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:Forwards
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist
Viktor Stalberg - David Legwand - Filip Forsberg
Nick Spaling - Matt Cullen - Craig Smith
Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Matt Hendricks
Gabriel Bourque - Richard CluneDefensemen
Roman Josi - Shea Weber
Seth Jones - Kevin Klein
Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis
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.