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Preds Deserving of NHL Awards: Mid-Season Honors

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators are off to their best start to a season in franchise history. With 29 wins and 62 points through 42 games, things are going well in the Music City.

And while there are still approximately three months remaining in the regular season, it’s difficult not to be excited about the club’s accomplishments up to this juncture.

Something else to be enthusiastic about is the high potential the Predators have to do quite well at the NHL Awards in June. Rookie sensation Filip Forsberg can put the puck in the net. Shea Weber shuts down the opposition’s top players and then scores goals of his own. Pekka Rinne has made saves no human should be capable of making. And that’s just on the ice.

While the hardware won’t be handed out until the summertime, the halfway point of the 2014-15 campaign marks the perfect opportunity to take a look at those members of the organization, on and off the ice, that have a chance to start or add to their trophy case in due time.

Here now are not only which Predators deserve to be in the discussion, but why:

Filip Forsberg: Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

After making the roster out of training camp, the Swedish rookie recorded two assists on opening night, another helper one game later and then his first goal of the year came in the third game of the season. He hasn’t looked back since.

Forsberg continues to lead the Preds in goals (15) and points (39) and has skated on Nashville’s top line for a majority of the campaign. Not only has he paced the Predators in offense, he also leads NHL rookies in goals, assists, points, plus/minus and power-play points, just for good measure.

Forsberg also set a franchise record for most points by a rookie in one season when he tallied his 38th point of the campaign on Jan. 6 against Carolina, needing just 39 games to complete the feat.  

Not only has the 20-year-old winger shown up on the score sheet night after night, including a seven-game point streak that began on Halloween and ran through Nov. 13, it can be argued that no rookie has been more important to his club’s success than Forsberg.

If Forsberg continues to keep up his impressive pace through the remaining 40 or so contests, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a frontrunner for the Calder.

Shea Weber: James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best Defenseman)

A three-time Norris Trophy Finalist, 2014-15 may be the year that Weber finally receives his nod as the best blueliner in the game. Captain of the Predators since July 8, 2010, Weber has been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL over the past few seasons.

He’s not doing anything to change anyone’s mind as of late.

Weber tallied his 29th point of the season on Jan. 10 at Minnesota, a mark that leads all Predators defensemen and is good for sixth among League blueliners.

But it’s not just offensive prowess that sets Weber apart from most. The Sicamous, British Columbia, native ranks fourth among League defensemen in time on ice, averaging 26:26 per game while shutting down the opposition’s top players on a regular basis. Weber has yet to miss a game this season and has recorded 14 points (4g-10a) in his past 15 outings.

Pekka Rinne: Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender)

Rinne has been nothing short of spectacular for the Predators this season. After missing 51 games due to injury in 2013-14, the Finnish netminder returned to post the team’s first 29 wins of the season, a mark that leads all NHL goaltenders. A two-time Vezina Trophy Finalist, Rinne looks to come out on top for the prize this season.

In addition to his standing atop the wins leaderboard, Rinne’s 1.96 goals-against average is second among League goalies while his .931 save percentage ties him for second overall. In addition, his three shutouts ties him for fourth among his peers. Through 37 games played this season, he’s allowed more than three goals on just five occasions.

Pekka Rinne: Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP)

See the above notes. Plus, the case can easily be made that Rinne’s play this season has been the most telling factor as to why the Predators sit in first place in the NHL on Jan. 14. The goaltender has made saves that give him a superhuman quality at times and has kept his team in virtually every game they’ve played this season.

Peter Laviolette: Jack Adams Award (Best Coach)

In his first season behind the bench in Nashville, Laviolette has instilled a system that has allowed the Preds to thrive. With a shoot-first mentality, the Predators average an even three goals per game, good for seventh in the NHL in the category. On the defensive side of the puck, Nashville’s 2.17 goals-against per-game is tops in the League. The Preds also lead the League in five-on-five play, owning a 1.56 goals for/against ratio.

All of those numbers are great, but it’s Laviolette’s approach with his team and the belief in the locker room that has built confidence from the inside out. This isn’t the first time that Laviolette has had success in his first season with a new team before, but the rate in which the triumphs have been coming is what seems to stand out.

Nashville is 16-1-2 when scoring first, but their 13-8-2 record when allowing the first goal is perhaps even more impressive. Laviolette has used his timeout on more than one occasion during the season as a way to “reset” the game and the Predators have responded positively. More often than not, the Preds have found ways to end up in the win column even after early adversity.

Laviolette was the runner-up for the 2006 Jack Adams Award in his first full season in Carolina, in what was the closest vote in history. What Laviolette has done behind the bench this season should provide more than enough consideration for a top honor this time around.

David Poile: General Manager of the Year

The Predators only GM in franchise history has never received the award, but has already been nominated three times since the inaugural trophy was handed out in 2010. Poile was a finalist for the honor in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and the Preds GM looks to be in the running once again in 2015.

Mike Ribeiro is turning out to be Poile’s most significant offseason signing, with the center currently second on the team in points, recording nine goals and 29 assists. Ribeiro was signed to a one year, $1.05 million contract on July 14, 2014, after he was bought out by the Arizona Coyotes. So far, the Ribeiro signing has only paid dividends for Nashville.

Poile also brought in veteran players in forward Olli Jokinen and defenseman Anton Volchenkov, both on one-year deals with low cap hits. In addition, an offseason trade that brought scoring winger James Neal to Nashville has been a major positive for the Preds.

The previous acquisitions of rookies like Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok are also paying off for the Preds. Forsberg, acquired in April of 2013, and Jarnkrok, brought in at the 2014 trade deadline, are now regulars in the Nashville lineup. Forsberg’s accomplishments have been well-documented, but Jarnkrok is no slouch either and has been a mainstay in the Preds forward group this season.

Poile also achieved a significant, personal milestone earlier in the season, becoming the second all-time winningest general manager in NHL history, recording career victory No. 1,171 and counting. The manner in which the 2014-15 Predators have been built is cause for consideration to put Poile up for the award for the fourth time.

It takes more than one individual to catapult a club into first place in the NHL through the halfway point of the campaign. As is evidenced by the above list, the Predators have had a slew of help getting to that point. And if all goes well, names like Calder, Vezina and Norris will be familiar as Forsberg, Rinne and Weber in Nashville come June.

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