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NBC analysts high on Predators, Penguins

Eddie Olczyk likes defending champion Pittsburgh's chances of repeat

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- During lunch with NBC Sports executives Thursday, analyst Pierre McGuire was quick to bring up the Nashville Predators as a big storyline entering this season.

The Predators made a huge splash when they acquired defenseman P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens in a trade for defenseman Shea Weber on June 29, seven weeks after losing to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round. Shortly after the trade, McGuire spoke with Subban, who couldn't hide his excitement about playing for coach Peter Laviolette and assistant Phil Housley.

"The one thing that he talked about is that he had never been coached by anybody that had anywhere near the resume of Phil Housley," McGuire said. "He's so excited to have the opportunity to play for Peter Laviolette, but he's thrilled to death to have the chance to play in a system that Phil Housley is going to help orchestrate."

The revamped Predators were among the topics discussed by McGuire and NBC broadcast partners Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk while previewing the season. Anticipation is high in Nashville with Subban's arrival and the first full season with forward Ryan Johansen, acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones on Jan. 6. In fact, an EA SPORTS NHL 17 simulation projected the Predators will be the first team since the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks to win the Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season.

Whether simulation becomes reality, time will tell, but a lot of eyes will be on Nashville, for sure.

Video: Chatting with Predators general manager David Poile

"I know one thing: They are going to be must-see TV," McGuire said. "The Nashville Predators will be a dynamic, fun team to watch all season long."

The Predators have four of the League's top defensemen (Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis) and appear stronger than ever up front with Johansen, Filip Forsberg and James Neal, but goalie Pekka Rinne is a bit of a concern. Though Rinne, who turns 34 on Nov. 3, has 238 wins with a 2.37 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 447 career NHL regular-season games, he had a 2.48 GAA and .908 save percentage last season, and is 22-26 with a 2.52 GAA and .912 save percentage in 48 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"I still have the question of whether or not the guy in goal can be that guy," Olczyk said. "He's had his opportunities to take this team on his shoulders and move forward. He's yet to do that in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne, at some point with that frame of [6-foot-5, 217 pounds] has to take that next step.

"If you don't have it, and that's goaltending, you have absolutely no shot to win, and they need Pekka Rinne to play to the numbers in the regular season in the playoffs. If they do that, then there's no question they become a must-see team moving into the '16-'17 season."

A must-see team last season was the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions starts when they host the Washington Capitals on Oct. 13 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports 2). The Penguins return essentially the same roster from last season, and Olczyk believes they have a realistic chance of becoming the first team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

Video: DET@PIT: Fleury lays out to make unreal stick save

"When you look at the Eastern Conference, why not?" Olczyk said. "Why can't they give themselves a chance to get back to the Stanley Cup Final? They've got depth, the speed factor. Why not? I'm a big believer having lived it as a player, until somebody can knock them off the pedestal, they're the team."

Many things will have to go the Penguins' way for a repeat, including health, luck and a resolution to their goaltending situation. Marc-Andre Fleury, who backed up rookie Matt Murray for most of the Penguins' Cup run after recovering from a concussion, enters the season as the No. 1 goalie with Murray sidelined by a broken hand.  

"The biggest thing I'm looking at coming out of the 'Burgh is with Matt Murray out right now, Marc-Andre Fleury is the guy, but what does [Jim] Rutherford, the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, do with Marc-Andre Fleury moving forward as this year goes on?" Olczyk said. "From the chair that I sit in, there's no question in my mind that Marc-Andre Fleury is a No. 1 goaltender. At some point, something's gotta give there."

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