabres. The Predators hired Dan Muse as an assistant and promoted Kevin McCarthy to associate coach. McCarthy will take over for Housley running the defense and power play. 

The Predators were the final team to qualify for the playoffs from the Western Conference and had to begin each series on the road. They don't want to do that again.

"We've got to work to get that home ice," Ellis said. "We fought it off for three series. If you look at it, we could've done so many different things throughout the season to climb those standings. I think this group learned a lot about itself and the capability we have in this room."

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